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Houston Government

Founded in 1836 and incorporated in 1837, Houston is one of the fastest growing major cities in the United States and the largest without zoning laws. The city is the county seat of Harris County. A portion of southwest Houston extends into Fort Bend County and a small portion in the northeast extends into Montgomery County.

The city of Houston has a strong mayor-council government. The City's elected officials, serving concurrent two year terms, are: the mayor, the city controller and 14 members of the city council. Under the strong mayor-council government, the mayor serves as the executive officer of the city. As the city's chief administrator and official representative, the mayor is responsible for the general management of the city and for seeing that all laws and ordinances are enforced.

As of 2008, the mayor of Houston is Bill White, who is serving his third term. As the result of a 1991 referendum in Houston, a mayor is elected for a two-year term, and can be elected to as many as three consecutive terms. City council members, who also have a three-term limit, are elected from nine districts in the city, along with five at-large council members, who represent the entire city.

The current city council lineup was based on a US Justice Department mandate which took effect in 1979. Under the current city charter, if the population in the Houston City Limits goes past 2.1 million residents, the current nine-member city council districts will be expanded with the addition of two city council districts. Houston is a home rule city and all municipal elections in the state of Texas are non-partisan.

Many local lawmakers have been impacted by the city's term limits. Several former city officials – Anthony Hall, Rodney Ellis, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Sylvia Garcia, Martha Wong, Chris Bell, Annise Parker and Shelley Sekula-Gibbs – chose to run for other elected positions once their terms expired or shortly before they were due to expire.

Former mayor Lee P. Brown denounced the term limits, saying they prevented incumbents from gaining enough experience in city government. A proposal to double the current two-year term of office has been debated. As of 2005, several candidates for the city council have brought up the issue of whether term limits should be amended or eliminated. Some elected officials from the Greater Houston area within the Texas Legislature – primarily Garnet Coleman and Sylvester Turner – have also spoken out against term limits.

Houston is considered to be a politically divided city whose balance of power often sways between Republicans and Democrats. The affluent western-central portions of Houston – such as River Oaks and the Memorial/Spring Branch area, as well as master planned communities of Kingwood and Clear Lake City – consistently vote Republican, while many of the inner city neighbourhoods, Montrose/Neartown and Alief, are heavily Democratic. According to the 2005 Houston Area Survey, 68% of non-Hispanic whites in Harris County are declared or favour Republicans while 89% of non-Hispanic blacks in the area are declared or favour Democrats. About 62% Hispanics (of any race) in the area are declared or favour Democrats.





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