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A proposal to extend Houston’s parking meter hours was shelved at a City Council committee meeting Tuesday amid debate over how members can use their new power to add items to the agenda.

Council members tried – and failed – to reach consensus on rules of procedure during the first meeting of the committee named after Proposition A, which allows three or more members to put items on the council agenda. Instead, they decided to take more time to craft the rules for the novel process, which could shift the balance of power from the mayor to council members.

In the meantime, the public learned that District J Councilmember Edward Pollard has killed his proposal to extend the city’s parking meter hours. Council members earlier this month had referred that proposal to the Proposition A committee.

Pollard, who said the committee violates the intent of voters who passed Proposition A, skipped the meeting. With his boss absent, it was left to his chief of staff to announce that the parking meter plan was dead.

Growing pains

Voters in November overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment to allow council members to add items to the City Council agenda, a practice common in other cities that effectively was impossible in Houston thanks to the city’s strong-mayor form of government.

The result of that vote, however, has been far from seamless.

In the final weeks of former Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, council members never met to discuss Proposition A. After taking office in January, new Mayor John Whitmire created a Proposition A committee designed to craft procedural rules and vet council member proposals.

Working with the Whitmire administration, committee chair and District G Councilmember Mary Nan Huffman proposed the two rules of procedure up for debate Tuesday.

The first would allow council members to place items directly on the full council agenda, while creating rules for their legal review.

Under the terms of the charter amendment, council proposals must be “lawful.” To prevent mayoral administrations from slow-walking ideas they dislike, the proposed rule would require the city Legal Department to complete reviews within seven days, “unless the proposed agenda item is lengthy, presents a complex issue or otherwise requires additional time.”

Alternatively, council members could send their proposals to the Proposition A committee. Since that committee is made up of all the council members, they could discuss proposals there without violating open meeting laws.

Under the proposed rules, the committee would be allowed to vote for or against a council-driven ordinance. Whitmire Deputy Chief of Staff Steven David said that would allow council members to “signal” the administration whether an idea has broad support.

“Whether we want it or not, this is going to be put on the agenda,” David said of the meaning of such a vote. “It is a clear signal as a unified legislative body to the administration.”

Quorum quibbles

What could have been a historic moment ended in a whimper, however, as members raised concerns about whether the new rules would run afoul of voters’ intent, and what happens when the committee fails to muster a quorum.

Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum said the committee vetting process did not match her read of the charter change. There already are committees that can vet proposed ordinances, and Proposition A was designed to allow members to put items before the full council, she said.

“I think what we are doing now is really convoluting the intent of Prop A,” she said. “When Proposition A went to the voters, this was supposed to be a tool when you are not getting any discussion or any traction with the administration.”

Other members raised practical concerns.

As a committee made up of the whole council, the Proposition A committee must have nine members present even to start a meeting, a representative of the city legal department said Tuesday. Being a council member is a part-time job, however, and committee attendance is spotty.

Vice Mayor Pro Tem Amy Peck said she was concerned that low attendance effectively could quash council member proposals.

“I just realistically don't see that happening every single time, that there would be nine of us at the meeting,” Peck said. “Respectfully, to all the work that has been put into this, this really changes everything for me.”

Peck proposed an amendment to send ordinances to the full council if the committee fails to reach a quorum. Council members voted to hold off for now on Proposition A rules so that they can tinker with them more.

Meanwhile, the quorum requirement rang alarm bells for At-Large Councilmember Sallie Alcorn, who chairs the influential budget committee. That committee, which also is made up of the full council, is set to start hearing testimony on the mayor’s budget proposal on May 15.

“This is a real departure from what we have been doing in the past,” Alcorn said. “I would like just clear guidance from legal on how these should be conducted.”

Parking plan killed

The committee’s quorum had evaporated by the time members got around to discussing a controversial proposal from Pollard and two colleagues to extend the hours for city parking meters from the current 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. period to 7 a.m. – 2 a.m.

Pollard floated that idea as a way to raise money, but it was roundly rejected by arts, business and restaurant groups worried it would hurt areas such as the Theater District.

When Pollard placed the proposal on the full council agenda earlier this month, members voted to refer it to the Proposition A committee.

A city representative gave a lengthy recitation of the plan’s pros and cons Tuesday only to be followed by a Pollard staffer who said he no longer intends to push the proposal.

That came as a surprise to restaurant industry leaders who had signed up to testify against the idea.

In an interview after the meeting, Pollard said he did not plan to attend future meetings of the Proposition A committee, citing his private law practice and qualms about its existence.

“That committee in itself goes against the will of the voters,” he said. “The voters, I believe, voted for a charter change so that council members would have an easier pathway to getting items on the agenda. This committee seems to create more barriers, more red tape, more bureaucracy in local government.”

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Matt Sledge is the City Hall reporter for the Abdelraoufsinno. Before that, he worked in the same role for the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate and as a national reporter for HuffPost. He’s excited...