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Firefighters have their signatures

On to the next act in this drama.

A petition Houston firefighters submitted last summer seeking pay parity with police contains enough valid signatures to trigger a referendum election, City Secretary Anna Russell reported to Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council Thursday.

Russell finished verifying the signatures a day ahead of a deadline given to the city by a state district judge last month. The judge originally set a deadline of April 27 after the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association sued the city last December, complaining Russell’s office had not validated its referendum petition in time for either the November 2017 or May 2018 ballots. Judge Dan Hinde agreed to give Russell another week after city lawyers said additional staff and overtime had been approved to finish the count.

Russell’s memo to the mayor and council said her office checked 26,708 signatures against Harris County’s list of qualified voters; 20,228 were verified. State law requires 20,000 qualified signatures on a petition to get a referedum on the ballot.

It is unclear when the item will appear before voters. City attorneys argued in court that the Turner administration does not intend to schedule a vote before the next regular municipal election cycle in November 2019, but the mayor, when asked about the petition count Wednesday, said the city council would have to discuss the matter.

[…]

Turner said Wednesday he presumed the petition contained enough names to trigger a vote, but suggested the proposal’s lack of clarity could undermine its validity, noting, for instance, that hundreds more firefighters than police officers carry the rank of “captain.”

“I don’t know what parity means,” Turner said. “Does it mean you scale everything down? If the voters vote on something, the voters need to know what they’re voting (on).”

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so you know I agree with the Mayor’s assessment of what this means. As to when the election should be held, I suppose there’s an argument for 2019 instead of this November. I’m sure we’ll get to hear that argument from the city when the firefighters file a motion to force the election this year. Council does need to approve putting the item on the ballot, along with the language of it, whether this year or next. We’ll see how that goes.

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35 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    People generally like firefighters and EMS. Having said that, I feel bad for them, forcing this issue to a vote, because the majority of taxpaying citizens aren’t going to vote to pay them above market wages for their work. If the CoH was having a hard time recruiting firefighters, that would be an argument for paying more, but as it stands, those jobs are coveted, with many applications per actual position available. That tells me they are already compensated appropriately.

    The firefighters will no doubt see a loss at the polls as a personal affront, a slap in the face, when it isn’t. People like firefighters….just not enough to pay them over market wages when they expect fiduciary responsibility from their elected officials.

  2. C.L. says:

    If Channel Two’s Breaking News Alerts are to be believed, what with all the machinery breaking down or not working, we’re one tipsy cow away from a Chicago circa 1871-level conflagration that’s going to decimate and/or destroy the Bayou City. Best we keep these HFD folks happy and employed.

    If you believe the folks at KPRC at all.

  3. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, I’m all for expanding EMS because that is where 80% or more of HFD’s calls for help are directed although only comprising a small percentage of the manpower. The bulk of the force get to sleep and handle all their personal business on the clock for those rare times when more than a skeleton shift is needed. So let the people vote on the petition with the proviso that passing it will mean cutting a substantial number of employees. And let the employees know that parity will be determined based on all the same factors that apply to the cops, from education requirements to years of service per position to span of control of other employees, no raises until all conditions are met.

    CL, maybe if the city lays off 500 of them, it will be able to provide better equipment to those who remain. That number is much lower than the official recommendation to let go over 800 of them but Bill makes a good point about supply and demand. But KPRC is almost as credible as the Houston Chronicle so any news they stumble onto is by sheer luck.

  4. Ross says:

    I would vote for parity if the firefighters have to work 5 8 hour shifts, or 4 10’s, thus screwing them out of their lucrative outside jobs. Or, we create parity by reducing police pay to firefighter levels.

  5. Rusty says:

    1) I have never met a cop without a side job (PS most of them are quite lucrative).

    2) If HFD pay was in-line with HPD, a lot of firefighters wouldn’t have to work a second job to bridge that gap.

