On Friday, a Houston court granted the Houston Police Officers Union a temporary restraining order to halt the implementation of recently passed Proposition B, the firefighter pay parity proposition.

The union’s lawsuit alleged Proposition B was “an unconstitutional amendment to the Houston City Charter mandating pay parity between fire fighters and police in violation of state law.”

It goes on to say, “On election day, the measure was presented to the voters verbatim as crafted by the petitioners, without any reference to its cost implications. It passed by a vote of 59% to 41%. But what the voters were asked to pass was never capable of becoming a valid law.”

HPOU claimed the amendment is unconstitutional in four areas:

  • It violates Texas Local Government Code by setting pay in accordance with fellow municipal workers rather than private sector jobs.
  • It concerns a matter that doesn’t fall under the purview of the electorate, according to the Fire and Police Employment Relations Act.
  • It interferes with collective bargaining rights of HPOU, which violates public policy of the State of Texas.
  • Its petition process disobeyed Texas Local Government Code.

Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement shortly after the restraining order was granted. Just two days before, he convinced council to award $500,000 to Norton Rose Fulbright to represent the city in any legal action stemming from the ballot proposition passage.

“Let me remind everyone there is at least a $100M cost every year to the passage of Prop B, which the city cannot afford,” wrote Turner. “It would lead to significant layoffs and a reduction of services. Some of those layoffs could involve police officers and firefighters.”

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association also released a statement:

“This throw-down lawsuit by the Houston Police Officers Union proves again that it is a willing political pawn of a vindictive mayor. Sylvester Turner simply refuses to respect the will of the voters and now the HPOU is forcing its members into costly litigation that follows their expensive, failed anti-Prop B campaign.

“This cynical, Sylvester Turner-orchestrated legal play proves that the mayor, the eight city council members that voted to spend taxpayer funds on this wasteful litigation, and HPOU President Joe Gamaldi apparently will do almost anything to defy the will of the voters.”

With the temporary restraining order in effect, taxpayers and both unions’ members are in for a costly fight to determine the validity of the proposition and if the will of the voters is truly respected.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.