A petition filed in April by a group seeking to give city council members the opportunity to put items on the agenda for their weekly meeting contained enough valid signatures to propose a charter referendum to voters in Houston, the city secretary reported on Friday.

In a letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner and members of council, City Secretary Pat Daniel said her office verified that 20,482 petition signatures contained the names, signatures and other required information of registered voters living in Houston. . The legal requirement to get a referendum on the ballot is at least 20,000 valid signatures.

The city clerk’s office counted 31,448 of the nearly 40,000 signatures submitted by the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition, the group behind the petition campaign, according to Daniel.

The referendum, if approved by voters, would amend Houston’s charter to allow three council members to put an item on the council’s weekly agenda. For now, the mayor has almost total control over the agenda, including the ability to block any action, in the form of strong mayor government of the city.

The charter already allows three board members to call a special meeting and set the agenda, but the maneuver rarely attracts the required quorum of board members.

The Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition – a politically diverse mix of groups including the Houston Fire Department, the Harris County Republican Party, the conservative Urban Reform group, Indivisible Houston and the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America – said that she intended to place the measure on the ballot in November of this year. The city council has until August 16 to approve the referendum before the November 2 elections.

“HCAP came together because we recognized the need to decentralize authority in the city of Houston,” the coalition said in a statement Friday. “The goal was simple: to allow three members of Houston City Council to collectively voice the needs of the people and put something on the city’s weekly agenda. Obviously, many Houstonians agreed.

Turner said on Friday he was speaking with the city’s legal department and had yet to decide when to request a council vote to create the ballot measure. However, he suggested that would not happen this year and said the city is also awaiting the results of a separate petition from the firefighters union, which seeks a charter amendment that would require binding arbitration when the city and the union would find themselves at an impasse in contract talks.

“There’s no obligation, I think, on our part to put anything on the ballot for this year,” Turner said. “There can be other referendums, petitions that can come this year, next year, anytime. I know there is one there right now. But again, I defer to the legal.

City council is required by state law to file verified petitions with voters, although it does not set a specific timeline for doing so. When council members pass an ordinance ordering the referendum, they have two options for setting the date. The first choice: the next date of the uniform elections, November 2021 in this case. The second option: the next municipal elections or the next presidential election, whichever comes first. In this case, the next municipal elections in November 2023 fall before the next presidential election in 2024.

Under state law, a referendum cannot be held in an election that begins less than 30 days after the city council ordered the referendum. Turner must call the council vote by Aug. 16 to have the referendum put on the ballot this year.

At-Large Council member Michael Kubosh, who supports the charter amendment effort, said he believes the referendum should be entered in the November 2021 ballot.

“The two most sacred things in a democracy under the Constitution are our right to petition our government and our right to vote,” Kubosh said. “Delaying a vote, I think, is a mistake. I think once the petitions have been collected, and once the city clerk has verified that there are enough of them, then it should immediately go to the next ballot.

In July 2017, the firefighters union submitted petition signatures for a charter amendment requiring equal pay for firefighters and police officers of similar rank and status, hoping to place it on the ballot. November vote of that year. The city secretary did not validate the signatures in time for this election or the May election of the following year, leading to legal action from the firefighters union. The municipal secretary verified signatures in May 2018 by order of a state district judge and city council tabled the amendment – known as Proposition B – on the November ballot of that year.

The measure was passed by a wide margin, but was later overturned by a state district judge. The firefighters union appealed the decision.

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