    3) If the citizens of Houston feel that the most appropriate way to achieve parity is to lower HPD pay to match HFD pay, then I have no problem with standing alongside my brothers in blue.

  6. Rusty says:

    Steve, I would like open with a point of transparency. I am a Houston Firefighter and have an obvious vested interest in the outcome of any of the political wrangling that this issue brings about. I would politely request that you disclose any “dog that you have in this fight”. To your points , I have 0 doubt that the Turner administration will paint the bleakest of outcomes if this initiative passes. Layoffs will be trotted out as an inevitability, fire stations will close, etc. Firefighters will no doubt be painted in the light of selfish, spoiled, greedy children. This mayor’s dishonesty and political gamesmanship with the respect to the men and women of HFD is well documented and unfortunately now to be expected. The mayor will launch a concerted effort to pit poor, young, rookies against greedy, older, higher ranking firefighters to create infighting and divide the ranks (much the same way HFD and HPD are being pitted against each other). Your assertion that a skeleton crew is adequate to protect a city as large as Houston lacks any foresight. The idea that the average citizen doesn’t need the fire department on a day to basis on a day to day basis is correct, just the same way I have never needed a cop until the moment I NEEDED a cop. Until that moment I had been paying (wasting) taxes for no services by your logic. FD and PD are both there to protect the citizens when events occur in their lives which are unable to be handled by the individual.
    To the point of matching education requirements with HPD. I am in agreement with you, I think a better educated fire department serves the interests of the community we serve. My only caveat is that I would request the same opportunity to receive the EXACT same tuition reimbursement program that HPD is entitled to.
    Finally, your comment implying the majority of the fire department is either sleeping or tending to their personal business shows a significant departure from the realities of any station I have ever worked at. Anyone who feels that this is an accurate depiction of “a day in the life” has watched entirely too much Chicago Fire. As I type this, a 3 alarm fire is occurring in the EaDo portion of the city. Resources have been sent from literally all over the city to safely extinguish that fire. I hardly think those men and women will be attending to much “personal business” or getting much sleep.

  7. david fagan says:

    Ross, you mean get paid more AND work less hours? Probably sounds like a deal to them.

  8. Manny Barrera says:

    The vast majority of city employees are underpaid, the same people that cry and whine about they don’t deserve more almost always seek to take the one good thing they have their pension.

    If you look at who is always the one complaining you will find Republicans that are up to let us make Democrats the bogeyman. Keep the public and discussion away from them.

    Having stated the above, kept wondering why so many of the men in blue tend to vote Republican.

    Let us remove the cap on taxes, and allow the City to tax all those non-citizens for the use of our services, the County does with its toll roads.

    It takes money to run a government, and businesses are not that much better, they have just as much waste, compare large companies to large cities, small companies to small cities.

    Our civic club contributes to both the police and fire department, we value their services. As to our Fire Station 68, which is less than a quarter mile from me the trucks are almost always gone so they must be sleeping in the way to an emergency. People either forget or don’t realize that the people in those trucks also do EMS work many times they are the first one there.

    I like to tell people that when other rush out the firemen and women rush in to to save lives. http://abc13.com/archive/9122467/

    If you need more proof of their courage https://www.google.com/search?q=first+responders+911&client=firefox-b-1&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwigivznte7aAhULzIMKHYc9CgMQsAQIWQ&biw=1920&bih=938

    While many of you sit in your air condition offices complaining about your taxes, spend less and volunteer to help your community, I do.

  9. David Fagan says:

    Rusty, two points:
    1) set limits on your reasoning with people. By the length of your comment, you have a well thought out point that can be supported by reason, know when the conversation you may be willing to carry on with someone is only met by an agenda. Reasoning may be expressed with the thought that another will relate, but when your reasoning is ignored by the one you are trying to communicate with, and replaced with the same fractured line of rhetoric, don’t be frustrated, but realize you are communicating with someone who has an agenda.

