Leaders of the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition announced July 2 that they collected “roughly 40,000” signatures to place their proposal on the ballot for a citywide vote in November. The minimum number of signatures required for an item to reach the ballot is 20,000, according to the city charter.
The proposal, if approved by voters, would amend the city’s charter to place more power in the hands of individual City Council members. As the charter is written now, the city operates under a “strong mayor” form of local government. This means that only the mayor can place items on the council agenda for the council’s consideration. The charter amendment would give all 16 council members the authority to place items on the agenda for a vote as long as the items have the backing of at least two other council members.
The effort is backed by groups ranging from the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America to the Harris County Young Republicans.
“The goal was simple,” a news release from the coalition stated. “To enable any three Houston City Council members to collectively voice the needs of the people and place an item on the city’s weekly agenda.”
The signatures have been verified by the city secretary and will next need a procedural approval by council. The deadline for this process is Aug. 16.
Opponents of the proposal say it will lead to inefficient council proceedings and partisanship among the council members. Brandon Rottinghaus, University of Houston political science professor, said the outcome of the proposal is difficult to predict.
“The more progressive members may try to push a more progressive agenda, and more conservative members would gum up the legislative process or include more conservative policies to move the city in a more conservative direction,” Rottinghaus told Community Impact Newspaper in May.
“They’re all well enough acquainted with each other and reasonably minded enough to not use the agenda as a weapon, but it could be that in certain moments that will happen.”
A separate amendment in the works
Houston voters could see another charter amendment on the November ballot. A separate charter amendment petition is currently circulating and has yet to receive 20,000 signatures. The Houston Professional Firefighters Association, the labor union representing Houston firefighters, is leading a push to legally change how negotiations play out between the fire union and the mayor.
Currently, in the event of an impasse, the mayor and the fire union’s president are required to engage in mediation, according to the city charter. In this process, a mediator assists in the labor contract negotiations, but both parties can leave the process without reaching an agreement.
The charter amendment petition lobbied by the firefighters union proposes a requirement that the parties enter binding arbitration. In this case, both parties present proposals to an arbitration board, which has the final say in the terms of the contract. In this process, both parties are legally required to come to an agreement, according to Texas Local Government code.