Houston Controller Chris Hollins offered a presentation to city council members this week on a tentative $1.5 billion settlement between the City of Houston and its firefighters. 

Hollins planned to present his findings on Monday at a special-called budget and fiscal affairs committee meeting, but that meeting was canceled. So, instead, he decided to hold a press conference to deliver his findings on the proposed $650 million back pay settlement and tentative collective bargaining agreement, totaling at least $1.5 billion.

Hollins argued that the city’s firefighters make about 10 percent less than those in similar cities like Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Fort Worth. He presented six scenarios through which, he said, the city could lower the taxpayer burden on the settlement—each scenario totaled in the $300 million range, half of what is currently being proposed. 

In response to his presentation, the union issued a press release saying Hollins was “playing politics with firefighters and their families” and called his presentation “uninformed, misleading, and inaccurate.”

Mayor John Whitmire also responded by saying he had these and many more scenarios in consideration during the negotiations and, “Monday morning quarterbacks may choose to ignore the fact that Texas law mandates firefighter pay to be based on private-sector compensation comparisons, not the public sector, but as mayor and lead negotiator, I cannot ignore that fact.” 

Council Members Edward Pollard and Tiffany Thomas, two of the three attendees at the meeting, issued a letter to the mayor following the presentation. They listed out nine questions, including asking the mayor if he would be willing to take the $650 million to the voters for approval, whether or not he was physically present for the negotiations, when the terms of the agreement would be released for review, and what calculations the administration used to settle on $650 million. 

While a leaked copy of the proposed collective bargaining agreement has been circulating, the administration has not publicly released it so council members, the controller, and the public have yet to see an official copy. 

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.