    2) is this the education reimbursement program paid for by the City of Houston, and not the state of texas (which is important) you may be talking about? Since comments have brought up level of education, then surely they would support equality in the area of tuition reimbursement. So, feel good about that.

    HPD tuition reimbursement:

    http://www.hpou.org/wp-content/uploads/tuition-reimbursement.pdf

  10. David Fagan says:

    And for those who believe fire fighters are getting so over paid for doing a job anyone can do, you can do it too. Make the first sacrifice, the sacrifice of your present career, and join to serve the City of Houston and the Fire Service honorably:

    https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/houston?department%5B0%5D=Fire%20Classified&sort=PositionTitle%7CAscending

    After applying think about how it will be to walk into your first smoke filled building with fire rolling over your head and know your first fire is inevitable. Don’t worry Steve, you can do it!

  11. C.L. says:

    Police and fire services are like homeowners insurance. I pay and I pay every year, hoping and praying that I never have to realize services for payments rendered, and hoping and praying that one day I’ll have to realize services for payments rendered. Classic Catch-22.

    Then Harvey came, and my insurance carrier denied my claim because the adjuster couldn’t figure out how water came in through my roof and ended up in my bathroom. Then I left a outside door ajar recently and my home alarm went off when no one was home and HPD showed up here hours after my alarm company had already called me and I scurried home… Am silently hoping a fire isn’t in my future.

  12. Steve Houston says:

    Rusty, thank you for your service to the city. The biggest “dog I have in the fight” is that of fiscal responsibility, the same as most people in the area. HFD is one of the best fire departments in the country but the city of Houston’s finances are incapable of sustaining such operations as currently structured. Your operating budget alone this year is about a half a billion dollars so the mayor could close all the libraries, parks, and several of the other departments of the city and it wouldn’t enable him to give you half the raise you are looking for without cutting personnel.

    In short, the city can’t afford premium services at this time. Attached to your petition should be a price tag to pay for it just so those who want to give you a huge raise will get to make choices about how much more they will have to pay themselves. The continued assaults on the Mayor’s character as though he were any more or less of a politician are almost comical to those of us in the peanut gallery as well, earning your group no points with most voters.

    As far as the details are concerned, I am in favor of the city reimbursing education costs to all employees within limits, but think the flawed concept of parity needs to be straightened out based on the factors outlined above as a start, the comparisons between job positions simply not realistic even when spot checking them. Just so you know, “David” has been here many times in the past and solidified many beliefs regulars have, so while I welcome hearing from a fresh perspective, even one with a potential hand in the pocket, he’s convinced a number of us that changes are needed before any increases are doled out, the same for the cops.

    Lastly, while it is appreciated that some of the department was fighting a large fire last night, that is not commonly the case so any fewer hours you might be subjected to under a restructuring of hours and days worked would be offset by the lack of sleeping on duty and other things mentioned. Unlike Ross though, I wouldn’t change your shifts to “punish” you, merely to take better advantage of manpower that is typically idle.

  13. Steve Houston says:

    David, since so many younger people are willing to apply for any open positions, there is no need for me to answer the call. As long as scores of people are applying for every opening, there is no reason for the city to pay you more.

  14. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Im a no at this point. If they want to include all municipal unions into pay parity, lets talk. Not just first responders. This will come at the expense of other municipal employees and will benefit a group that might disproportionately live outside the city relative to other municipal workers.

  15. Jules says:

    What difference does it make where non-elected employees live? It is no one’s business.

  16. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Again, why hurt city residents by giving all the money to out of city residents? That money given to firefighters will come at the expense of other municipal employees. It fails under fairness rules as it will hurt every other municipal employee and it fails under economic rules as that money will be taken out of Houston to be spent elsewhere.

  17. Jules says:

    Ridiculous. Again, it’s nobody’s business where firefighters or other non-elected city employees live.

  18. Bill Daniels says:

    Tom,

    Can I assume that you support Trump’s plan to tax remittances by (mostly illegal alien) people in the US to their families in the old country? They are taking money out of the US economy to prop up the economies where they are from. That just hurts Americans.

