Prop 2, the Fair For Houston ballot item, passed easily last week. The item charges the city of Houston to negotiate with H-GAC for a revised system of “proportional voting”. Those negotiations are next on the docket.
Legal questions remain, however, about what proportional voting privileges for Houston could look like and whether the city can legally leave H-GAC, should negotiations for more representation on the organization fail.
The language of the charter amendment was very intentional, said Ally Smither, communications director for Fair for Houston, the organization that spearheaded Proposition B.
It does not prescribe any numbers or percentages needed for representation to be considered “proportional.” The language is intended to lead to a solution through negotiation, she said.
Houston City Council Member Sallie Alcorn, who is also H-GAC’s Chair-Elect, said she was “grateful” for the way the ballot initiative was worded.
The lack of a binding number of voters needed to reach proportionality could help ease tensions ahead of negotiations, she said, and it prevents either side from feeling too top heavy.
Houston City Council Member Amy Peck, Houston’s other representative on H-GAC’s board of directors, agreed. The open-ended wording, she said, will prevent negotiators from being boxed in at the very start.
Despite the lacking definition of proportionality, Alcorn said she knows any negotiated changes to H-GAC’s voting structure will have to be substantive in order to honor the essence of the proposition.
“It’s not going to be a one-for-one, but it’s not going to be something just very nominal,” she said. “It’s going to have to reflect the voters’ wishes.”
Alcorn and Peck questioned what a proportional voting structure would mean for membership on H-GAC. Alcorn suggested that a solution may include the use of weighted voting, where population size could determine the amount of votes an H-GAC representative could cast, as opposed to adding new members to the council.
Until negotiations begin, however, the potential outcome is up in the air.
Not every member of H-GAC believes a proportional voting structure is best for the organization.
Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, the outgoing chair of H-GAC’s board of directors, expressed concern about the consequences of proportionality.
“Strictly proportional representation destroys the whole intent of a regional coordinating council,” he said. “Because then Houston and Harris County would basically just dictate the agenda.”
Despite his concern, Duhon said H-GAC is prepared to negotiate with Houston whenever the city approaches the organization to do so.
Alcorn, Peck, Duhon and members of Fair For Houston all expressed the hope that Houston remains a part of H-GAC. Entering negotiations in good faith, Alcorn said, is key.
“It behooves us all to stay together,” she said. “And I think that that is certainly the goal that I will be approaching negotiations with.”
You can still listen to my interview with the Fair For Houston campaign leaders., in which we discuss this topic. We also discuss what happens if negotiations fail, which has been a question raised by others as well. The intent is clearly to get to a new consensus, and the comments made by the various H-GAC members in this article are encouraging. We’ll know soon enough if they can get somewhere that works for everyone. I remain hopeful.