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Back to court for Prop B

Here we go again.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Lawyers for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner filed a motion Friday afternoon seeking to declare Proposition B invalid, contending the voter-approved referendum supporting pay parity for firefighters violates Texas law.

The move is the latest in an extended legal battle between the city and firefighters over the November ballot measure requiring the city to pay firefighters the same as police of equal rank and seniority.

[…]

The city’s motion claims that Proposition B is illegal under the Texas Local Government Code and the Texas Constitution, an allegation the city previously made in December.

The filing is notable, though, because Turner has said he hopes to negotiate a plan with the fire union to phase in pay parity over a number of years, arguing the city cannot find the funds to do so immediately.

His efforts to again invalidate the charter amendment altogether appear to cast doubt on whether both sides can ultimately reach an agreement. Though Turner has said “those conversations are taking place,” neither side has indicated they have made any tangible progress since [firefighters union president Marty] Lancton and Turner met publicly in January.

The day before that meeting, the union sought a court order aiming to force the city to enact parity, a move Turner questioned at the time. Lancton, skeptical of Turner’s sincerity in offering the meeting, said the city’s inaction had forced the union’s hand, while Turner said the union should not have gone to the courthouse on the eve of the meeting.

Here’s the Mayor’s press release, which you can take however you want. I’m mostly noting this for the record, because as far as I can tell there’s no legal impediment at this time to proceeding with Prop B, a subject that I’m sure will continue to arise. The one thing I find surprising is that so far no individual voters have filed a lawsuit over the wording of the ballot referendum. It seems like every other one we’ve had in recent memory has faced litigation over that, some more credible than others, so it’s a little odd to me that this referendum hasn’t had that same experience. Just a though.

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10 Comments

  1. Nawfsider says:

    I am a lifelong Democrat and a Houston Firefighter and I am extremely disappointed with Mayor Turners handling of our contract and the pay parity campaign, and also disappointed that there is probably not going to be anyone on the ballot for Mayor that I feel like I can support.

    Do you see this as in the interest of Mayor Turner to continue to drag this issue out instead of negotiate with the Firefighters? I am obviously biased here, but don’t get how this is something that is going to help his prospects of re-election and am wondering if I am missing something.

  2. Nawfsider, I think it’s probably in his best interest to negotiate a resolution. I also think he believes that state law doesn’t allow for that. I have no idea if he’s right about that, but it’s a rational position to take. So, I’m not sure what I’d do if I were him.

  3. David Fagan says:

    Maybe he should quit listening to The Greater Houston Partnership Union, The C Club Union, and the big law office he hires all the time. Brenda Stardig is the only one I’ve heard that brought up the issue of the people who were hired to negotiate the last contract and the responsibility they had to get one, and if they negotiated better, then maybe prop b wouldn’t exist. Certainly the money the city has spent on this would be better used as a raise for workers. The blinding excuse that has been used over and over is “run the city like a business”, well the firefighters should do the same and with the position they have now, what business would possibly give an inch? The longer he goes the less individual fire fighters are going to be able to see another point of view. All you have to do is listen to them once in a while. I don’t represent any fire fighters, but I could image that the willingness to accept anything less than what is in the ballot language is a lost attribute, even among those who could have entertained that type of willingness at one point. In the end, The Mayor will have to face the fact he is spending more and more money like a gambler at a roulette wheel. What should Mayor Turner do? Start telling the truth would be a good place to begin and don’t be afraid to admit he’s not the CEO, he’s not the one making these decisions, and admit the Business Unions of this city have guided the city in this direction and that’s where “running the city like a business” has gotten them. Run the city like what it is, a municipality, run it like what he is, a mayor, and put the Business Unions where they belong, part of this city and not owners.

  4. Ross says:

    @David, where is the money supposed to come from to pay for Prop B? It’s not like the City has an extra $100 million laying around. Better Turner spend a few million trying to kill this thing.

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    Where is the money to come from. It is a pickle. I would not want to be the Mayor. Real tough decisions. He didn’t create this mess but he has to deal with it.

