Changing Houston Term Limits

About 18 years ago, Houston citizens voted to enact term limits. As a result, Houston councilmembers and the mayor serve a two-year term and can hold office for a total of three terms.

It's a system that many think doesn't work out to the best advantage of constituents.

That's why State Representative Garnet Coleman wants to pass a bill that would let voters change the current term limits.

"There was a big move back in the late '80s, early '90s to create term limits. And I think people have found that they have not as much benefit as one expected. And this bill does not end term limits, but it does lengthen the time of service."

Coleman's bill would allow councilmembers and Houston's mayor to remain in office for as many as 12 years. Voters could choose to allow six two-year terms or three four-year terms.

Houston Councilmember Sue Lovell says it's time for the city's term limits to be re-examined.

"I think the current term limits really hinder the city, especially when we serve on boards and commissions — regional boards and commissions — because a lot of the people that serve are going to be on there much longer. We're there really for a very short time, six years. You know that's not enough time usually to even see a project follow through from beginning until end."

Changing the term limits is something that gets talked about frequently around the council table. But there's not much that can be done about it without a change to state law.

Councilmember Mike Sullivan is in his first two-year term.

"Every councilmember even that is not term limited is in campaign mode from the day he gets there. As crude as that sounds, that's the reality, that's a fact. The other aspect of term limits that's poor I think, and serves Houston very, very poorly, is that nearly every term-limited councilmember on Houston city council right now is running for another office and has been for months."

Coleman's legislation has passed in the house, but will have to make its way through the State Senate as well. If it passes there, Houston voters would see the proposition on the 2010 election ballot. And if that happens, voters could still decide to keep things exactly the way they already are.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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