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Is CM-elect Stardig term limited or not?

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

I brought this up yesterday in my wrapup of the city and HCC runoffs, and I’m asking it again here in the hope that someone who can provide a definitive answer will offer one. The question I have is whether or not CM Brenda Stardig is eligible to run for re-election in 2015. As I noted in that post, CM Stardig’s position is similar to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, who flirted with the idea of running in District D this year, thus igniting a stir over whether or not the term limits law allowed for her to run. The law says “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.” City Attorney David Feldman interpreted that to mean that Jones could not run again, since she has served two full terms. My initial reaction was that Stardig was in the same kind of boat, but thinking about it again now, she’s not. If Stardig were to run for a third term, she would file for that election prior to serving out her second term, thus meeting the requirements of the term limits ordinance. A Houston Politics post from 2012 that includes a copy of Feldman’s position supports that view. In practical terms, that means that if you’re an incumbent Council member and you must lose an election, better it to be after your first term than after your second. You can win one, lose one, then win two more, but if you win two and then lose one, you’re out of luck. In other words, Helena Brown and Andrew Burks could come back and wind up serving three terms on Council just as Stardig could, but Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang are finished as Council members, though they could still run for Controller or Mayor.

All that assumes you accept Feldman’s interpretation, which Jones at least said she didn’t. I have to say, while this may be technically correct, it feels wrong to me. The clear intent of the term limits law was to restrict Council members, Controllers, and Mayors to three terms. It’s possible there was some discussion at the time of whether or not those terms had to be consecutive or not – it’s been a long time, I sure don’t remember – but even if there were I’m willing to bet that the prevailing opinion among city voters would overwhelmingly favor the simple “three terms and you’re done” perspective”. I presume that sooner or later this is going to need to be settled by a judge, or by a fix to the ordinance being passed by the voters. Be that as it may, I feel confident that the subject will come up again, any time the subject turns to Stardig and her possible re-election effort in two years.

One reason why this may matter, beyond the simple effect on folks like Stardig and Jones, was vocalized by Texpatriate, who wondered “if Brenda 2.0 becomes super conservative just to placate some of her angry, right-wing constituents”. Maybe the odds of that are greater if she has the option to run for re-election – she might emulate some of CM Brown’s positions in order to protect herself against a third matchup with Brown, for example. No guarantee she’s behave this way – Stardig might well conclude that there are limits to the crazy in District A, and her successful comeback is proof of that. Regardless, it’s not unreasonable to think that a term-limited Stardig could be a different Council member than a Stardig who has one more campaign to go.

So that’s my question. Writing this has led me to what I think is the technically correct answer, but I’m not convinced that the matter is settled. What do you think?

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8 Comments

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    With all due respect to Jolanda, interpretation doesn’t have anything to do with it. The city charter is pretty clear:

    Section 6a. – Limitation of terms.
    No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.

    I agree that it’s dumb to phrase it that way when the intent seemed to be that you couldn’t serve more than six years in office. The wording means that one-term Helena Brown has the ability to serve six years in office, but two-termer Jolanda Jones cannot run for election for a fifth and sixth year.

  2. Katy Anders says:

    Sounds like it’s a badly written law.

    I mean, I consider any law that does not accomplish what it is meant to accomplish to be a badly written law, and this one doesn’t.

    It makes sense that it’s intended to keep anyone from serving more than 3 terms, but it keeps some people from serving three.

  3. Voter says:

    What if they ran for a different seat? Would that still be true? Or does the law mean any seat on council?

  4. Voter – Yes, it would apply to any other seat on Council.

  5. joshua ben bullard says:

    Theres no confusion=she only seved one term=not 2 full TERMS = like jones did, the law permits stardig to run for the seat in tWo years because of the word “full” full implys 2 back to back terms with in 4 years equal “full”, stardigs final term would satisfy 6 years but only after she -compeltes- Her third term=completing her third term would at that point also complete “two full terms”=because thats the two terms that are consecutive, thus she will be allowed to run for office once again in two years.

    this is fact

    joshua ben bullard on brenda stardigs re election results……..

  6. David G says:

    It is interesting that a person cannot serve 6 years in a district city council seat and then switch to an at-large.

    Even if both offices have the same power they have a very different constituent base.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    Given how lax state law is regarding residency now (ala Kubosh, Hall, etc), I think the clear intent was to prevent anyone from running for any similar office lest someone simply rent another apt or house in a nearby district every three terms. One might argue strict interpretation of the charter provision but the voters were loud and clear when adopting term limits so any other look at it would likely have a backlash to be reckoned with.

  8. I think the law is well written and simply being misapplied. Two terms is two terms period. If the law required continuous terms for it to come into effect the words “consecutive” would have been added.

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