Houston City Council passed an agenda item retaining Norton Rose Fulbright to represent the city in possible litigation regarding the passage of the firefighter pay parity vote.

Mayor Sylvester Turner originally brought the contract to council the day after voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition B (the firefighter pay parity measure). Public perception and pushback over his attempt to go against their will delayed the items for two weeks.

Proposition B, which passed 59 to 41 percent earlier this month, mandates that firefighters must be paid the same as police. The city’s estimated cost puts the measure at $100 million for the first year.

The question Turner wants answered is whether or not state law, specifically regarding collective bargaining, supersedes city charter.

The contract was originally set not to exceed $1 million for the legal work, but council cut it to $500,000. The firm is expected to “represent the City if there is litigation regarding the potential passage of the Pay Parity Charter Amendment appearing as Proposition B on the ballot in November 2018.” It’s worth noting that the firm also gave a $15,000 contribution to the anti-Proposition B PAC during the heated election.

Following council’s narrow passage of the letter, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association issued a statement:

“Houston City Council today approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s request for funds to pay for litigation against voter-approved Prop B. The debate was intense, but the bottom line is, the mayor now expects Houston taxpayers to pay for his million-dollar attack on Prop B voters and his continuing political war on Houston firefighter families.

We are grateful to the following city council members who stood up to the mayor in support of Houston voters: Dwight Boykins, Jack Christie, Karla Cisneros, Mike Knox, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, and Greg Travis.

Today we saw that the mayor’s vindictiveness is surpassed only by his dishonesty about the implementation of Prop B. Contrary to the mayor’s claims, state law is clear: a legally negotiated contract with firefighters would settle this issue, once and for all. Houstonians need to recognize that the mayor is willing to destabilize public safety to settle political scores. The mayor refuses to meet with us or even call to discuss a constructive implementation of Prop B. Instead, he continues to reward his pay-to-play political donors with city contracts to fight us and Houston voters in court.”

The statement went on to say that, in their opinion, the mayor has two options left: to negotiate a contact with the union or to allow Proposition B to take effect in 2019.

No official legal challenge has been filed.

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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