The city of Houston is one step closer to potentially reshaping its relationship with the influential Houston-Galveston Area Council after officials verified Thursday that a charter amendment campaign had met the threshold for appearing on the ballot.
Advocates hope to use a charter amendment to force the city to renegotiate its voting share at the area council, which they say gives small, outlying counties a disproportionate say in using hundreds of millions of federal dollars.
City Secretary Pat Daniel confirmed this week that the charter campaign had collected more than the necessary 20,000 signatures, an administrative staffer in her office said Thursday. The next step will be for City Council to formally place the amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot. Mayor Sylvester Turner has set an Aug. 21 special council meeting.
Campaigns said they do not anticipate any obstacles securing council approval, which they characterize as a pro forma step.
The charter campaign, which spent $103,000 collecting signatures in the first half of the year, is motivated by a sense that Houston and Harris County have been disadvantaged as the area council votes on how federal infrastructure funds should be doled out across the region.
Campaigners have pointed to the area council’s votes to send Houston just 2 percent out of $488 million in storm mitigation funds last year, and in favor of the Interstate 45 expansion that has aroused neighborhood opposition.
There’s a reason Houston keeps getting stiffed in area council votes, campaigners say. Houston and unincorporated Harris County have 57 percent of the area’s population but only 11 percent of the votes at the council, according to an analysis by the firm January Advisors.
The charter amendment would require Houston to enter into negotiations to make the area council’s voting share reflect the region’s population distribution. If those negotiations break down, Houston would be required to exit the area council and form a new one.
Defenders say the current voting arrangement ensures that the area council’s decisions are truly regional.
The ballot campaign’s next step is to round up support from community groups, according to Evan Choate, its campaign manager.
“We are reaching out and having meetings with elected officials, community organizations, various groups across the city to make sure that we’re having the most inclusive and comprehensive conversation we can about the measure and what it would mean for the city,” Choate said.
So far there has been no sign of organized opposition, Choate said.