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Philip Bryant

There will be no city elections this November

Here’s the early version of the story. I’ll add a link to the full story in the morning.

The Texas Supreme Court on Monday denied plantiffs’ attempts to expedite their case challenging the [2015 term limits referendum] ballot language that lengthened city officials’ terms two years ago, making it unlikely the matter will be resolved before the state’s August 21 deadline to order a fall election.

Instead, the case is positioned to return to trial court for a hearing on whether the wording of the city’s proposition authorizing two four-year terms, instead of three two-year terms, was too obscure.

“There’s no way,” Austin election lawyer Buck Wood said. “I don’t see any way that they’re going to get any final order in time for the filing deadline.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Dick conceded the timing makes a November mayoral election “unlikely.”

“But I don’t think it’s impossible,” Dick added, saying he plans to ask the high court to reconsider its decision.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the court’s order, which actually came down on Monday. We were getting dangerously close to what I figured would be the functional deadline for a ruling on the mandamus, in order to ensure enough time for people to file for office if they needed to. This doesn’t mean that we won’t get another election until 2019 – I’ve heard many people speculate about a special election next May, which I suppose could happen – but barring anything unexpected at this point, the case will plod on through the appeals process, which suggests that the people who were elected in 2015 will get to serve out most if not all of that four-year term.

UPDATE: Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a fuller version of this story on the website, and there was nothing I could find in the print edition this morning. Maybe tomorrow.

The new panhandling ordinance

This happened last week; I didn’t have a chance to really look at it before now.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Residents who impede the use of a Houston roadway, or block a sidewalk or building entrance could be charged with a misdemeanor under an ordinance passed Wednesday by City Council.

The ordinance aimed at curbing panhandling was paired with a ban on unauthorized encampments in public places – an effort to crack down on homeless camps that have drawn resident and council member ire in recent months. The encampment ban is set to take effect in 30 days.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he thinks the new rules help to achieve a “delicate balance” between ensuring safety and helping the homeless.

“The whole notion is to strike a balance between addressing their needs and their concerns and putting them in a better position in their lives, and at the same time the neighborhood concerns in terms of people being in their doorway or blocking the sidewalk,” Turner said.

[…]

Tristia Bauman, a senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, warned of potential constitutional violations, also saying she thought the laws would be ineffective.

“This law as written is constitutionally concerning, and I think it’s very vulnerable to legal challenge,” she said of the encampment rules. “To create a punishment for people who are attempting to survive on the street when they have no alternative is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives, said the city has worked with groups like Star of Hope and the Salvation Army to ensure there are sufficient shelter beds for the city’s homeless.

“For individuals who want to go to a shelter, there is a place for them,” Eichenbaum said.

Bauman pointed to those with mental health issues or disabilities who may be unable to go to a shelter.

Turner’s plan to curb homelessness, announced last month, also includes proposals to house 500 chronically homeless people by early September and construct alternative, professionally staffed “low-level” shelters under highway overpasses or on private property.

These outdoor spaces are intended to help accommodate people who are unable or unwilling to go to an indoor shelter.

Here’s an earlier story about what Council had been considering; the proposed ordinance was tagged until last week. As someone who currently works downtown, I can attest that panhandlers are a nuisance, and can sometimes be scary. Houston has made a lot of progress in reducing the number of homeless residents, especially homeless veterans, and part of this program is intended to further that work. There are some details to be filled in, and there are concerns about the legality of this ordinance as well as its likely effectiveness. I’m not sure what to think at this point.

In the meantime, there’s also this.

Phillip Bryant carries tuna cans and water bottles in his car and often spontaneously delivers them to the poor he sees throughout the Houston streets.

However, Bryant, who describes himself as a devout Christian, contends the city’s charitable feeding ordinance prohibits this and also violates his religious rights.

He filed a lawsuit Wednesday night in Harris County court challenging the ordinance, which requires advocates to obtain permission from property owners – public or private – before feeding more than five people. Violation of the ordinance is considered a criminal misdemeanor and is punishable by up to $2,000, according to the lawsuit.

