Houston’s two local ballot initiatives, Propositions A and B, passed Tuesday after drawing widespread support from early and Election Day voters.
The newly passed propositions will force the new mayor to work more closely with council on weekly agendas and require the city to negotiate a stronger position on a regional planning agency.
Aiming to expand the legislative powers of Houston City Council members, Proposition A will allow three council members to add items to the weekly legislative agenda by writing a letter expressing their intent to do so.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Charles Blain, president of Urban Reform, one of the organizations spearheading Proposition A. “We’re excited that Houstonians clearly agreed that this was a necessary reform.”
Previously, only the mayor could add items to the weekly legislative agenda — unless three council members called a special meeting and got a quorum of council to attend and vote to supersede the mayor’s rule. That method has been used only three times since 1990.
Betty Gregory, who lives in East Little York, said Proposition A and empowering city council members was a driving force bringing her to the polls.
“With the current mayor, council doesn’t have a lot of say,” Gregory said. “They should have more say because they are interacting with the community more.”
Proposition A garnered support from multiple mayoral and city council candidates and organizations across the political spectrum, underscoring what Blain called the initiative’s simplicity and necessity.
The proposition initially was introduced through the city’s petition process in 2021, but City Council delayed the ballot initiative until this year’s election.
Proposition B requires the city to seek representation on the Houston-Galveston Area Council in proportion to Houston’s population. H-GAC is a regional planning agency that distributes millions of dollars in federal funding for transportation and other projects across 13 counties.
“I am feeling so grateful to everyone who supported this campaign,” said Ally Smither, communications director for Fair For Houston, the group spearheading Proposition B.
Under its existing structure, H-GAC’s board has 37 members representing 13 counties, 107 cities and 11 independent school districts.
Though Houston and Harris County account for 57 percent of the region’s population, each has only two seats on the board.
This lack of representation motivated Michael DuBose to vote in favor of Proposition B.
“There’s a lot more people who live here than in Galveston County so we should have a little bit more pull,” the 27-year-old Heights resident said.
The proposition requires the city to participate in regional planning organizations like H-GAC only if its voting privileges are proportional to its population. It also requires the city to withdraw from such bodies if it is unable to renegotiate its voting power within 60 days after the passage of the amendment.
Molly Cook, an organizer with Fair for Houston and a candidate for Texas Senate District 15, called Proposition B’s passage a testament to the power of grassroots organizing.
“A person’s idea really can become a campaign and can be codified to make change,” she said.
The future of Proposition B is somewhat unclear.
If negotiations between the city and H-GAC were to fail, leaving the regional organization – as required by the proposition – may not be an easy feat.
According to a memo sent by City Attorney Arturo Michel to Mayor Sylvester Turner and obtained by Axios Houston, leaving H-GAC “would require governor approval and support from 75% of the region’s representatives — a majority of whom represent suburbs interested in maintaining the status quo.”
Smither, however, said she is not too concerned.
The language of the charter amendment, she said, is very intentional. It does not prescribe any numbers or percentages needed for representation to be considered more proportional. The language is intended to lead to a solution through negotiation, she said.
Smither also welcomed Michel’s concerns. They are indicative that the city is taking Proposition B seriously, she said.
Regardless of what happens next, Smither stands behind Proposition B.
“The risk of the status quo is the highest risk of all,” she said.