  19. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    The US economy doesnt have a revenue cap. Houston does. Again, the firefighters are trying to kneecap all other municipal employees.

  20. Jules says:

    Maybe fewer firefighters live in Houston (if that is true) than other city employees because they make less and can’t afford Lazybrook. In any case, it is none of your business where anyone lives. I don’t think their motivation is to kneecap anyone.

  21. Bill Daniels says:

    Tom,

    Since Houston DOES have a revenue cap, then if those firefighters lived in and paid property taxes to the CoH, the city would bring in the exact same amount of money it does now that they don’t live in the city. Where’s the advantage to the city? They take in the same amount of revenue either way.

  22. David Fagan says:

    Tom in Lazybrook, I would expect you to despise the Superbowl, because they took over $50,000 out of this city, and left nothing to show for it but a bunch of made in China memorabilia.

  23. David Fagan says:

    Hey Steve, go join Houston Police, I hear they have great tuition reimbursement, they pay you for multiple advance certifications, and on top of that, they’ll pay several times more than HFD you for that degree you have, on top of the certifications!

  24. Manny Barrera says:

    Steve, since when does the number of people applying determine the pay? http://work.chron.com/salary-per-year-crab-fisherman-2510.html

  25. Steve Houston says:

    Tom, the arguments for employee residence requirements aren’t very convincing, there are enough case studies available showing such schemes only promote shady practices like renting a place while truly living outside, much like several council members do. And I don’t think the firemen are trying to “kneecap” other municipal employees, they just don’t give a darn about the secondary effects of their demands.

    Bill, while I agree that residency requirements are a bad idea, your math assumes that forcing employees to live in the city would result in no net revenue. Aside from the fact that the “cap” allows for population growth, don’t forget that property taxes are only one form of city revenue; sales tax, various fees, and other sources amounting to more than property taxes.

    David, I happen to dislike the sports franchises and related events getting huge subsidies, the math deployed by the sporting leagues is akin to the questionable math of Hollywood or your union. And I’m not opposed to tuition reimbursement as an employee compensation tactic for anyone, as I mentioned to Rusty, I’m in favor of all employees getting it as part of their compensation package but public safety work is better suited to the young so I’ll pass on painting a target on my back just as I passed on running into burning building a few times a year.

    Manny, supply and demand is an essential part of determining the value of something in our society but if you read what was written, you’ll note I said it and the other factors are only part of the equation. When a position has over a hundred qualified applicants, it is easier to fill than a job where positions go unfilled for lack of such applicants. That’s part of the reason why parking magistrates are paid so much more then entry level clerks.

  26. Manny Barrera says:

    Steve you have not addressed the elephant in the room, what makes you think that unless they are fighting fires they are idle?

    When you call in accident, the first one their are fire personnel, sometimes it is the ambulance quite often you will find fire trucks. Not to long ago when a neighbor had a stroke there were fire engines outside. While I could be mistaken, I believe that all Houston firemen/women are trained in EMT.

    Want to complain about taxes complain about the country, the state, and the Federal government, we get little in return from them.

    Having stated that the Fire Department as the Police Department is top heavy and too many officers are not performing police functions, that could be done by less expensive civilian employees.

  27. Steve Houston says:

    Manny, sending multiple trucks when ambulances are needed is part of the problem, hence my repeated comments suggesting restructuring. When someone is having a problem, sending several trucks makes no sense in most cases, the practice amounting to padding their numbers as a couple employees do all the work and the other dozen or more stand around doing nothing. And I agree with the work studies for both HFD and HPD about using much cheaper employees for mundane tasks, both are also top heavy though the fire department wins that contest if the cop propaganda magazine given the city council members is to be believed, another reason why parity between different positions makes no sense.

