HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Amid recent controversy, Mayor Sylvester Turner released an open letter on the aftermath of Proposition B.
"We love and respect our firefighters and want them to be appropriately compensated. Having said that, I don’t believe the voters intended to place our city in financial turmoil, cause our credit rating to tumble and increase the costs of city debt,” Mayor Turner said. “As mayor, I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the financial stability of this city and that includes presenting a balanced budget. Prop B threatens to erase all the financial gains of pension reform and place us in a financial crisis. As a city, we cannot let that happen. We must work together to find a path forward no matter how bumpy the course or how hot the rhetoric."
Turner goes on to say that "Because no funding source was included in Prop B. and the city is required to balance its books by June 30th of each year, the implementation of the voter approved measure places the city in a dilemma.”
On Feb. 15, the city filed a motion arguing Proposition B violates state law and should be voided.
Voters approved Prop B in November 2018. The measure requires pay parity between police and firefighters of equal rank. In December 2018, a judge ruled against a previous attempt from the city and the police union to invalidate Prop B. The judge found voters overwhelming approved the measure knowing what it would cost.
The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association filed a court order in January to activate the pay raises for firefighters. Firefighters were racking up an estimated $2 million in back pay a week.
Read the full statement below:
-- "We love and respect our firefighters and want them to be appropriately compensated. Having said that, I don’t believe the voters intended to place our city in financial turmoil, cause our credit rating to tumble and increase the costs of city debt. As mayor, I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the financial stability of this city and that includes presenting a balanced budget. Prop B threatens to erase all the financial gains of pension reform and place us in a financial crisis. As a city, we cannot let that happen. We must work together to find a path forward no matter how bumpy the course or how hot the rhetoric."
-- "Because no funding source was included in Prop B. and the city is required to balance its books by June 30th of each year, the implementation of the voter approved measure places the city in a dilemma; increase the firefighters’ pay by 29 percent which will invariably cause a reduction in personnel and services, seek a determination from the court on whether Prop B conflicts with state law which could only be done after voters approved it, and/or negotiate with the union to phase in the costs of Prop B over multiple years. As mayor, I have made sure the city is pursuing all three paths."
-- "The city has asked a court of law to have the final say. That is how our system of law should work."
-- "Firefighters sued the city to destroy the city’s historic pension reform; not just the part relating to firefighters, but all the reforms for all municipal employees. That litigation could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the city’s costs, scuttle some or all the employee pension systems and financially ruin the city."
-- "The Houston Police Officers’ Association sued the City of Houston and Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 on November 30, 2018 . . . No new, separate lawsuit was filed by the city. No new parties were added in the 2018 HPOU lawsuit by the city. No money damages are sought by the city."
-- "In my 30 years of public service, I have supported collective bargaining. I fought for collective bargaining for firefighters in the Texas Legislature in 2005. To this day, I am committed to collective bargaining." -Mayor Sylvester Turner
Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton also released the following statement on Friday:
“First, contrary to the latest claims by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the City of Houston has made no offer to implement Proposition B as approved by voters more than three months ago. Any suggestion otherwise is a lie. We remain in communications with the Turner Administration about implementation of Proposition B. The so-called ‘proposal’ leaked by the mayor’s staff is nothing of the sort. It does not address even a fraction of the issues necessary for a collectively bargained contract or implementation of Proposition B.
“We urge citizens to skeptically consider the mayor’s latest claims. The mayor’s proclaimed commitment to collective bargaining today contradicts his pending legal filings which still seek to have collective bargaining declared unconstitutional.
“Second, in confidential discussions with the City, we recently submitted a preliminary proposal to implement Proposition B. The proposal would save the city about $120 million over three fiscal years. The city failed to respond in any meaningful way. Our proposal includes every issue addressed by Proposition B as well as issues important to retirees. These discussions also contradict the mayor’s misleading claims that firefighters are not working with the city to implement Proposition B. In fact, for more than two years, we have strived to negotiate with the Turner Administration. So far, he has either initiated legal proceedings or forced us to court to enforce the law. Houstonians should know the mayor is a victim of his own political and legal strategy, not firefighters or Proposition B voters.
“Third, we thank Fire Chief Samuel Peña for halting the ‘1-3-1’ HFD response model. In a meeting today, the Chief said no policy changes will takes effect until there’s more departmental feedback, education and the vetting of the policy in accordance with the Labor Management Agreement (LMA) process. We were advised that the pending staffing change was the result of a misunderstanding by the Assistant Chief over operations. We appreciate Chief Peña’s clarification that this proposed policy will not move forward at this time. We look forward to continuing to working with the chief to ensure the safety of all our firefighters and the citizens we serve.”