[…]

Although not mandatory, the city encourages those feeding the homeless to register as a food service organization and receive food safety training. The only required step is a person must seek permission from the property owner before feeding more than five people.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what the point of contention is here, but I guess we’ll see what the courts make of it.

City wins first round of term limits ballot language lawsuit

It’s round one, of course, but it’s still a win.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

The ballot language Houston voters used to change term limits for elected officials was “inartful” but not “invalid,” a state district judge ruled Wednesday, a move that nonetheless left the plaintiffs claiming victory ahead of an expected appellate battle.

[…]

Much of the debate before Judge Randy Clapp, a Wharton County jurist appointed to hear the case, focused on procedural matters: Whether Dick properly served the city notice of his lawsuit, whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the case, and whether attorney Andy Taylor could intervene to assist Dick.

Clapp acknowledged higher courts would not be bound to his view of whether the ballot language was misleading or omitted key facts, the tests under the law.

Still, he ruled in the city’s favor, having described his thoughts in an exchange with Taylor.

“My personal feeling at this point is, the omission part is pretty weak,” he said, noting case law says ballot items need not be comprehensive. “But the misleading part is, I think, the stronger allegation you make because of the choice of words involved.”

That Clapp ultimately did not find the ballot language unlawful was less important than his decision to rule on all motions before him on Wednesday, Taylor said, because the case will move to the appellate courts all at once. That will limit the city’s ability to, as Taylor views it, “run out the shot clock” by relying on procedural delays to push the case past November 2017, when the next city election would be held if the terms reverted to two years.

“The thing that was the most important here was that we get a ruling from the trial court so that we can go up to the appellate court where this is ultimately going to be decided,” Taylor said. “We’re confident the appellate courts will rule that this ballot language was both deceptive and misleading.”

See here, here, and here for the background. You have to admire Andy Taylor’s ability to declare that a loss is a win. Clearly, he missed his calling as the coach of a sports team. Anyway, as far as the timing goes, for Taylor and Dick to actually get a win, I think you’d need to have a final ruling by no later than a year from now, probably more like by next February. I mean, the filing deadline for a November of 2017 election would be around Labor Day, so in theory you could go as late as mid-July or so for a filing period, but that doesn’t leave people much time to fundraise. If someone wanted to run for Mayor, for example, or even for an At Large Council seat, they’d want to get started a lot sooner than that. Is next April enough time for an appeals court and the Supreme Court to rule? I guess we’ll find out.

UPDATE: KUHF has more.

Term limits plaintiffs respond to dismissal motion

It’s about what you’d expect.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Last November Houston voters approved an amendment to the city charter that changed the length and maximum number of terms elected officials can serve.

The lawsuit by Phillip Paul Bryant alleges the language on the ballot tricked voters into thinking they were voting for limiting terms, when they really extended them.

But the city says the plaintiff missed the deadline to deliver the citation.

“And so the city’s legal department has filed a plea to the jurisdiction, essentially saying that you filed a lawsuit but you didn’t give timely and proper service,” Mayor Sylvester Turner says. “And as a result the lawsuit should be dismissed.”

The city also claims the wrong person was served because the certified mail was accepted and signed by a city employee who works in the mail room instead of then-Mayor Annise Parker.

Eric Dick, attorney for the plaintiff, dismisses both arguments. He points out the Texas Election Code only says a citation has to be returned to the court if it’s not served within 20 days.

He says if you miss the deadline, you can try again.

“There’s no case law to follow what they’re saying. They’re just making stuff up,” Dick says. “It’s sanctionable. It’s frivolous. They can’t win on the merits of the case, so they’re just lying. It’s a straight-up bold-face lie.”

Theodore Rave, professor at the University of Houston Law Center, says the problem with the plaintiff’s assertion is that election contests need to be filed within 30 days after an election.

“It’s possible that if the plaintiffs had, within that original 30 days after the election, gone back to the court and asked for a new citation, that might have reset the 20-day clock and the plaintiff could have served that new citation within 20 days,” Rave says.

The lawsuit was filed in time but the city wasn’t served until six weeks after the election.

See here for the background. You can see the original petition and the city’s motion to dismiss at the link above. Dick sent out a typically bluster-filled press release on Monday with his assertions about what the law really is. All I know is there will be a hearing on February 26, and we’ll see what a judge has to say about it.

