The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association today filed a lawsuit against  Mayor Sylvester Turner and Council Member Dave Martin alleging “misuse of public funds and public resources for political advertising against a Charter Amendment,” and asking for an injunction to prohibit them from continuing to “post such political advertising on the City of Houston website.”

The suit comes in response to a Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee meeting last week where Martin, who serves as the chair, had invited witnesses from the administration and the Greater Houston Partnership to give their opinions on the impact of the firefighters’ petition. The petition in question is asking voters to approve pay parity, or equal pay, between the members of the Houston Fire Department and the Houston Police Department.

Following the meeting, Texas Scorecard noted that it amounted to little more than political theater, as all of the invited testimony laid out reasons that voters should vote down the referendum despite the city council not yet approving the item for November’s ballot.

“Defendants are more concerned with illegally campaigning than performing their ministerial duty to simply place the Pay Parity Charter Amendment on the ballot, in direct violation of Texas Law,” reads the suit. “Defendants have violated the Code by unlawfully using City resources to promote their own electoral agenda with respect to the Charter Amendment by using public resources to engage in political advertising. Defendants have chosen to use public resources as Mayor and City Council Member to campaign against the measure that was lawfully placed before them by a petition of at least 50,000 citizens of Houston, prior to it even being placed on the ballot.”

The suit also says, “Simply getting the petition signatures counted and verified by the city secretary required judicial intervention, even though counting petition signatures is a ministerial duty.”

Numerous state lawmakers have repeatedly called for Turner to stop delaying the placement of the petition on the ballot and to expedite the process. Council is on break this week, but Turner has said he plans on placing the item on the August 8 agenda.  

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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