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Senate passes revised resolution in support of CBA between Rice Management and City of Houston

By Rynd Morgan     2/25/20 11:43pm

After several weeks of deliberation and significant changes to the language of the resolution, the Student Association Senate passed Senate Resolution 8 on Monday, Feb. 17, to recommend a community benefits agreement process for the Innovation District project.

The resolution in its final form passed nearly unanimously, with the exception of Jones College SA Senator Drew Carter. Carter said that supporting a community benefits agreement, or a legally binding contract, between the City of Houston and Rice Management Company undermines the goals of the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement, the only signatory party named in the original resolution.

“I definitely think that the HCEDD group has their heart and their minds in the right direction. What I will say is that I feel like the SA [Senate] somewhat compromised this, and I feel like the best thing the SA [Senate] could have done is just say ‘We’re going to support the HCEDD group ... but we’re not going to say anything in regards to supporting Rice or supporting the City of Houston,’” Carter, a sophomore, said.

The significant changes to the resolution since its original introduction on Jan. 27 came as a result of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s announcement that the City of Houston will enter a CBA with Rice Management Company.The original language of the resolution recommended that Rice Management Company enter a CBA with the HCEDD, and the resolution that passed on Monday states that the SA will only support a CBA for the South Main Innovation District if the HCEDD “is an equal decision-maker in the negotiations process and ultimately itself or its members’ organizations are equal signatories.”

The new resolution acknowledges, but no longer endorses the letter written by members of the HCEDD and endorsed by several Rice student groups, and instead acknowledges the HCEDD as the driving force behind the conversation about a CBA. In addition, the resolution recommends forming a task force to hold RMC accountable to commitments of transparency and openness. The SA Senate bill to charter the task force was also passed on Monday after a motion to table the vote did not pass.

Changes to the resolution were also due to the HCEDD and Rice Management Company’s conflicting definitions of a CBA – specifically, which parties are eligible to enter one. At the town hall hosted by the SA Senate on Feb. 6 to discuss changes to the resolution, resolution writer Mary Claire Neal said that a community coalition was a necessary part of a CBA, by definition.

“A CBA is a project-specific, legally binding enforceable document between – this is the key word – between developers or cities and community coalitions,” Neal, a Jones junior, said. “So the developers or cities, you can take that as an and/or, it can be either a developer/coalition or city/coalition, but either way it must include the coalition as a negotiating and enforcing party.” 

This is also the definition acknowledged in the resolution. 

According to SA President Grace Wickerson, Rice Management Company Real Estate Director Ryan LeVasseur said that Rice Management Company did not see the HCEDD as a valid counterparty in the CBA at this point in time for several reasons.

“I also think one of those reasons is that they didn’t know which organizations were even in the coalition. But they gave some things about longevity, the organization has to have been around for a long time, will it continue to exist,” Wickerson said.

SA Senate members at SA Senate meetings preceding the passage of the resolution also mentioned pressure from Rice Management Company to stop supporting the HCEDD, at the threat of damaged relations between the SA and Rice administration. Martel College SA Senator Ashley Fitzpatrick said at the SA 2020 Election Debate and Town Hall that Rice Management Company threatened to disown the SA as a legitimate campus body if the SA Senate passed a resolution supporting the HCEDD as a signatory party in the CBA.

HCEDD member Assata Richards said that while she was open to the city being part of brokering the deal, she did not support allowing the city to move forward with negotiations without the HCEDD’s input.

“There is a reason for us to keep going ... the consensus is this coalition should be a part of the negotiations in the agreement,” Richards said at the meeting on Feb. 4.

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