Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:05 p.m. to include a response from the city of Houston.

Two separate efforts to amend Houston’s city charter are facing roadblocks in getting placed on the November ballot for a citywide vote.

Prior to going before Houston voters, a city charter amendment petition must receive at least 20,000 signatures, according to the state's local government code. The city secretary must then verify the signatures, and the City Council must vote to approve an election date.

With Harris County’s Aug. 16 filing deadline for the November election soon approaching, two ongoing charter amendment efforts are in limbo.

“The city needs to proceed cautiously because the courts are paying close attention to not just the deadlines but to constitutional concerns,” said Matthew Festa, a professor at South Texas College of Law, who specializes in state and local government.

The first petition, circulated by a group of local political groups known as the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition, announced its signatures had been verified by the city secretary July 6. However, the Houston City Council agenda for its Aug. 11 meeting—the last before the Aug. 16 filing deadline—states that council members will vote on whether or not to place the proposal on the November 2023 ballot instead.

Their petition proposes changing the city charter so that any City Council member can place an item on the City Council’s weekly agenda as long as two other council members back the effort. As it is written now, the charter only allows the mayor to place items on the agenda. The effort is backed by wide-ranging groups including the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Harris County Republican Party.

Charles Blain, an organizer of the Charter Amendment Petition Coalition, was surprised when the agenda only gave council members the choice to vote to file the proposal in the November 2023 election. Mayor Sylvester Turner had recently told council members they would be able to choose which election date to place the amendment on.

“There is no justifiable argument to delay it,” Blain said. “I think that pushing it out so far with so many unknowns leading up to that time really puts the city in a weird position because there’s no guarantee that something won't happen between now and then.”

A city charter can only be amended every two years, the Texas Constitution states. Blain said he is concerned that if another charter amendment is passed in 2022 it will push his coalition’s proposal even further back. He said he hopes the agenda item will be altered prior to the council meeting or during it, if necessary, to get the item on this year's November agenda.

Officials with the Houston Legal Department told Community Impact Newspaper that proposing a November 2023 election date for the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition’s proposal is within the administration’s authority because it is the next citywide election date. The mayor and City Council are up for election every 4 years with the next election slated for November 2023.

“Of equal importance given the fiscal constraints under which the City operates, holding the election in November 2023 avoids the significant costs of a special election that are in excess of $1 million,” a statement from the legal department added.

Harris County estimates the cost to the city to hold a special election in November 2021 would be $1,188,270, the legal department stated. Adding in the cost to hold an election in portions of the city that fall in Montgomery County and Fort Bend County as well as legal requirements to publicize the election brings the cost up to $1.3 million.

The department also confirmed that the city secretary’s office is “approximately halfway through” counting the signatures on the firefighter’s petition.

A second charter amendment petition circulated in recent months, was led by the Houston firefighters’s union known as the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.

The union submitted over 20,000 petition signatures to the city secretary July 11, in hopes of also triggering a November election.

The union’s proposal calls for the union and the mayor to enter binding arbitration in the event of an impasse rather than mediation, as the city charter currently reads. Under binding arbitration, both parties submit labor contract proposals to arbiters who determine the final contract terms. Unlike meditation, both parties are legally prohibited from walking away without reaching an agreement.

City officials have not confirmed whether the signatures have been counted, and an election date for the amendment was not included on the Aug. 11 agenda.

“The city needs to do its ministerial duties and not engage in voter suppression,” HPFA President Marty Lancton said. “We have given numerous examples of other cities [and] their ability to get this done so the question is, ‘Why is the city doing this?’”

A recent example, Lancton noted, was the Make Austin Safe Petition. The city secretary verified signatures within two weeks of receiving them from petition organizers.