AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Stephanie Coggins, the city secretary for the city of Amarillo, provided more information Wednesday on why the recent referendum petition surrounding the Civic Center funding ordinance was not able to be authorized by her office.
According to previous reports by MyHIghPlains.com, the city announced Monday that the petition seeking to overturn Ordinance No. 7985 was not able to be authorized by the city secretary because it did not conform to portions of the Amarillo City Charter. This comes after a group of Amarillo citizens began the petition process in early August, ultimately delivering the petition to City Hall on Aug. 29 with 12,575 signatures.
The petition aimed at repealing the ordinance, which was approved by the Amarillo City Council during the May 24 meeting aimed at issuing $260 million in tax notes to help fund the expansion and renovation of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex. The ultimate goal of the petition was to bring the measure back to Amarillo residents in the form of an election.
What did the City Secretary say about the petition?
According to previous reports, the city specifically said that the recent petition did not include an “affidavit of circulator,” a requirement per Article II Section 23 of the Amarillo City Charter. The charter states the following:
“Each signer of a petition shall sign his or her name in ink or indelible pencil, in his or her own handwriting, followed by place of residence by street and number, and any other information required by state law as amended. The signatures to any such petition need not all be attached to the same paper, but to each such paper there shall be attached an affidavit, by the circulator thereof, stating the number of signers to such part of the petition, and that each signature is genuine and that of the person whose name it purports to be and that it was made in the presence of the affiant.”Article II Section 23 of the Amarillo City Charter
Coggins said that specific elements are required to be included in the affidavit of circulator that accompanies the petition.
“When someone goes out and obtains signatures, they are considered the circulator. At the end of the process, they swear that they’ve collected X number of signatures,” she said. “So, they have to swear to the number they’ve collected. They have to swear that each signature they collected is genuine and that of the person that signed it and they have to swear that it was done in their presence.”
Coggins said that an affidavit of circulator was not included in any of the 42 parts of the petition that was submitted in late August.
One other deficiency that the city secretary’s office found was that a written or printed copy of Ordinance No. 7985 was not included with the petition. Article II Section 23 of the charter states the following:
“All such petitions circulated for signatures shall be uniform in character and shall have attached to the same, exact written or printed copy of the proposed Ordinance or resolution, sought to be adopted or repealed.”Article II Section 23 of the Amarillo City Charter
“The charter also says (the ordinance) should be with the petition when it’s filed,” Coggins said. “So at the end, when we received the completed petition, there was not a written or printed copy of the ordinance submitted with the petition.”
Once a petition is received, the parties cannot revise or amend it, Coggins said. The committee’s course of action at this point would be to begin a new petition process and submit that to the city, following the rules laid out in the Amarillo City Charter.
“The charter makes it very easy. The charter is the roadmap for any citizen wishing to file a petition with the city of Amarillo,” she said. “It gives you… a checklist, if you will. So, our office was objective in reviewing the petition and asking, ‘were the items checked off the list?’ and we found that one wasn’t and therefore, it didn’t conform to the law.”
How did individuals respond to the city?
According to previous reports, Dan Rogers, the Potter County Republican Chair and one of the two citizens who delivered the petition to the city in late August, claimed that all petitions were presented with the affidavit of circulator attached.
“We presented them as we were advised by more than one election law attorney,” Rogers said. “This is another attempt to disenfranchise the voters by elected officials who despise good ordinary people.”
Cole Stanley, a member of the Amarillo City Council and a signer of the petition, said he believes the city made a huge mistake by not authorizing the petition, missing another opportunity to “hear the voice of the voter.”
“Specifically, I believe that everything that is of substance is in this petition, meaning everything that’s required for this thing to be validated is in the petition itself,” Stanley said. “I understand, and it appears that their issue with the petition is in the format in which it was presented.”
Stanley compared the error brought forward by the Amarillo City Secretary like if someone did their homework correctly, but it is invalidated because they put their name on the upper right-hand corner instead of the upper left-hand corner. To his understanding, Stanley said that the way the cover page of the petition, including the number of signatures, was titled was where the issue was.
“So, everything’s been done, everything’s been turned in. It’s the format to which they object to,” Stanley said. “It’s not that it doesn’t include enough signatures. It’s not that they can’t validate those signatures or that they aren’t voters. It’s that the way in which the affidavit was recorded doesn’t meet their criteria.”
Coggins said she could not respond to the comments surrounding members of the group’s belief that they had everything necessary for the petition. However, Coggins did stress the importance of her staying neutral in her role as city secretary.
“I received the petition. I reviewed the petition against the Amarillo City Charter requirements and Texas Election Code requirements,” she said. “At the end of the day, they did not check all the boxes and because they didn’t, the law does not allow me, it does not authorize me, to move this forward and to present it to council… By law, I am not authorized to present this to City Council. So they will not be able to receive it or act upon it because the charter says, if all the boxes are not checked, then I don’t have the authority to present that to them.”
Coggins also stressed that no member of the Amarillo City Council, or members of the City Manager’s office, had anything to do with the review process of this petition.
“At the end of the day, it’s in our office. We stay neutral in reviewing and assessing to ensure that it conforms to the law,” Coggins said. “Our City Council and Mayor were alerted when we got the original statement back in early August and then I shared a communication with them earlier this week so that they would have the letter that went out to the referring committee… But they were not involved, nor did they see any of the documents related to the petition during that review process.”
Stanley said he would love to have a conversation like this in public before the Amarillo City Council. However, Stanley still believes that the petition in its current form can still move forward, despite what the city secretary’s office said.
“I don’t think that we would have another petition moving forward. I think that this petition can still move forward,” he said. “So, I still want to participate in this petition because this is our process that we have for our voice to be heard. So, I want to continue to actively advocate for this petition and the validity of it.”