  6. David Fagan says:

    Didn’t create it? But he definitely had a strong influence. Could he had not open negotiations again? Listen to the FF’s position before all this? His practices now are the same practices he employed before, just trying to avoid the issue all together doesn’t make it go away, only makes it worse. To put FF’s through the compensation reducing experience of pension reform, then ignore the situation of low pay with a negotiator who left the table, it would have been better for the mayor to step in and put the negotiator back at the table. Hind sight may be 20-20, but people believe they vote for candidates with a little foresight. But, do not forget the legal teams who advise him and tell him what to do, Norton Rose Fulbright, can lead him down that path and have no ultimate responsibility in the end, the same with Greater Houston Partnership, and the C Club. These organizations state they campaign for their organizations’ own interests and function like a Union, but when the City is in a situation like this, you hear nothing from them, but they are still there. If he wants to listen to these organizations, then so be it, but only Mayor Turner will be held responsible for the decisions made. The law firm will get paid, Greater Houston Partnership will get their money, and the C Club will continue their political influence for all three. The Mayor is not a CEO, the City is not a business, it is a municipality, tax dollars are not meant to make businesses viable, they are to make a municipality work under its charter. Maybe it is time for TIRZ reform, maybe it is time to reform the public/private business practices. Time to reform the influence these three entities have over this city and stop blaming public workers for every economic problem while feeling the brunt of the revenue cap when businesses reap the rewards of a revenue cap. Do not forget the City came up with $50,000,000 for a Super Bowl that cannot prove the tax windfall they advertise. Because if it did, I guess the City would have less to worry about and could pay for this, but the Mayor says it doesn’t. Here’s an idea, form a TIRZ that still contribute to prop B. If you want to use business practices to run the City, then the business practice of forming another TIRZ is one everyone can accept and goes in line with accepted city practices, problem solved.

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    I could solve the Prop B mess with one letter to the fire chief, if I was mayor. It simply reads, “you have xx amount of money for 2019. Calculate the raises the citizens gave, adding in the increased retirement burden they imposed, then start firing people and cutting any new equipment orders until you have balanced your budget.

    Give the FF themselves the choice of how to cut, and who to cut. Do they still need 4 people on a truck vs 3? Fine. They will just have fewer crews available. Whatever the FF think is the best way to cut, I’ll accept that, as they are the experts.

    Turner is just wasting city money at this point. Mayor Turner, give the people what they voted for. If their home insurance rates go up because fire protection goes down, that’s what they voted for, it is NOT your fault. If a few citizens don’t make it because of increased ambulance response time, again, not your fault…..it’s what the people voted for.

    People who live out in the country don’t have super fast fire and ambulance service, and the survive (except when they don’t), and that was their choice. The CoH voters have made their choice. Honor it.

    Pick a date for the mass firings and pay raises to begin, and then just do it.

  8. David Fagan says:

    Did the mayor already do that? After months after the election, and the Fire Chief in the mayor’s pocket already, why hasn’t that been done?

    Another idea would be to look at the financial study and utilize the recommendation that funds collected by increased property values should help contribute to the public safety used to protect those improvements. If that’s not an idea, separate billing can be used when these areas depend on services. Or, reverting to older practices, institute an insurance program where those who contribute receive the services. The revenues realized by a raise to the fire fighters will be an economic contribution to the local economy at a greater percentage than even the Super Bowl. FF’ s will spend that money locally contributing to property taxes, sales taxes, and revenue for local businesses. This money doesn’t just disappear, it contributes to the local economy efficiently.

  9. Bill Daniels says:

    David,

    If you’ll just give me a bunch of money, I guarantee I will spend every last nickel locally, contributing to property taxes, sales taxes, and revenue for local businesses. Or hey, why not cut out the middle man and cut property taxes for CoH residents and let those Houston residents make an economic contribution to the local economy directly?
    commence!

  10. David Fagan says:

    Sounds like excellent ideas. In fact, those are the positions adopted by business unions and organizations, so why not other people and organizations? Why should the fire department be expected to be subject to “business practice” patterns of decision making, but are not able to execute business practices that bring tax revenue for businesses to use as they see fit? On the one hand there is an expected excuse that businesses bring these benefits that you have listed, Bill. The logical conclusion is the fire department, if given the opportunity to utilize the same practices, will contribute the same results. Using a “business practice” management style is not a synonym for cut all costs and reduce all spending, without the same active practices to increase profit and increase revenue. The fire department should be allowed to find new avenues of revenue, even in the business sense, if they are subject to “business practice” management cuts. Or sacrifice the business management point of view.