Term limits lawsuit against city could be dismissed

This was unexpected.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Last November, Houston voters approved an amendment to the City Charter that changed the length and maximum number of terms elected officials can serve.

The lawsuit by Phillip Paul Bryant alleges the language on the ballot tricked voters into thinking they were voting for limiting terms, when they actually extended them.

But the city says the suit should be dismissed because the plaintiff missed the deadline to deliver the citation by one day.

“It sounds like the city has a good argument,” Matthew Festa, professor at the South Texas College of Law, says. “And as much as we don’t want important issues to be resolved by technicalities, those are the rules of the game.”

Kevin Fulton, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff, says they are looking at the city’s argument and possible case law in their favor.

See here for the background. This is the only story on this that I have seen, and it’s not exactly clear on what deadline was missed, when the judge may consider this argument by the city, and any other details that may be relevant. As such, I’m a wee bit hesitant to put much emphasis on what may turn out to be a minor technicality that quickly gets smoothed over. If there is something to it, we’ll find out soon enough.

All that said, I’m ambivalent at best about this change to term limits – as you know, I voted No and I have stated several times since then that I think the effect of this change will be way more extensive than we currently know – but I’m also generally opposed to lawsuits that challenge the result of elections like this, especially when the argument is that the voters were too stupid to know what they were voting on. If this lawsuit winds up getting tossed because the attorneys for the plaintiffs were too incompetent to follow the rules in submitting their paperwork, it’ll be pretty damn funny.

Lawsuit filed over term limits referendum

As if on cue, the following hit my inbox on Wednesday afternoon, from Eric Dick:

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Phillip Paul Bryant is filing a lawsuit to invalidate Proposition 2 because the ballot language misled Houston voters.

Annise Parker and the City of Houston have a history with misleading voters when it comes to ballot language. Indeed in 2015 alone, Texas Supreme Court has found that Annise Parker and the City of Houston have used inappropriate ballot language at least twice.[1][2]

On November 3, 2015, registered voters of the City of Houston were asked to vote on several propositions, including a proposition extending term limits. (“Proposition 2”). The ballot language for Proposition 2 reads as follows:

“(Relating to Term Limits for City Elective Office) Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to reduce the number of terms of elective offices to no more than two terms in the same office and limit the length for all terms of elective office to four years, beginning in January 2016; and provide for transition?”

The voters of the City of Houston passed Proposition 2 on November 3, 2015.

The language of Proposition 2 was misleading in one of more of the following ways:

  • The ballot language suggested that it would “limit” term length instead of expanding them from two-year terms to four-year terms;
  • The ballot language suggested that the “limit the length for all terms” to be four years instead of allowing elected municipal officials to serve a total of up to eight or ten years;
  • As admitted by Annise D. Parker in an interview with Houston Public Media, voters thought they were limiting the amount of time for municipal elected officials to serve in office.

See here for the background. Phillip Paul Bryant was a candidate for District B in 2011, and was engaged in the opposition to HERO. A copy of the petition is here; as always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there. On the one hand, I voted against the term limits change and feel that two-year terms are the better idea. On the other hand, I’m not particularly awed by Eric Dick’s legal prowess. On the other other hand, Lord only knows what the Supreme Court will do; the two footnotes in that press release refer to the decisions on Renew Houston and the wording of the HERO referendum. So who knows? If history is any guide, we won’t know for several years. The Chron and KUHF have more.

More on the HERO repeal petition jury verdict

KUHF has a good look at What It All Means.

PetitionsInvalid

“It’s tough to predict,” said Teddy Rave, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

“It looks like the jury pretty much split the baby. They answered some questions in favor of the plaintiffs and some in favor of the city. And now it’ll be up to the judge to apply the answers that the jury gave to the signatures on the petition to try to figure out which ones are valid and how many of them are valid and whether that will get across the threshold.”

The jurors were asked to consider six different questions.

For example, in Question 1, they had to determine which of 98 different petition gatherers “signed and subscribed” their oath. Without a valid oath, all signatures that person gathered are invalid.

