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Granite Shoals councilors could face recall over city manager contract renewal

Granite Shoals Councilor Phil Ort

Granite Shoals City Council member Phil Ort, who submitted a recall petition to the city this year, said he is not upset with recent changes to the city’s recall procedure. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

New changes to procedures for recall petitions will not prevent the Citizens’ Rights Group of Granite Shoals from initiating recalls for City Council members in the future, said Councilor Phil Ort. In fact, they have their eye on anyone voting to renew City Manager Jeff Looney’s contract, which is up in 2021.

The newly elected City Council member was one of about 10 people who successfully obtained more than 200 signatures on a petition during the summer to initiate a recall election of then-Mayor Carl Brugger and Councilor Bruce Jones. 

The group was upset with the council’s decision to give Looney a $37,000 a year raise. Both Brugger and Jones, who voted for the raise, resigned before the election, which was set for May 2021. Jones was on the Nov. 3 ballot and was re-elected to his position, successfully dodging the recall. 

The Citizens’ Rights Group of Granite Shoals has 285 registered voters, and some are getting ready to run for council seats in the spring, Ort said. With only about 400 people voting in Granite Shoals elections, the group represents a significant voting block. 

“They’ve made it known that if anybody votes for a continuation of the contract for the city manager, they’ll be recalled,” he said. 

Changes in the recall petition process were implemented by Looney and city staff over the fall and announced to the council at its Dec. 15 meeting. Looney said no vote was necessary in making the changes. 

The new steps were designed for better transparency of the process, Looney said. Changes also provide some cushion against a recall to allow council members to continue to vote their consciences, he added.

Ort did not attend the Dec. 15 meeting due to health reasons, so was not part of the discussion and did not know about the changes until days later. 

After reviewing the updated recall petition procedures, Ort said he could not find a reason to complain about the procedures.

“I actually see everything in there as a favorable set of rules to get it accomplished,” he said. “It’s set up as a set of rules to make it (uniform). I actually don’t have a problem with the set of rules.”

The one big addition, Ort and Looney each noted, is that separate petitions are required for each council member targeted for a recall. The Citizens’ Rights Group put both Jones and Brugger on the same petition.

Two others changes, Ort noted, include requiring each volunteer obtaining signatures on their petition to personally present it to city staff and, once the first signature is on the petition, the group has a 180-day deadline to submit that petition to City Hall. 

“That’s to prevent anybody from taking an old petition (and using it),” Ort said. “There are a few extra hoops, but that’s not going to change anything. Our government is set up to be accountable to the people.”

Had these new procedures been in place over the last summer, they would not have prevented the group from fulfilling the requirements for a recall election, Ort continued. Petition drives must still obtain signatures from 6.5 percent of the city’s registered voters. 

He also was fine with the new procedures not needing council approval to be enacted. The rules mirror those used in other Texas cities. 

“I don’t see it as controversial,” Ort said. “Most of the rules we follow are from the state level, the city of Austin, and (other cities like) the city of Irving.”