Lawsuit filed over term limits referendum

As if on cue, the following hit my inbox on Wednesday afternoon, from Eric Dick:


Phillip Paul Bryant is filing a lawsuit to invalidate Proposition 2 because the ballot language misled Houston voters.

Annise Parker and the City of Houston have a history with misleading voters when it comes to ballot language. Indeed in 2015 alone, Texas Supreme Court has found that Annise Parker and the City of Houston have used inappropriate ballot language at least twice.[1][2]

On November 3, 2015, registered voters of the City of Houston were asked to vote on several propositions, including a proposition extending term limits. (“Proposition 2”). The ballot language for Proposition 2 reads as follows:

“(Relating to Term Limits for City Elective Office) Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to reduce the number of terms of elective offices to no more than two terms in the same office and limit the length for all terms of elective office to four years, beginning in January 2016; and provide for transition?”

The voters of the City of Houston passed Proposition 2 on November 3, 2015.

The language of Proposition 2 was misleading in one of more of the following ways:

  • The ballot language suggested that it would “limit” term length instead of expanding them from two-year terms to four-year terms;
  • The ballot language suggested that the “limit the length for all terms” to be four years instead of allowing elected municipal officials to serve a total of up to eight or ten years;
  • As admitted by Annise D. Parker in an interview with Houston Public Media, voters thought they were limiting the amount of time for municipal elected officials to serve in office.

See here for the background. Phillip Paul Bryant was a candidate for District B in 2011, and was engaged in the opposition to HERO. A copy of the petition is here; as always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there. On the one hand, I voted against the term limits change and feel that two-year terms are the better idea. On the other hand, I’m not particularly awed by Eric Dick’s legal prowess. On the other other hand, Lord only knows what the Supreme Court will do; the two footnotes in that press release refer to the decisions on Renew Houston and the wording of the HERO referendum. So who knows? If history is any guide, we won’t know for several years. The Chron and KUHF have more.

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12 Responses to Lawsuit filed over term limits referendum

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    The renew Houston decision surprised me. As a rule I am against overturning elections. When Courts reason away the will of the people then we get into dangerous territory. I thought Judge Hughes was wrong on the Red Light Cameras and I think the Texas Supreme Court was wrong on Rebuild Houston.

    Who knows what they will they will do here.

    Way to much Judicial Activism in my opinion but what do I know. I am just a traffic attorney.

    However, for the record I would have voted:

    1) For the Charter Amendment outlawing Red Light Cameras

    2) Against Renew Houston

    and, I did vote

    1) Against the term limits amendment.

    Mike also voted against putting it on the ballot.

  2. Paul Kubosh says:

    P.S. I like Eric Dick.

  3. The Dude says:

    Didn’t the Council come up with the wording for the amendment? I’m pretty sure the Mayor was opposed to putting it on the ballot…

  4. Paul kubosh says:

    Dude…..that is not how it works.

    NOTHING and I mean NOTHING gets on the agenda without the mayor putting it on there.

    City council does not control the wording.

  5. voter_worker says:

    The new order of the day is that if you’re unhappy with a proposition election result, go to court to challenge it based on the theory that the voters are too thick to understand what they were voting on. #wearealllowinformationvoters

  6. voter_worker says:

    ps The primary problem with ballot issue wording is that they are written in lawyer-speak. I favor reforming that approach and if continuing lawsuits edge us in that direction, good.

  7. Eric Dick says:

    Kuff –

    Don’t be a hater. Thought this was an issue you cared about.

  8. Julain Deleon says:

    2 four year terms are good for the City of Houston. There are more important things to be concerned with.

  9. The Dude says:

    Kubosh, I don’t know – watching the Council meeting basically seemed like the Mayor caved to pressure. Sure, the Mayor may be the one that ultimately puts it on the agenda, but it seems to be that she was just trading horses – it appears to me that the Councilmembers were the ones that purposed the language. The Mayor even purposed alternative language to delay the start date but it was rejected.

  10. J says:

    It was the mayor’s wording as posted in her agenda. Her only issue was the effective date; she didn’t want current council members to get extra time but she lost on that. It was her wording to “reduce” the terms to 2 and “limit all” the terms to 4 years. Seems very intentional to mislead. Any natural writer wanting to be clear would say “increase each” term to 4 years. But instead “increase” was avoided because the citizens don’t want to increase term limits — just try polling on that!

  11. The Dude says:

    J, that’s not my recollection at all. My recollection is the Mayor didn’t want it on the agenda at all, but slowly began to cave as it became apparent she wasn’t going to win that battle. The first proposal for the language came from Bradford or Boykins if I’m not mistaken and it appeared as if all future proposals built on that foundation.

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