Houston City Council Proposes 2015 Charter Amendments

Many that follow Houston municipal government have expected a charter amendment proposal to remove the city’s voter-imposed revenue cap on taxes.  With rapid growth and exploding property costs, most Houstonians understand that the cap hinders the city’s ability to carry out basic functions.

But as Texpatriate reports, City Council is doesn’t plan to stop with just the one charter amendment for the upcoming elections…

Texpatriate has learned that the Houston City Council’s ad hoc “charter review committee” has assembled a memorandum of four proposed rule changes to the city’s constitution-like document and plans on holding a public hearing on the matter. On December 4th at 1:00 PM, a week from tomorrow, the council will hold a public hearing on these four proposals, which I will delineate below. Additionally, to call it a “committee” is a misnomer, as the whole council sits on this special group. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez (D-District H) will preside.

The four proposals were initially suggested by City Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4). They are eliminating the so-called “revenue cap” for local property taxes, allowing for secret sessions of the council, modifying term limits and allowing a coalition of at least six councilmembers to add agenda items.

Removal of the municipal revenue cap seems to have support on both sides, so it is unlikely to stoke much in the of controversy as Houstonians head into November 2015.

But the proposal for term limits is a somewhat different matter.  Many expect the committee to propose shifting limits of the Mayor and City Controller from a maximum of three 2-year terms to a maximum of two 4-year terms.  This would not only lower the number of elections these public servants have to endure, but would also increase the total amount of time they could serve in office by 2 years overall.  There are points to be made on both sides of the issue. Points in favor would be that fewer elections means more time for governing and more experienced office holders. In opposition would be that the elected official doesn’t have to be held accountable to the public as often for their actions.  In a constituency as large and diverse as Houston, I tend to believe that our elections are important enough to hold every two years.  Rather than reform the frequency of when elections occur, it would be a better idea to reform how they are held– i.e. campaign finance restrictions that level the playing field.

On the other hand, allowing a contingency of Council Members to place an item on the meeting agenda without prior approval of the Mayor seems not only reasonable, but long overdue.  It is a way to go about the people’s business in a more efficient and direct manner.

For all of the positive that would come expanding agenda abilities to members of Council, the proposal to allow secret sessions of City Council seems confusing at best.  As Texpatriate pointed out, it has potential to cause conflict with the open meetings act of the Texas Constitution.  Of course the other side to that is many Council Members feel that the open meetings act is actually too restrictive– they’re not allowed to even informally discuss an issue if not convened in an official meeting.

All of this to say that November 2015 looks to be yet another very important election for Houstonians.  There won’t be a President or Governor on the ballot, but the new Mayor, Council Members and whatever charter amendments are passed could have a huge impact on the city.

 

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