(Almost former) Councilwoman Carol Alvarado continues complaining about Houston’s term limits in an op-ed for today’s Chronicle:
The city of Houston’s term limit experience has run its course, and it is time for us to rid ourselves of this artificial constraint. I think neighborhoods and communities are getting short changed by term limits.
Think about it. The city is responsible for providing protection for the millions that work, live in and visit our city every day. We make sure that they can get around our city with relative ease on our roads and streets. We pick up their garbage. We make their parks attractive destinations for families and visitors. We provide Houstonians with an infrastructure that allows them to take full advantage of our entertainment venues like the finest restaurants, theaters, cinemas and sports venues. We have constructed great airports that make it easy for folks to get in and out of our city with minimal hassles.
Yet, something is a bit out of kilter when the leadership of the most important government entity in the region is being hamstrung by term limits — six years for members of city council and six years for mayor.
For me, the term limits debate is personal. Not because I’ll be leaving my city council position in a few days or because term limits prohibited me from seeking re-election; rather, it’s about a public works project in my neighborhood that took me a decade and a half to complete.
I grew up in Manchester, an East End neighborhood that is surrounded by chemical companies and railroad tracks. When trains were stopped and blocking access to the neighborhood and there was an emergency, it was extremely difficult for police, fire or emergency medical service vehicles to answer the call.
Years ago, I decided to take action and waged a campaign for the construction of a bridge over the railroad tracks into Manchester. In 1991, serving as a young precinct judge, I had a conversation with then mayoral candidate Bob Lanier about my neighborhood and how difficult it was at times to get emergency services.
It is not that easy to get a bridge built. The cost is in the millions. Working for U.S. Rep. Gene Green in the 1990s, I learned about the federal government’s appropriations process. When I went to work as an assistant to Mayor Lee P. Brown in 1998, I continued to lobby for the Manchester bridge project and found out that the rules, regulations and funding requirements pertaining to bridge construction would have to involve multiple government agencies.
When I was elected to the Houston City Council in 2001, I took this knowledge with me and continued to pursue the bridge. Through this entire process, Rep. Green and his office kept the project alive.
A couple of Saturdays ago, with the assistance of federal and state funds, Rep. Green, the neighborhood’s residents and I cut the ribbon to the bridge to Manchester.
What would have happened if my Manchester bridge project had started when I took office six years ago? I didn’t have the knowledge of processes when I took over office. Manchester would have been short-changed by term limits.
Proponents for eliminating the city’s term limits say that there is not enough time for gaining institutional knowledge of city government, but it’s more than that. It’s about having the time to develop relationships with neighborhood leaders and other elected officials from the various governmental entities because in many cases, as with Manchester, you have to work together.
I believe that neighborhoods advocate through their elected officials. Their elected officials are accountable and they want them to be knowledgeable about city government. They want their elected officials to use their knowledge and experience that they have gained to help make their neighborhood and communities better and safer.
I leave office in less than one week absolutely convinced that Houston city government has by far the most impact on the people of this region than any other governmental entity. It is ludicrous for us to tell those who want to serve that you can do so for only six years. Term limits is bad public policy that needs to be eliminated.
Alvarado is a Houston City Council member representing District I.
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