1City of Houston Term Limits Commission Draft Minutes for Meeting Held Saturday, February 27, 2010 10:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. 1.

Call to Order Chairman, Ambassador Arthur L. Schechter, called meeting to order at 10:35 a.m. Commission Members in Attendance: Chairman, Arthur L. Schechter, Sylvia Brooks, Christina Cabral, Edward J. Cummins, Theodore L. Deaver, Thomas Jones, Jr., Toni Lawrence, Dorothy Miller, Anan Qaddumi, Carroll Robinson, Jane West, Ed Wulfe, and Susan Taylor, Assistant City Attorney. Approve of Minutes of Last Meeting (February 10, 2010) Carroll Robinson moved, and Theodore Deaver seconded approval of the minutes as written. Motion carried unanimously. Presentations on Term Limits by Invited Speakers; Questions by Commissioners At the close of the comments made be each invited speaker, Chairman Schechter urged them to submit their comments or a summary thereof in writing for inclusion in the written record of the Commission’s proceedings. The following invited speakers presented their views and where appropriate the views of their respective organizations on term limits: (a) David Robinson, President Montrose/Near Town Super Neighborhood 24 (SN 24) and City of Houston Planning Commission Member No. 14 — On behalf of SN 24 Mr. Robinson encouraged the Commission to lengthen the terms that elected officials serve but stated that SN 24 decided to reserve its decision to make a specific recommendation until it became clearer what options emerge. Mr. Robinson expressed concern that the city’s current term limits adversely impact long term planning efforts. As an example of a long term planning process adversely impacted by term limits, Mr. Robinson cited the need for better tracking of projects included in the city’s Capitol Improvement Plan (CIP).



Ada Edwards, Former District D City Council member — Ms. Edwards stated her opinion that term limits of any kind adversely impact the city for multiple reasons, including especially the ability of city elected officials to work effectively with city department heads and with elected officials from other governmental entities (e.g., Harris County, the State of Texas, and the federal government). Ms. Edwards stated that term limits followed the creation of city council districts and that in her opinion term limits were intended to control the effect of those districts by controlling the process by which district council members are elected. In her opinion term limits require the institutional memory regarding capitol improvements and other projects to reside in either the employees of city departments and/or the community. Ms. Edwards stated that there should be a law that requires outgoing district council members to preserve Page 1 of 6 \COH TLC Minutes 2-27-10


their records for use of in-coming district council members. Commissioner Ed Wulfe asked Ms. Edwards if in her experience, term limits impacts fund raising, and Ms. Edwards responded that was not so in her experience because she was not a good fund raiser. Commissioner Thomas Jones asked Ms. Edwards if in her experience a council member spends his or her first year in office learning the job and the second year campaigning, and Ms. Edwards responded that was not her experience because she learned how the city worked before she was elected to city council during the years that she had worked as a community activist. Commissioner Jane West asked Ms. Edwards if, given that she opposes term limits of any kind and that the Commission is not empowered to recommend the abolition of term limits, she thought that the Commission should be cautious about supporting any changes to term limits that are not initiated by the petition process, and Ms. Edwards stated that no existing elected official should be allowed to benefit from any suggested changes. © Jeff Mosely, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), stated that the GHP has no official position on the issue of city term limits, but that GHP’s practice speaks volumes because GHP has term limits for own board members, but allows term-limited board members to return to the board after sitting out for a year. Mr. Mosely stated that if the Commission so wished, he would be pleased to ask one of the GHP committees to look at the issue. Chairman Schechter told Mr. Mosely that the Commission would be pleased to have a GHP committee look at the issue. Mr. Mosely stated that in his personal opinion and experience gained from having served as county judge in Denton County, Texas, term limits usurps the power of the voters to determine term limits at the voting booth. Mr. Mosely stated that if the city is resigned to having term limits, then he thinks that officials who represent the entire city (i.e., at-large council members, the controller, and the mayor) should have terms that are four to six years long, while district council members should have terms that are two to three years long, and that all elected officials should be limited to two terms. Mr. Mosely compared this recommended difference in terms to the difference in term length that now exists for United States Senators (6 years) and United States Representatives (2 years). Jeff Ross, Chairman of the Government Affairs Committee of the Council of Engineers, City of Houston Planning Commission Member (where he has served as chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee), and past president of two different civic clubs: Cherryhurst and South Hampton. Mr. Ross stated that the engineering industry that he represents is focused on long term planning but that due to term limits the city’s Capitol Improvement Plan (CIP) is not a program but, instead a “bucket list,” that causes city officials to focus on operational Page 2 of 6 \COH TLC Minutes 2-27-10 (d)

