City of Houston Bond Referendum and Charter Amendments

If you live in Houston, you will have seven propositions to vote on in November:

Proposition One:
This proposition is just to update the City Charter to remove obsolete items.  Proposition One would repeal the following:

Article I:
Section 2-a. – Extending City Limits upon Petition.
Section 2-b. – Extending Limits by Action of City Council.

These deal with annexation issues.  Annexation and extending the boundaries of the City of Houston are now governed by the state, so there is no need to have this in the Charter anymore.

Article II:
Sec. 14. – Schools—City of Houston an Independent School District.
Section 14a. – School board to furnish free school books.

These sections talk about public schools in the city.  Although many candidates for City Council over the last several years don’t realize, Houston no longer oversees public schools in the city!  This would remove this language from the Charter.

Article II:
Sec. 16 – Peace and Good Order.

This will just remove the items in this section that have been superseded by state or federal law such as:
Regulating the price of goods and treating disabled people less favorably than people who are not disabled.

Article IX:
Sec. 10. – Freeholder in city not disqualified as juror, etc.; city employees exempt jury service.

This section exempts city employees from jury duty, but state law (which supersedes the City Charter) made jury duty mandatory for city employees.

Proposition Two:

Articles VII-a and VII-b of the City Charter lay out the rules for recall, initiative, and referendum. The current Charter doesn’t recognize the single member council districts (A-K).  This will recognize the districts and make them subject to the same petition requirements as at-large members (1-5).

Analysis of Propositions 1 and 2:
I don’t see anything wrong with these two propositions.  The City Charter should accurately reflect what the City can and cannot do, so it’s a good idea to streamline it; however, I don’t know how voters will react to these.  It can be confusing even to the most experienced government insiders.  It is very likely that people will be confused and then just vote against them.  Example: many people don’t know that the City of Houston doesn’t oversee HISD or any of the other school districts in Houston.  They might think that this proposition will take away oversight in some way, and then they will vote against the proposition.  With the long ballot and pretty much no buzz on these items either way, we will just have to wait and see how people vote.

Proposition A: $144 million in Public Safety Improvement Bonds
Improvements at neighborhood police stations citywide
Expansion of Fire Station 55, City Council District D
New fire station to serve Pine Brook area, City Council District E
Expansion of Fire Station 22, City Council District I
Fire station maintenance/improvements citywide
Facility security improvements
Other building repairs

Analysis: Police and Fire stations desperately need upgrades, and there just isn’t money in the city budget right now with the way things are going.  I am concerned with the vagueness of what is being done with some of the money.  “Improvements at neighborhood police stations citywide.”  Will it really be citywide?  How will they decide which stations need improvements?  As with most bonds, there are a lot of questions that will have no answers.

Proposition B: $166 million in Park Improvement Bonds
Improvements at parks citywide, including at Haden, Busby, Judson Robinson Sr., Jaycee, Wright, Bembry, Hermann, Alief, Nieto, Squatty Lyons, Gragg, Braeburn Glen and Wildheather Parks
Pavilion replacements
Swimming pool upgrades and replacements
Ball field lighting upgrades
Trail replacement and overlays
Bayou Greenways Project

Analysis: The group responsible for putting this together is Parks By You.  Although they have some specifics on what they plan to do, so much of it is up in the air.  They are trying to receive $166 million in bond money, but they still have to raise $105 million from the private sector to complete their projects.  From what I heard from a recent presentation by the group, they don’t have this money together yet.

Proposition C: $57 million in Public Improvement Bonds for health, sanitation/recycling, and city facilities improvements
Repairs to City Hall and City Hall Annex
Renovation of the Westpark recycling facility, City Council District J
Renovation of the Central Depository, City Council District I
Possible repair of Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, City Council District D
Environmental remediation

Analysis:
Possible repair of Sunnyside Multi-Service Center?  Do they not know if it needs repairs? It would make me nervous to vote for something that they don’t really know specifically how the money will be used.

Proposition D: $28 million in Library Improvement Bonds
Renovation of the Montrose Library, City Council District C
Replacement of the Moody Library, City Council District H
Replacement of the Meyer Library, City Council District K
Renovation of Robinson-Westchase Library, City Council District F

Analysis: This one is pretty concrete in terms of how they are going to use the money.  It really comes down to whether or not you agree with spending that much money on libraries.

Proposition E: $15 million In Public Improvement Bonds for affordable housing
These bonds will be used to demolish blighted properties to provide locations for construction of affordable housing using federal funds.

Analysis: There is no question that there are blighted properties that need to be demolished, but do they really need to then turn those areas into affordable housing units?  If the federal government wants to build in that location badly enough, they should pay to remove the property.  The city might do better to sell off the land to the highest bidders who are also willing to demolish the property.

You can find more information about Propositions One and Two here and A-E here.  The actual Charter can be found here if you want to see the exact language you are voting about.

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3 Responses to City of Houston Bond Referendum and Charter Amendments

  1. Erich says:

    The proposed charter amendments sound innocuous enough. So, why the sudden interest in repealing Charter language that has been obsolete for decades (in some cases)? And, since Mayor Parker has already stated publicly that more of the Charter will need to be revised in the future, why only these 2 proposals now? (Baytown, for example, has 19 charter amendments on the ballot; League City has 7.)

    Well, state law requires that two FULL calendar years must pass before any new charter amendment can be voted upon, Mayor Parker comes up for reelection in 2013, and she does not want to run on a ballot that might also have citizen-led petitions on them to, say, repeal the Rain Tax or require E-Verify for city contracts. As the November 2014 “authorized uniform election date” will be on November 4, 2014, it will fall two days short of meeting the full two years requirement, since that is two days short of two full calendar years following November 6, 2012. Thus, if even one of this year’s proposed charter amendments passes, the next opportunity that VOTERS will have to propose amending the Charter will be in November 2015!

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