City Council Puts 4-Year Term Proposal to Houston Voters

Though city finances remain far from certain thanks to a crushing revenue cap, Houston City Council chose to focus on more immediate needs in today’s meeting… their own elections.  Here’s the main item via the Houston Chronicle

Houston voters will decide whether elected city officials should serve two four-year terms rather than three two-year terms starting in 2016, potentially lengthening the terms of some current council members.

The City Council voted 12-5 Wednesday to place the item on the November ballot. Councilmen Richard Nguyen, Mike Laster, Steve Costello, Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford voted no.

The change, if passed, would take effect for officials elected this fall. Current freshman council members could pick up two four-year terms and those serving their second term would be permitted one four-year term. Elected officials who are already term-limited would not be affected by the change.

The council has generally supported lengthening terms, but there was debate about whether such a change should go into effect immediately or in 2020, when no current council members would benefit.

Credible arguments can be made on both sides of this issue.  With longer terms and fewer elections, it is quite conceivable that Council could become less focused on politics and more effective at serving the people.  It could also afford opportunities for increased cooperation with other levels of government like the State Legislature, County Commissioners’ Court and School District Board of Trustees.

On the other hand, a change to 4 year terms would also lessen the accountability Council Members have to voters.  Elections may be burdensome and ridiculously expensive, but they are far more than just As Off the Kuff states in a recent post, this fact would’ve been a tough pill to swallow under the Mayor’s original proposal to have 4-year terms go in effect for 2020 (thus not affecting any current Council Members).  But knowing that Houstonians will now vote for the possibility of some at City Hall to serve up to 10 years, this change seems a long shot for the November elections.

It’s a shame that Council did not consider other options, like proposing 4 year terms for the Mayor, City Controller or even At-Large Members.  That way, we would conceivably get the benefits from both points.

So there you have it.  Yet another major decision that will be put to voters this November.

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