efforts instead of efforts to effect long range improvements. As examples of this problem, Mr. Ross identified the city’s efforts to time traffic lights and fix water leaks as operational efforts, and the city’s failure to implement plans for routine maintenance and/or replacement of aged infrastructure such as water pipes as a failure to engage in long term planning efforts. As additional examples of the adverse impacts of term limits, Mr. Ross mentioned the City of Houston’s relationship with the county commissioners’ courts and with the HoustonGalveston Area Council. Mr. Ross also stated that due to term limits, institutional memory is lost except through whatever paid staff and community groups know. As an example of the loss of institutional memory, Mr. Ross mentioned John Vanden Bosch who served as a well respected director of the COH’s Public Works and Engineering Dept. under Mayor Whitmire but when Mayor Brown suggested that he be reappointed to that position approximately ten years later no one on city council knew him. Due to the power of incumbency, Mr. Ross stated that the city’s term limits allow bad officials to serve a full six years because very few incumbents get unelected. [Although Mr. Ross does not support the existing term limits, he does not appear to have made a specific recommendation for change.] (e) Jack Drake, Greater Greenspoint Management District, an entity composed of approximately 800 commercial property owners has adopted a resolution supporting the lengthening of limits served by all city elected officials to four instead of two years. Mr. Drake stated that his personal opinion is in agreement with the opinions expressed by Jonathan Day at the Commission meeting held on February 10, 2010. In support of this opinion, Mr. Drake stated that term limits cause elected officials to undertake projects that can be completed in a short period of time and to ignore projects that require long periods of time to complete. As examples of long term projects that have not been undertaken, Mr. Drake mentioned the absence of a COH long range drainage program, and the city’s pension plans. Commissioner Ed Cummins asked Mr. Drake if he knew of any other city without term limits that handles infrastructure better than Houston, to which Mr. Drake responded he did not know of any such city.


Presentation on Term Limits by Members of the Public; Questions by Commissioners (a) Gloria Moreno, Precinct Chair, Second Ward and Member of the Second Ward Super Neighborhood Council, stated that she supports term limits, although she recognizes that whether the term limits should remain as they are is debatable. Ms. Moreno stated that if changes are made to the city’s term limits, those changes should be voter-driven. Asserting that institutional knowledge exists Page 3 of 6 \COH TLC Minutes 2-27-10

within the city various departments, Ms. Moreno stated that she disagreed with the speakers who contend that term limits cause the loss of institutional memory. Ms. Moreno stated that the city’s lack of effective representation at the H-GAC is due more to the fact that the big city of Houston is disliked by the smaller communities of the surrounding counties than to term limits. (b) Susan Young, has served in many public roles including Executive Director of the Museum District and Executive Director of the South Main Coalition, but appeared before the Commission in her personal capacity. Ms. Young stated that in her opinion term limits caused the loss of the following attributes in elected officials: continuity, knowledge, judgment, stability, and focus. Ms. Young stated that term limits cause elected officials to focus on searching for another job instead of doing the job they have, and unilaterally disarm, i.e., disadvantage, the city when dealing with other governmental entities that do not have term limits, e.g., the county, state, and federal governments. Ms. Young also stated that term limits cause the city’s official position on initiatives that require long range planning and commitment to “flip-flop.” As examples of such initiatives, Ms. Young identified, Metro’s transit projects, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone financing, and Capitol Improvement Plan (CIP) projects. In response to Commissioner Cummins’ question about another city without term limits that does a better job on its infrastructure, Mr. Young cited Chicago, Illinois, which has rebuilt its entire lakefront in recent years and in so doing, facilitated billions of dollars of new investment. ( c) Chris Tripoli stated that he read about this meeting in the newspaper and decided to come present his opinion. Mr. Tripoli stated that he has lived in Houston since 1976, he travels frequently for business, and that he loves term limits. Mr. Tripoli stated that although he agreed with many of the points made by Ada Edwards, he reached a different conclusion. In his opinion, public servants with identified targets and time limits are forced to maintain focus to achieve goals. Mr. Tripoli disagreed with the speakers who said that term limits damped, i.e., inhibit, long term strategic planning. Mr. Tripoli stated that the private sector exemplified by both for-profit and not-for-profit entities have similar challenges to those of government entities, yet people rotate on and off of their boards all the time. Mr. Tripoli suggested that the city keep term limits but extend the period for which elected officials serve in order to shorten the period of time that they need to raise funds to run for office. Sami Hughes from the South Woods Civic Club and past president of the Riverside Civic Club stated that term limits have not worked for her or for her community because the election of new officials on a regular basis requires her community to constantly have to start over with new people who are unaware of the history and significance of on-going community projects. Accordingly, Ms. Hughes stated that she opposes term limits. Page 4 of 6 \COH TLC Minutes 2-27-10


