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No term limits referendum this fall

Much as I dislike our silly term limits ordinance, I think this is the correct term of action.

CM Andrew Burks

A City Council committee on Monday killed a proposal to ask voters whether to give the mayor, controller and council members up to 12 years in office. They currently are limited to six.

Councilman Andrew Burks, whose budget amendment last month sent the issue to the council’s ethics and governance committee, first tried to build a case for longer terms on its merits. He argued that it would save money in avoided election costs, attract better candidates, encourage more long-term thinking, shift officials’ focus from fundraising to public policy and reduce the use of council positions as stepping stones to other offices.

Virtually every member of the committee told Burks the proposal was the wrong idea at the wrong time and voted 9-1 to put it to rest. Even Burks, who was elected in December on his 13th try for public office, voted with the majority. Only new District K Councilman Larry Green voted against spiking the proposal.

“I think that we need to revisit the three two-year terms. I think that the cost associated with it is a challenge, not only for the city, but also is a (fundraising) challenge for the candidates,” Green said.

District I Councilman James Rodriguez said any move to change term limits should come from the citizenry.

“I haven’t seen a groundswell of support for changing term limits, especially in my district, and I think they’d like us to get back to the business of running and managing this city,” he said.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that a move to change term limits must come from the grassroots, I agree that there’s no real desire among voters for it to be changed right now. Recent polling data, referenced in a Houston Politics post, suggests the term limits ordinance is popular as it is. I think it’s highly unlikely that a referendum to modify this ordinance would succeed without a long campaign to discuss why it needs to be changed and why an alternative system would serve the city better. The latter half of a highly contentious Presidential election year is not a propitious time to start such a campaign even if the resources existed for it. As was the case in San Antonio, where Mayor Phil Hardberger successfully pushed to have their term limits ordinance changed, I believe that a campaign to do the same here could be initiated and led by a high profile individual like a current or former Mayor. While neither Mayors Parker nor White are supporters of the term limits ordinance, they have not shown any inclination to lead the charge here, and beyond them I don’t see any obvious candidates for the task. I appreciate CM Burks’ efforts, though I would advise him to not take the defeat so personally, but the time isn’t right and there’s no point in putting something on the ballot that’s going to lose. Campos has more.

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