Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association (HPFFA) completely disagree on the way the City is getting ready to approve a ballot measure that would present Houstonians with a choice to support or reject pay parity between police officers and firefighters.
In a lawsuit filed this week, the HPFFA contends that mayor Turner and Council Member Dave Martin did not follow the Texas Election Code when they held a meeting of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee last Thursday to discuss the potential amendment for the City's Charter that would establish the pay parity.
The lawsuit argues that public resources, such as City personnel, the City Council chambers and the City's ran television station, HTV, were inappropriately used to campaign against the ballot measure.
In an interview with Houston Matters, Turner assured that “almost every measure that comes before City Council, almost of all those measures, go before some committee.”
“All of those committee hearings are put on the website for the general public to see, for people who are concerned about transparency,” added the mayor, who underlined he doesn't see anything wrong with having held the meeting.
Turner also said that “even state law requires that when you put a charter amendment on the ballot, with cost implications, you must, we must, tell the public how much it will cost. That’s pursuant to state law.”
The mayor also argued that, even the ballot measure is the consequence of a petition legally signed and supported by tens of thousands of Houstonians, “people still need to know the information.” “They need to know what does it mean, how much does it cost, what are the ramifications to the City, good, bad, ugly, whatever it is,” said Turner.
The mayor explained that he is concerned about the ballot measure because, according to the analysis made by City officials, the pay parity “will cost the people and the City of Houston at a minimum three hundred million dollars over three years, about a hundred million dollars a year, and it provides firefighters with a pay raise of twenty five percent or more.”
Turner underscored he offered a 9.5 percent pay raise over three years and the union rejected it.
The mayor also argued that the pay parity the firefighters union demands isn't logical because “the functionalities are not the same.”
“I know it may sound good, but in the petition, in their petition, they equate a mechanic in firefighters with a sergeant in police. This is not about parity of functionality. This is about they’re seeking parity in terms of rank and pay, but the duties are different,” noted the mayor, who gave the example that when Houston police officers train, they do it during regular time, while when firefighters do their training that is considered overtime.
Patrick M. ‘Marty’ Lancton, president of the HPFFA, also spoke to Houston Matters and underscored the union has spent nearly $1 million of its own funds in data research and efficiency studies regarding the potential pay parity, and the City hasn’t been responsive to that research.
Besides, Lancton questioned the mayor's estimate about the parity costing the City $300 million over three years and said Turner has changed three or four times that cost assessment.
For Lancton, Turner and Council Member Martin are “politicking against a measure that has yet to go on a ballot.” The HPFFA president added that last week's committee meeting was used to “campaign against a measure to which it’s not even yet called for as an election order.”
The HPFFA announced in a news release that Judge Kyle Carter has issued a temporary restraining order to prevent use of City resources to advocate against the ballot measure.
Upcoming decision by the Council
Turner emphasized that the City will present the initiative to voters for sure and said that the Council will decide next Wednesday, August 8, to include the item on pay parity in the ballot for “this November or the next available date.”