Houston voters could have a major local initiative on the November ballot this year: a new proposal that would give council members more power at City Hall.
A non-partisan group of Houstonians dropped off over 40,000 signatures at City Hall on Monday, with supporters including the Harris County Republican Party, Indivisible Houston, the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, and the Democratic Socialists of America’s Houston chapter.
Mayor Sylvester Turner has publicly criticized such a proposal.
Only two out of 16 current council members attended Monday’s press conference in support of the measure — District A Council member Amy Peck and At-Large Council member Michael Kubosh.
The coalition is hoping to get a measure in front of voters that would give city council members the authority to put items on the council agenda. Currently, only the Houston mayor can do that. Unlike many Texas cities, Houston’s local government structure is based on a strong mayor system that centralizes virtually all power with one person.
Charles Blain with the local organization Urban Reform said if the measure passes, council members could be more responsive to their constituents.
“This petition is the manifestation of the frustration of every Houston resident out there who has spoken with their city council member and was told that while they support fixing the problem there’s just nothing they could do because they didn’t have control over the weekly agenda,” Blain said.
Under the proposal, if three council members work together, they could put an item on the council agenda.
“This is supported by all parties,” Houston fire union president Marty Lancton said. “This is not about your political affiliation. This is not about whether you lean left, you lean right. This is about transparent good government.”
A similar recommendation was made in 2015, after a committee reviewed Houston’s city charter and voted unanimously to give council members more influence over the agenda. Mayor Annise Parker at the time said it couldn’t be done. That measure ultimately failed.
The petition will now go to the city, which will verify whether it has the required 20,000 signatures to make it on the ballot.
“One of the most sacred things of government is its ability to respect the will of the people, the vote of the people, and the right to petition its government,” Kubosh said. “And that’s what has happened today. This coalition has come forward to petition the city government, and I stand in support of any group that wants to petition its government.”