Change to Term Limits Denied

Houston voters will not have a chance to change the city's term limits this year. Councilmembers voted against a proposed charter amendment that would allow voters to consider new terms. Laurie Johnson reports.

The ordinance to change Houston's term limits from three two-year terms to two four-year terms was defeated by a tie. Seven councilmembers voted for it, seven against, with Councilmember Jolanda Jones absent.

Ironically, even some of the no-voters say they think term limits should be changed. This is Councilmember Stephen Costello.

"Personally, I'm against term limits and always have been against term limits. I think term limits occurs at the ballot box. However, I am a beneficiary of term limits as a freshman councilmember. And in that regard, because of the fact that I have the potential, if it passes, of extending my term here I'm going to have to vote no on this particular issue, and I just wanted to advise my colleagues of that."

At issue was the transition period worked into the proposition. If approved, it would allow current freshmen council members to run for two additional four-year terms. Some were concerned it would appear self-serving because it could increase their total time in office. But first-time councilmember Brenda Stardig says she thinks citizens should have the chance to vote.

"Whether it's what this commission represents or in the future — whatever the change needs to be — there needs to be a change, because two-year terms is not cutting it."

Term limits were up for consideration because former Mayor Bill White put together a commission to review the issue. Arthur Schecter chaired that commission. He says Houston has the strictest term limits in the nation and the city could have saved about $2 million a year by approving the changes.

"The change that we recommended is really pretty minimal. We were charged with responsibility of reviewing it to see what would be in the best interest of the governance of the city. And I think that some of the city — I don't know what the motive was for some and there may have been no motive. But I think it was a political decision that was made, and I'm OK with that. We did the work. I believe that the commission really and truly assembled the most comprehensive collection of material on the issue of any major city."

Mayor Annise Parker says there's a faint chance of life support for new term limits if a councilmember puts forth an alternate proposal next week, but in all liklihood the matter is dead, at least for this election cycle.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...