The mayor and city attorney are floating the idea of shutting the public out of some City Council discussions.
Houston is unusual, perhaps even unique, among Texas cities in requiring that its council always meet in public.
On Thursday, City Attorney David Feldman unveiled a proposal to authorize closed-session discussions of hirings and firings, lawsuits, real estate transactions and other matters allowed by the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Because the idea would require a change to a 70-year-old provision in the city charter, it would need voter approval. Mayor Annise Parker is considering asking the council next week to place it on the November ballot.
The political tone-deafness of our mayor no longer surprises me. That Feldman is obviously a big fan of George Orwell does.
"Contrary to what some might say, and that is that this is a move away from transparency, I believe that just the opposite is true," Feldman told members of the Council Committee on Ethics, Elections and Council Governance. "We are oftentimes -- this administration, any administration of this city -- accused of bringing matters to council as a fait accompli. The primary reason that that's the case is that we can't have an executive session like everybody else in the state of Texas to discuss these things before they're placed on the agenda for action."
He simply doesn't get how stupid that sounds, and Mayor Parker, finger cautiously in the wind, chose to send Feldman out to the gun range for target practice. As the target.
The mayor has no formal position, but through Feldman presented the proposal to get feedback before deciding whether to place it on next week's council agenda, spokeswoman Janice Evans said.
A few council members are tactfully attempting to explain it to them. Well, maybe not so tactfully.
"I think our system works fine, and I've seen it work fine. I believe that we'll lose a lot of good will in the community if we move to try to put this on the ballot," (CM James) Rodriguez said. "I believe in transparency. I believe that we need to hash out our issues in the public and work with the public and to have their confidence and trust that we're going to be open and upfront with issues."
CM Costello clarifies, at least from an electoral point of view.
The mayor already has proposed five ballot propositions that would ask voters to approve $410 million in borrowing for parks, public safety, libraries, affordable housing and other purposes.
Councilman Stephen Costello said he supports the closed-session option, but now is not the time to put it before voters.
"You incite an emotion that you really don't want the voters to have as they walk into the ballot box," Costello said. "What we want is voters going in and approving our bond issue, and I'd rather just have the bond issue there up for a vote, or, if we're going to make some charter amendments, make them noncontroversial."
Costello gets it. I would hope that every single Democrat on the ballot in Harris County would call the mayor's office and suggest that she not torpedo their November prospects by waving any more red flags in front of TeaBaggers.They have too much animosity in their blood stream as it is.
If you favor this, Mayor Parker, then revisit it in 2013 -- an election year when YOU will be on the ballot -- so that voters can hold you accountable for it. That would be the politically courageous thing to do.
Which, thankfully, is why it won't happen.
Update (8-6-12): *BOOM* ... *thud*
The mayor apparently will not seek voter approval of a proposition that would have allowed Council to go into closed session to discuss real estate transactions, litigation and personnel matters. Council will, therefore, continue to follow city law that requires that all portions of its meetings be open to the public.
City Attorney David Feldman presented a proposed ballot measure to a council committee on Thursday. Several council members opposed it as either bad policy or bad timing because it would have gone on the same ballot as five proposed city bond measures totaling $410 million.