  28. Manny Barrera says:

    Steve sending multiple trucks? The fire truck, occasionally trucks, gets there quite sooner than the ambulance, more often than not. The ambulance gets there the fire truck leaves, a person life may have been saved, but we do need to save money. Accidents the fire truck is usually the first emergency vehicle there, but no one beats the tow trucks.

    I signed their petition. The firemen and women deserve a chance for the voters to decide.

  29. Steve Houston says:

    Manny, I believe the voters have the right to decide if they want to pay HFD better as well, even if it means laying off several hundred of them along with a variety of other city employees to pay for it.

    And yes, restructuring so there are more ambulances, is a good idea, the trucks arriving faster due to the fact that while 80% of calls are medical related, HFD continues to push having more large trucks than ambulances. Those trucks are much more prone to causing accidents, have a minimum of four employees on them, and they typically send multiple trucks regardless of need. If the alternative is to continue sending trucks first, drop the four employee per truck requirement.

  30. David Fagan says:

    Steve, listening to people who made the professional sacrifice to actually become public servants in the fire department, the practice of sending fire apparatus initially to an emergency was not created, and is definitely criticized by, the fire department personnel. This practice was pointed out as a problem when it was initiated by the Fire Chief Garrison, from Phoenix, hired and supported by the former Mayor Annise Parker. The fire fighters were ignored then, so do not attempt to pin this action on them now, you will still be spreading more misinformation, and blaming the Fire personnel even more. Spreading this type of agenda, or lack of knowledge, is the true problem. To say “the practice amounting to padding their numbers as a couple employees do all the work and the other dozen or more stand around doing nothing” is an attempt to make fire fighters the problem when they are the ones who disputed these actions when they were initiated. If you want to express first hand points of view about these issues, then get a first hand knowledge and join the fire department. If excuses get in your way of obtaining a first hand point of view, DO NOT spread misinformation, ultimately blaming fire personnel for issues they themselves tried to prevent. You need to question your own statements because if you do not regard these words, it will a lack of knowledge or awareness. Listen to those who choose to make the sacrifice you have chose not to.

  31. Steve Houston says:

    David, a bad practice is a bad practice regardless of where it comes from in an organization, as an outsider I can safely say that whenever your group is asked for ways to save money to pay for your desired raises, not a peep comes out about any of this. Contrast that to the misinformation over the years your representatives provide on a wide array of topics and you see why you’ve lost ground over the years. But as an outsider, I can blame “HFD” as an organization for any problem attached to it, be it the need for restructuring, the top heavy nature of the organization as pointed out by Manny, or any other issue. And I’ve watched plenty of incidences where multiple apparatuses were sent to a location to form an opinion on such events, a few people doing all the work while the others do little or nothing, no need for me to work your job to see it from the sidelines of a theater, a club, or an event where someone requires attention. I’ve never stated that applies to every such event, nor do I deny that some of you answer fire calls every now and again, merely that there might be better ways to fulfill your core missions in a more efficient manner. Given these new revelations of yours, and you’ve been on this website many times in the past, apparently we agree that restructuring is important.

    It’s a fact that the city doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars laying around for your desired raises. It’s also a fact that the city is facing years of deficits structured long before the current mayor took office. Like it or not, even if the property tax revenue cap is removed, there won’t be enough money to throw at you to make your group happy, at least not without massive layoffs to public safety. So it might help your cause to more publicly point out ways for the city to come up with said money, not take the hard line stance your representatives have taken in the past that it’s the mayor’s job to find the money. I won’t even ask you to become a banker to understand all of this, your lack of empathy for those you serve is duly noted every time you write something.

  32. Manny Barrera says:

    Steve I have no idea where you work, but I think I do. But a few people doing most of the work is pretty typical of any organization, unless one is being paid for product or sales produced.

    CPR takes two people minimum, maybe three. Based on your theory, we could get rid of most of the armed forces as only a few people actually do the fighting.

