Depending on how you look at it, time is either running out for the petition signature gatherers who hope to overturn the homeless feeding ordinance, or it isn’t.
Free to Give Houston, a recently formed political action committee, needs about 28,000 registered voters’ signatures to trigger a charter amendment election in November. The group sent out 30,000 letters last week urging voters to sign the petition.
Houston attorney Paul Kubosh, who formed the committee with his brother, Randy Kubosh, said the ordinance is an example of local government overstepping its bounds and ignoring the will of the people.
City Attorney David Feldman said the only approved way to challenge the ordinance is by referendum.
A petition with 12,362 signatures would have to be submitted within 30 days of the ordinance’s passage or any time prior to the effective date. The deadline for the latter is the end of this week.
However, Paul Kubosh said residents can seek a charter amendment under state law, which trumps the city charter. As a result, there is no petition deadline, he said, and the opposition plans to submit a petition by July 30.
See here and here for some background. The requirement to have signatures collected by either the ordinance’s effective date or 30 days after passage was the basis for Judge Hughes’ ruling in the red light camera lawsuit that invalidated the 2010 referendum. It was suggested prior to that, and prior to Council’s vote to put the referendum on the ballot, that a charter amendment, which has a higher signature requirement but no similar deadline, would have been a valid path, and that seems to be the route the Kuboshes are taking. That’s not clear to me, and I don’t think the matter was directly addressed by Hughes or by the dismissal of the city’s lawsuit against ATS. What I’m saying here is that I foresee another date before a judge in the city’s future. I welcome speculation on this from the lawyers in the audience.
On a side note, I found this a bit grating:
Backers of the current petition drive argue that public property is owned by citizens and therefore they shouldn’t have to ask the city for permission to use it.
“We have a huge problem asking the city for permission to feed the poor,” said Manuel Sanchez, a volunteer with Simple Feast, a church ministry.
I agree that public property is owned by the citizens, but that includes the citizens who want to use that property for something other than feeding the homeless, too. How are we to settle a dispute that arises from such a conflict? “We were here first” seems lacking to me. Feeding the homeless is a noble purpose, but that doesn’t mean less-noble purposes have to be subordinate to it. I understood the objections to a lot of the other provisions that are now not in the homeless feeding ordinance, but this one I confess I just don’t get.