Houston’s Proposition 2, which extends term limits for city officials, surprisingly passed with little contention or fanfare earlier this month. Some pointed to the equal rights ordinance crowding out the conversation as the reason 65% of voters voted in favor of the term limit extension.

Last week, however, Houston attorney Eric Dick filed a lawsuit against Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston on behalf of Philip Paul Bryant, citing deceptive ballot language as the reason the proposition passed. The suit seeks to have the vote voided – deeming it “illegal and invalid.”

It states that, “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 City of Houston have used inappropriate ballot language at least twice.”

The lawsuit is referencing the Texas Supreme Court’s recent opinions that the city deceived voters with ballot language for ReBuild Houston, and then attempted to deceive voters with the original Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) language.

Proposition 2 changed term lengths and limits for all of Houston’s elected officials from three, two-year terms to two, four-year terms and grandfathered some sitting council members in, allowing them the possibility of serving up to ten years. The proposition went virtually unnoticed during campaign season with all the electoral attention going to HERO and the crowded mayoral race.

The lawsuit details a number of reasons why the language was misleading, but mainly points to its claims to limit term lengths, instead of extend, and doesn’t identify that it would apply to current sitting council members. The suit even quotes Mayor Parker saying after its passage, “I don’t know that they realized that they were giving council members more time in office.”

Another issue noted points to state law governing local government code which prohibits an amendment from containing more than one subject. In this instance, it contained term limits and term lengths. For that, Dick says, “Proposition 2 is illegal and cannot be implemented as a charter amendment.”

The Houston Chronicle, which isn’t known to draw attention to the missteps of this administration, even said, “The ballot language did not spell out the effect on incumbents or that the item would loosen the existing restrictions.”

Houston’s history of deceiving voters to pass ordinances favored by its elected officials shows not only their disdain for the will of the voter, but the need for deceptive language shows how fundamentally bad the laws this administration puts forward are.

The extension of terms for Houston’s elected officials was bad public policy. Increasing the amount of time between which voters can use their voice at the polls is in no way in the interest of accountability.

The need for ballot transparency couldn’t be clearer than with the three recent lawsuits against the city for their deceptive tactics. If you must mislead the electorate to pass a proposition – it probably isn’t a good proposition. Every instance that Parker attempts to deceive voters is another chip away at the democratic process.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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