This morning members of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association stood on the steps of City Hall flanked by boxes of citizen signed petitions they say are more than enough to ensure ballot placement this fall for pay parity between their department and the Houston police.

HPFA President Marty Lancton and former city attorney Dave Feldman spoke at the press conference and laid out both the grassroots and legal effort behind the petitions.

“With these signatures on file we’re asking the city to put firefighter pay parity, the equal pay ballot initiative, on the November 2017 ballot,” said Lancton. “If approved by the Houston voters in the fall, the city charter would ensure that firefighters and police officers earn equal pay on a rank-by-rank basis.”

In roughly a week’s time, firefighters and those supportive of their efforts collected over 52,000 raw signatures and 32,000 verified signatures in support of their initiative.

Houston’s local government code requires signatures of 20,000 or five percent of registered voters in a jurisdiction to call for a charter amendment. According to HPFA’s count they have over 50 percent more than required.

“Experts tell us this is one of the most successful and fastest petition drives in Texas history,” continued Lancton. “Let’s be clear, this petition drive was necessary because Houston firefighters are at a breaking point.”

Feldman spoke to the legal process of the petition effort.

“This process, unlike for example the HERO [Houston Equal Rights Ordinance] referendum process, is controlled by state law…I have never ever seen this amount of signatures in such a short period of time.”

Calling the effort “unprecedented,” Feldman said that the signatures have been pre-verified, which should make the process smoother and cleaner, avoiding any hiccups like in the HERO repeal effort.

It’ll be interesting to see if the city can, or will, verify the signatures in time for council to vote on an election order, especially since another petition with nearly the same amount of signatures has been “under verification” by the city secretary’s office for over three months.

In April, a petition drive run by a PAC named Megaphone garnered over 35,000 signatures in favor of a public vote on a conversion from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans for all employees hired after 2018.

Last week Texas Scorecard reached out to city secretary Anna Russell, who said the signatures were still being verified and she would advise the mayor and council when that was completed.

The city can easily slow-roll petition efforts that an administration doesn’t support, so this effort will need a watchful eye and some public pressure if HPFA expects it to be verified in time for November ballot placement.

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.



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