Houston political groups eye November for election on mayoral power limits
Representatives from local political groups ranging from the Houston Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America to the Harris County Young Republicans have reached a milestone in their ongoing effort to limit powers held by the Houston mayor’s office. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
The organizers, members of the Houston Charter Amendment Coalition, announced April 5 they passed the 20,000-signature threshold to get a proposed change to the city’s charter on the ballot for a public vote.
The petition aims to expand the influence of individual City Council members by allowing any of them to place an item on the City Council agenda. As proposed, an item must get support from two additional council members to get placed on the agenda.
“All of us standing up here today have not and will not agree on every single issue that comes before City Council, but we all agree that we should have the right to have whatever concern we have discussed if our council member is willing to bring that forward,” said Charles Blain, coalition organizer and founder of conservative policy blog Urban Reform.
Currently, under the city’s “strong-mayor” form of government, only the mayor has the authority to place action items on the agenda. Some of the county’s most populous cities follow the same format, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Typically, cities without a strong-mayor form of government have a city manager appointed by the mayor to manage local policy making alongside the City Council. These cities include Dallas; San Antonio; Austin; San Jose, California; and Phoenix.
In Austin, however, an opposite effort is taking place to establish a strong-mayor form of local government. Proponents have said it will streamline policy making and put more power into elected officials’ hands rather than with the city manager, who is appointed by the mayor.
Next, the city secretary’s office will verify signatures and pass the petition to Houston City Council for a vote. If certified by Aug. 16, the charter amendment will be put up for a public vote in November. The ballot is likely to be light with no major elections affecting Houston residents currently scheduled.
“We’re not looking at a primary; we’re not looking at a general, where it’s Republican versus Democrat,” Blain said. “More so than any other election we are going to be talking to neighborhood groups, community groups about getting this through is going to elevate their voices. ... It's about finally having effective representation at City Hall.”
Others involved in the effort include the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, Indivisible Houston, Houston Justice, and Houston City Council Members Amy Peck and Michael Kubosh.
Editor's note: this post has been updated for clarity.