Using the name The Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition, the group is pursuing a charter amendment that would allow any agenda item backed by at least three City Council members to be placed on the agenda for a vote by the City Council and the mayor.
Under Houston’s current “strong mayor” form of government, only the mayor is permitted to place items on the agenda for council’s consideration.
“The campaign for the mayor of Houston is a big-money race. Working-class people don’t usually get to chime in on such a big office,” said Bryan LaVergne, an organizer with the Houston chapter of the DSA. “It’s easy to reach our [our council members]. We can tell them about the issues that matter to our families.”
The group also includes representatives from the Houston Justice Coalition, the Alief Super Neighborhood and the Houston Professional Firefighters Association.
Charles Blain, one of the coalition's organizers, said the coalition has been in the process of forming for two years while frustration built from political groups, neighborhood organizations, labor unions and everyday Houstonians, all of whom he said feel unable to effect change at City Hall.
“I wouldn’t say it was spearheaded by one person or organization, but everybody focusing on this one issue because for far too long we’ve heard council members say they don’t have any power to do anything with the agenda,” said Blain, who founded the conservative policy blog Urban Reform.
Sue Lovell, a coalition member and former council member, said she felt this struggle during her time serving on council between 2006 and 2012 under mayors Bill White and Annise Parker. She added, however, that under Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, she has seen those tensions grow.
“There was also a committee process ... and they needed to get an affirmative vote to move forward to the agenda. It was a check and balance that the council members had,” Lovell said. “That’s not so anymore. Those committee meetings are more performative.”
The coalition began collecting signatures Oct. 26 and needs to collect 20,000 signatures to get placed on a ballot, according to Texas local government code. The coalition did not have a specific election date it was aiming for, said Marty Lancton, president of the firefighters' union.