On Wednesday August 12, Houston City Council approved a charter amendment question changing Council service to 2 4-year terms beginning in 2016. [Item 47]. The administration’s original proposal would not have applied until 2020. As a result, no incumbent could have been perceived as benefiting from the change. But the substitute proposal sponsored by Council Member Davis approved this week changed the terms beginning next year. [Items 46 and 47].
Most of the 43 items on the Consent Agenda were routine, and most matters held other than the proposed charter amendment required little debate. The session began with a held a public hearing on the amendments to the Project Plan and Financing Plan of the only countrywide noncontiguous Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. The Greater Houston Zone, also called the TIRZ 24 is a unique collaborative effort between the City of Houston and Harris County. In a typical TIRZ, the entire zone is contiguous. Private developers agree to build infrastructure along with other commercial projects. The City later reimburses the developer from increased tax revenues resulting from the project. TIRZ 24 is based on the same statutes but as a matter of policy, the City prefers each TIRZ to be a contiguous zone. [Item 1]
TIRZ 24 was created jointly by the city and county, but Houston will not participate directly in the development projects. Harris County will assume responsibility for new infrastructure. By making TIRZ 24 county-wide and noncontiguous, it is possible for the City and County to collaborate on similar projects in the future without creating multiple legal structures. Council Member Martin, an experienced accountant, asked for further clarification on the rules. The projects contemplated for TIRZ 24 are located in District I. Council Member Gallegos explained how the plans will benefit the community.
The Council unanimously approved the reappointment of J. Kent Friedman as Chair of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. [Item 2]. Another issue that generated discussion was a plan to change the name of the Department of Health and Human Services to the Health Department, amending all affected portions of Chapters 20, 21, and 47 of the Code of Ordinances. Several Council Members responding to questions by Council Member Stardig tagged the matter for further clarification . [Item 19]The Council also discussed and voted to approve an agreement with the Ser-Ninos Charter School to use a $2 million CDBG grant to build a library in partnership with the Houston Public Library which will allow public use of the facility in evening hours after school. [Item 23]
In her press conference following the session, Mayor Parker explained implications of the charter amendment and concerns raised by Council Member Nguyen about the risk of passing this item and preventing action on other urgent matters such as the revenue cap for two years. However If the term limit issue fails, other Charter Amendments can be proposed immediately. The rule will have no affect on the referendum on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, since ordinances are not normally charter amendments. However, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit on the issue seeks to characterize his referendum petition as a charter amendment. If the courts agree, once again, passage would prevent other charter amendments for at least 2 years.