Commissioner Jane West asked Ms. Hughes if she had a specific recommendation for the Commission and Ms. Hughes responded that she did not. (e) Delores Jenkins, Member of the Gulf Coast Super Neighborhood, stated that she supports the current term limits because many people who run for office say that they’ll do one thing, and then do another once they are in office. Ms. Jenkins stated that without term limits it is too hard to get people who aren’t there to do the job out of office. Ms. Jenkins stated that the directors of city departments respond to the mayor, but that most of the work is done by people who follow procedures and maintain records. Ms. Jenkins stated that elected officials who are unable to accomplish goals in two or three terms are unlikely to be able to accomplish goals if given more time. Barry Klein, President of the Houston Property Rights Association, criticized the efforts of the Commission as “unserious” because no permanent record of the discussion was being made. Chairman Schechter explained that the last meeting of the Commission held on February 10, 2010, had been recorded because it was held in the city council chamber and that future meetings held there would also be recorded. He also explained that minutes were being kept of this meeting, so a permanent record will exist. Mr. Klein stated that smaller governments are easier to monitor than larger governments, and that the Commission should reexamine the assumption that cities need better long term planning. As an example of long term planning that’s gone awry, Mr. Klein cited the construction of light rail through the Texas Medical Center. Mr. Klein made no specific recommendation for action. Peter Brown, former city council member, stated that in his opinion three, twoyear terms do no work because they cause city government to be “reactive” instead of “proactive.” As examples of issues that have suffered due to term limits, Mr. Brown cited drainage and poverty. Asserting that capitol projects typically take six to ten years to complete, Mr. Brown stated that the city of Denver, Colorado allows it elected officials to serve three, four-year terms. Citing the dangerous dog ordinance that took Council Member Toni Lawrence two years to complete, Mr. Brown stated that Mayor White refused to undertake projects that he did not believe could be accomplished within the time he had to serve as mayor. Mr. Brown urged the Commission to recommend revising term limits to allow for at least two, four-year terms, and to make whatever decision it decided to make based on its determination of “best practices.” Mr. Brown also urged the Commission to recommend revising the language of the current term limit ordinance that prohibits elected officials from filing to run for a third term if they have already served two complete terms. This provision forced him to resign from his seat on December 29, 2009, days before completing his second term in office so that he would remain eligible to run for a third term sometime in the future.



Debbie Allen, Pleasantville Strategic Planning Revitalization Committee, yielded Page 5 of 6 \COH TLC Minutes 2-27-10


her time due to the lateness of the hour. 5. 6. Discussion Discussion occurred during consideration of the following agenda item. Updates/Reports on Research Project and Other Matters Discussed at Last Meeting Renee Cross, Associate Director of the University of Houston’s Center for Public Policy, presented the attached schedule for completion of research approved at the last meeting. Chairman Schechter proposed, and the Commissioners agreed, that the research related to cities other than Houston should be limited to cities with populations of one million or more, and that, if possible, the report to be delivered on April 15th should include an assessment of how other cities handle long range projects. Scheduling/Next Steps Subject to the availability of meeting space, future meetings of the Commission will be held downtown in City Hall or in the City Hall Annex as follows: Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 3:00 p.m. or Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 3:00 p.m. 8. Adjourn: 12:45 p.m.


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