The jury said “no” for about two-thirds of them.

But [Andy] Taylor, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, argued that says nothing about what the judge will end up ruling on that question.

“As long as you substantially comply with the purpose of the law, then the vote counts,” Taylor said.

He said as long as someone signed or wrote their name anywhere on the page, their intent is clear.

[Geoffrey] Harrison, the city’s lawyer, disagreed.

“People who sign where they’re supposed to legibly identify their name but fail to sign to actually take the oath — that’s the fundamental problem,” Harrison said.

See here for the background. What you need to see is the copy of the jury charge embedded in the KUHF story link. It gives a good idea of just how shoddy the effort of the petition collectors was. For example:

– To the question “Which if any of the following Circulators signed and subscribed the Circulator’s oath in the Referendum Petition?”, where “subscribed” means “to sign one’s own name” at the bottom of the pages, the answer for 64 of the 98 circulators was No. Among them were former Council candidates Philip Bryant, Kathy Ballard-Blueford Daniels, and Kendall Baker; pastor Steve Riggle, and former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill.

– The plaintiffs made a big deal out of the fact that the jury answered No to the question of whether any pages submitted by 13 different circulators contained fraud. But to the question of whether or not they contained forgeries, the answer for 12 of the 13 was Yes, and to the question of whether or not any of them contained “non-accidental defects”, the answer for 6 of 16 was Yes.

– Finally to the question of whether or not the circulators’ affidavit oaths were true and correct, the answer for 12 of the 13 was No. Interestingly, the one circulator for whom the answer was Yes was also the one circulator whose pages were found to contain no forgeries.

The big question is how many petition pages get knocked out as a result of all these errors, incompetencies, and forgeries. There was a meeting between Judge Schaffer and the attorneys on Thursday the 19th to discuss this very topic.

In the hearing, Judge Robert Schaffer sought input from the lawyers on what to base his final ruling on.

Andy Taylor represents the plaintiffs — pastors and conservatives who oppose the ordinance.

He said the judge will ultimately decide how many valid signatures there are left.

“There are multiple rulings that he’s going to have to make,” Taylor said. “Some of those rulings have subcategories and subparts. It’s very, very complicated.”

The jury found several instances on the petition where signature gatherers didn’t sign their oath correctly. They also found cases where the same person signed for others, and other defects. But it’s not always clear-cut when a signature is invalid.

Geoffrey Harrison, who represents the city, thinks otherwise.

“If the judge does use the jury’s verdict as a framework for the judge’s decision, this case is over for the plaintiffs,” he said. “They lose and it’s not close.”

We’ll see about that. Judge Schaffer is expected to make his ruling on Monday. The more that get tossed, the fewer pages for the city to re-count valid signatures (“valid” meaning registered voters in the city of Houston), and obviously the better the chance that there won’t be enough of them. This is, as they say, a big effing deal.

Chron overview of District B

As it is now endorsement season, it is now also Candidate Overview Story season for the Chron, and they kick it off with a look at the multi-candidate race for the open seat in District B. It’s the standard type of story they do for these races, with each candidate getting two or three paragraphs and a quote. What was interesting about this particular story was that they included a candidate who isn’t actually running in District B. I’m referring to Brad Batteau, who is running for At Large #3 according to both the City Secretary candidate page and the Chron’s own report about drawing for ballot order. I wonder if he’ll reappear when they do the At Large #3 story.

In any event, I spoke to five of the eight candidates in this race:

Phillip Bryant
Alvin Byrd
Katherine Daniels
Jerry Davis
Bryan Smart

I see this race as being fairly wide open, and the fact that many endorsing organizations have so far deferred on making a recommendation in B suggests that I’m not the only one. Perhaps the 30 day finance reports will tell us more. What are your impressions of this race?

Interview with Phillip Paul Bryant

Phillip Paul Bryant

Next up in District B is Philip Paul Bryant, whose bio lists him as a Community Organizer, Television Talk show Host, and Businessman, among other things. Bryant is the son of Bishop Prince Earl Williams Bryant, Sr., who is the pastor of the Island of Hope Church of God in Christ, and has served in his father’s ministries. Here’s what we discussed:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.