In 1991, Houston voters adopted Term Limits. It took another election cycle to truly remove the long-term Council Members due to a loophole that grandfathered them. However, by the 1993 cycle we began to see new blood on City Council.
The first group of term-limited Council Members was very outspoken, engaged and active. Some of them had defeated long-term Council Members and were ready to take on the world. Can you name any of these folks?
Mayor Bob Lanier was elected in 1991 and was the first Mayor to serve under term-limits. He managed the new group of excited and empowered Council Members well while he put ever more power into the strong Mayor form of government.
As we reflect on the past 20 years, we need to analyze the policy outcomes. When people have a long-term commitment to the city, they make decisions in different ways. When they are there for 6 years (mostly guaranteed as few have been defeated), they view their time as limited and make decisions accordingly.
No incumbent Mayor has been defeated since term-limits were implemented. We have essentially created a 6 year term for Mayor. Since term-limits, we have had four mayors serve – Bob Lanier, Lee P. Brown and Bill White. Annise Parker is the fourth. Of these, Bill White was the only one to seek higher office. We can’t really paint these Mayors with governing for political ambition. They have each done their best, in their own way, to manage the city in their short time in office.
Let’s be frank, City government is not known for being flush with cash so each of them have had to address financial concerns. In most cases, they have been able to evaluate the situation in front of them and create innovative solutions to address immediate financial needs. In many cases, this has consisted of refinancing or reconfiguring debt that will come due at a later date. While the right decision at the time, the long-term effect was not often considered.
Now, the gig is up. Bills and long-term financing are coming due in the worst financial conditions. Mayor Annise Parker has decided to face these issues head-on. Pension obligations must be met. Health insurance for employees must be paid. Retirements must be honored. Public safety is still the number one job of government and must be funded.
Today’s Houston Chronicle has a story on this issue. Yours truly is quoted.
This is the first in a series of posts on Term Limits.