Some Houston City Council members teamed up this week for a rare move: calling a special meeting without the mayor’s approval. The seldom-utilized rule allows three or more council members to call a hearing to address a topic of their choosing. The last time it was used was under former Mayor Annise Parker’s final term. Though today they failed to reach a quorum, the brief meeting was contentious and sets the tone for what’s to come.

Council Members Dwight Boykins, Martha Castex-Tatum, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, and Greg Travis used the provision to call a hearing to discuss the Houston Professional Firefighters Association’s successful petition to ask voters whether or not their pay should mirror that of the Houston Police Department. Despite signing on to call the meeting, Castex-Tatum failed to show up and Boykins left before it commenced.

City council has to approve the ballot item and language for the petition by August 20th in order for it to be placed on the November general election ballot. Turner has publicly stated that he planned to do it towards the end of July or beginning of August, but as of when the special meeting was called, he had not given any indication on exactly when that would be.

Turner has shown his displeasure with the measure since the start of HPFA’s effort. He indirectly delayed the count of the petitions by failing to provide additional support to the city secretary to count them and fought them in court when they sued to expedite the process. The court reaffirmed the validity of the petition process by forcing the city to stick to a deadline to count the petitions. He most recently attempted to delay by claiming he couldn’t bring the item before council because he didn’t know what “pay parity” meant. The continued delay has frustrated both the firefighters and city council members.

After the special meeting was announced, Turner, who is on a mission trip in South America, said he intended on calling a special Budget and Fiscal Affairs meeting on July 26th to discuss the matter. Council Member Dave Martin, chair of BFA, confirmed the mayor’s request and said he still intends to hold his committee meeting. Though he initially refused to show up to the special-called meeting, he ended up being in attendance.

Following the meeting, Turner released a statement saying, in part, “A proposed meeting called by a few council members while the mayor is out of town on official business is wrong on so many levels.”

The council members who showed up argued mostly over the merits of the meeting. Martin, coming to Turner’s defense, felt that it was disrespectful to the mayor to hold a meeting with little notice and without him in attendance. Others disagreed, arguing they were simply trying to do their ministerial duty of placing the petition on the ballot. “You have a mayor that unilaterally decides to bump it out, and bump it out…We need to make sure there is certainty in the process and that we continue to support Houstonians, that’s what this is about,” said Stardig.

While nothing was decided today, it shows that next week’s “official” meeting on the item will be full of fireworks.

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.