  33. David Fagan says:

    ” I can safely say that whenever your group is asked for ways to save money to pay for your desired raises, not a peep comes out about any of this.” I know you’ve done your research on this matter and realize HFD has made several cuts, and the fact that personnel are working in 2018 at 2010 rates gives the City a deal already, I’m sure bankers can appreciate that.

    “the misinformation over the years your representatives provide on a wide array of topics” please be more specific, or this statement is just another hollow attempt to support a negative hollow agenda.

    “I can blame “HFD” as an organization for any problem attached to it” Now we’re getting somewhere, let your hate flow, let’s realize the true purpose of this conversation, what do you really desire Steve?

    “And I’ve watched plenty of incidences where multiple apparatuses were sent to a location to form an opinion on such events, a few people doing all the work while the others do little or nothing, no need for me to work your job to see it from the sidelines of a theater, a club, or an event where someone requires attention”. So, exactly, what are these vast experiences you’ve had on the sidelines of emergencies, we’re all ears, please tell one story that comes to mind, keeping in mind that the people of the Fire Department respond to the public’s emergencies when they call and ask for assistance, this is called first responders, and our is a public service anyone can utilize.


    Given these new revelations of yours, and you’ve been on this website many times in the past, apparently we agree that restructuring is important.” I have no new revelations, just tired of trying to water the concrete and expecting flowers. I also will not agree with you because your opinions lack first hand experience and knowledge, just an outsiders’ point of view, as you call it. I cannot support such false and manipulative statements.

    “It’s a fact that the city doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars laying around for your desired raises” But, it is a fact that there were $90, 000,000 in reductions in HFD compensation.
    Please refer back to your previous statement of ” whenever your group is asked for ways to save money …” they’ve kinda been forced to do that, you’re welcome HPD and munies.
    This is also the same statement year after year doled out to HFD and they observe more benefits going to other departments, year after year. At some time there is a breaking point for these citizens who have become public servants, because:

    “I won’t even ask you to become a banker to understand all of this” the sacrifice of being a big time banker is made when people decide to become fire fighters. Sacrificing being bankers, or oil engineers, or CEO’s of giant corporations, or musicians and sports figures. That doesn’t mean they should sacrifice standards of living.

    As far as “your lack of empathy for those you serve” if that is your attitude toward fire fighters, it is one that is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience” which is the definition of “prejudice”. Empathy, or “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” will definitely be saved for those whom I serve, the citizens of Houston, and this includes you. I feel it is a privilege to help you in the day off your need, Steve, because I know if that day comes you will ultimately realize your own limitations, helplessness, and dependency on other people, THAT is what fire fighters are here to do.

  34. David Fagan says:

    P.S. I’m done with this, so have a free for all.

  35. Steve Houston says:

    David, kudos for your spin doctoring abilities but as Bill pointed out, the “rates” in question can’t be too bad or you wouldn’t have so many qualified applicants per opening. The constant barrage of “but they get more than us” over the years has worn thin, from other departments to other jobs. And you don’t get credit for the Governor and state legislature adjusting your future pension benefits since all of you fought them tooth and nail.

    I don’t hate you or the others trying to get blood from a stone, but you admitted that the department needs restructuring then tried to distance yourself from your own comments, HFD’s over capacity for rare events is a luxury Houston can’t afford if they are to pay workers better. The suggestion that you can magically reclaim past cuts to use for raises is amusing to say the least, just as claiming there’s a breaking point when so many are actively seeking employment in your organization. The approach that nobody outside your small scope of self professed experts can credibly comment on anything at all related to compensation belies that mindset you have shown so often. You want to play the martyr role regarding how much you sacrifice but you’ll only do so quietly if you are given double digit raises, got it.

    The bottom line is that I have agreed you should have a contract and reasonable raises. I also agreed that voters should get to vote on this to decide how much you get (and how many they can afford). But you work for the public and like it or not, the public gets input about all this and you might find that many of us have expertise in things like management and compensation. Have a wonderful week (seriously).