City of Houston officials have exactly one month from today to count the signatures on a petition filed by Houston firefighters last year, a district judge ruled.

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association has regularly drawn attention to the disparity in pay between members of their organization and their counterparts, Houston police. After a contentious legislative season last year, in which they felt they were slighted, HPFFA held a petition drive to ask voters to decide if there should be pay parity between the Houston Fire Department and the Houston Police Department.

At a press conference last July, HPFFA president Marty Lancton, members of the union, and attorney David Feldman stood in front of dozens of boxes at city hall containing over 52,000 raw signatures that they collected.

After receiving the petition, the city expectedly stalled.

Nearly nine months and a court case later, a judge ruled that the city must count the petitions and must do so by April 27.

Houston’s city charter does not provide a timeline for the verification of petitions, but it’s understood that they are reviewed in the order they are submitted. In this case, there was another very contentious petition ahead: a petition asking voters to decide if future public employee hires should be brought on under a defined-contribution plan.

That petition, which has been in the City Secretary’s office for nearly a year now, was particularly damning to the mayor’s agenda. He has long opposed defined-contribution plans, and his pension overhaul would have been put in jeopardy.

The mayor could have placed additional resources in the secretary’s office to speed up the signature-counting process, but didn’t.

Now the question looms whether the city will validate or set aside the pension petition before beginning to address the firefighter petition, and if it is set aside, what’s next for defined-contribution plans in the city of Houston?

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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