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Charter amendment petitions are in

I need a simpler name for this thing, so that Future Me will have an easier time searching for relevant posts.

Houston voters likely will get to decide in November whether City Council members should have the power to place items on the weekly City Hall agenda, a power currently reserved for the mayor.

A group called the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition on Monday delivered a measure with nearly 40,000 signatures to the city secretary, who now has 30 days to verify them. It takes 20,000 to get the issue onto the ballot.

If the city secretary approves the signatures, the issue likely would go to voters in November. It would allow any three of the City Council’s 16 members to join forces to place an item on the weekly agenda, when the council votes on actions. The mayor now has nearly full control of the schedule in Houston’s strong mayor form of government.

[…]

Two of the council’s 16 members, Amy Peck and Michael Kubosh, showed their support at the press conference Monday when the coalition delivered its signatures.

The coalition includes a broad group of political groups, including the Houston firefighters’ union, the Harris County Republican Party, and the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

But the opposition is similarly wide-ranging. In addition to Turner, a Democrat, conservative Councilmember Greg Travis also thinks it would be harmful. He would be open to other reforms, but three members is too low a bar, Travis said, and would result in “all kinds of irrational, wacky, inefficient” items reaching the council.

“You don’t sit there and open a Pandora’s box,” Travis said. “It’s not the correct solution to the problem.”

See here and here for the background. “Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition” it is, I guess, but that’s still pretty damn generic. I must admit, I’m a little surprised to see CM Travis speak against this, since I had him pegged as a chief contributor to the forthcoming irrational wackiness. Good to know that our local politics can still surprise me.

If nothing else, this will be an interesting test of the ability for a (potentially high-profile) charter referendum to generate turnout, since this is a non-Mayoral election year. Turnout in 2017, the previous (and only so far) non-city election year was 101K, with the various pension obligation bonds that were a (forced) part of the pension reform deal as the main driver of interest. By comparison, the 2007 and 2011 elections, with their sleepy Mayoral races, each had about 125K voters, and that’s at a time with fewer registered voters (about 920K in Harris County in 2011, and 1.052 million in 2017). I’m not going to make any wild-ass guesses about turnout now, when we have yet to see what either a pro- or con- campaign might look like, but for sure 100K is a dead minimum given the data we have. At a similar turnout level for 2007/2011, and accounting for the increase in RVs since then (probably about 1.1 million now; it was 1.085 million in 2019), we’re talking 140-150K. Those are your hardcore, there’s-an-election-so-I’m-voting voters. We’ll see if we can beat that.

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5 Comments

  1. David Fagan says:

    I will vote for it.

    As long as the mayor’s office doesn’t try to stop voters’ decisions again. He creates jobs for lawyers.

  2. brad says:

    I am surprised to be agreeing with Travis on something he said.

    The idea of an item making the agenda with broader CM support is worthy, but the modicum of only 3 council members needed is too low.

  3. Ross says:

    David, PropB was blatantly illegal, regardless of voter support. It was also poorly written and a blatant attempt at rent seeking by the firefighter union. Unfortunately, state law doesn’t allow challenges to propositions unless they pass, otherwise it never would have appeared on the ballot.

  4. David Fagan says:

    Ross,

    I was actually thinking about the red light camera referendum that was challenged by the mayor at the time, or signatures obtained opposing the HERO situation. Houston mayors have a history of challenging signature gained referendum, which sounds like a problem to me. Prop B is still in 14th court of appeals, but thank you for the update.

  5. David Fagan says:

    Don’t forget the last time this issue came up, it was for 6 council members to bring something to the agenda and it was shot down. This city would be wise to realize that there are groups (and I’m not talking about fire fighters) who feel they are not getting issues through city council, issues that SHOULD BE through city council, and they want a change. This is just for an issue to be discussed, talked about, or heard only. I don’t see a problem within it, especially among people who want more transparency, representation, and diversity.