Houston City Council debates powers at first Proposition A committee meeting

Shannon Ryan Image
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Houston City Council debates powers at first Prop A committee meeting
Mayor John Whitmire's Proposition A Committee met on Tuesday to review Houston City Council agenda items amid backlash on the new power dispersion.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston City Council's Proposition A Committee held its first meeting on Tuesday.

More than 80% of Houston voters approved Proposition A last November. With the support of at least two colleagues, it gives council members the power to add items directly to the agenda for consideration, which was a privilege previously held exclusively by the mayor.

When Mayor John Whitmire took office, he formed the committee to review items brought forth by the council, prompting confusion and even upsetting some council members who felt it was an attempt to wrestle back power and tip the scales back to a strong mayor system.

District J Council Member Edward Pollard did not attend the meeting. Instead, he sent his chief of staff, Paul Young. Young explained that Pollard believes the committee's existence undermines the new power given to the council by voters in November.

"Council Member Pollard is not here (on Tuesday) because this was not the intent of the voters," Young announced.

Young raised concerns about items dying in committee "because we don't have a quorum or we don't have a vote."

Efforts to pass Proposition A began in 2019, with the Houston Firefighters Association taking the lead. A bipartisan coalition with groups ranging from the Democratic Socialists of America to conservative think tank, the Urban Reform Institute, helped ensure its passage.

RELATED: Houston mayor and city council joust over agenda powers as Prop A committee set to convene

Urban Reform Institute President Charles Blain explained that the coalition partly pushed Proposition A because if council members wanted to present something in the past, a special meeting had to be called. The item often died if there was no quorum in the special meeting, meaning the majority of council members were absent as required by law.

With nine out of the 16 council members required by law for a quorum at the Proposition A Committee meetings, council members expressed concern that they would run into the same problem.

The committee spent most of Tuesday's meeting reviewing proposed rules for the committee. Council members ultimately voted to continue the discussion at their next committee meeting on May 21.

Still, District A Council Member Amy Peck said she would like to amend the rules to ensure an item is automatically sent back to the council after a certain amount of time if a quorum still needs to be reached.

Blain said with such safeguards in place, he supports the committee. He noted that the committee's chair and co-chair had ensured council members items would only be referred to the committee on a case-by-case basis and that referrals would not be automatic.

"As long as the right for a council member, for three council members, to place an item directly on the agenda, and then you have these additional pathways - as long as that one right is preserved, then I think that still preserves the intent of it," Blain said.

Blain acknowledged that some complex items will be brought forward that council members will want to discuss without fear of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, which controls how officials can discuss public business. Whitmire's deputy chief of staff, Steven David, ensured council members the committee was designed to be a forum for them to do so.

Council members also discussed timelines for item review from different departments under Whitmire's authority - such as the legal department. David explained that requiring time limits will ensure a "future mayor" could not "pocket veto" items by encouraging departments to drag out their review processes.

Marty Lancton, the president of the Houston Firefighters Association, told the committee, "I think what you're doing precisely entails what the intent of Prop A was. I can say that because I wrote it."

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