HOUSTON (FOX 26) - This week’s panel: Nyanza Davis Moore - Democratic Political Commentator Attorney, Bob Price – Associate Editor of Breitbart Texas , Antonio Diaz- writer, educator and radio host, Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Keir Murray – Democratic strategist, Justin Lurie – member of the American Petroleum Institute and former Republican Congressional candidate.
For the second time in as many meetings, consternation reigned at Houston City Hall.
An outspoken crusader for first responders, Councilman Dwight Boykins employed his authority to "tag" proposals under consideration to delay nearly every item on the agenda. Boykins says it's a protest over Mayor Sylvester Turner's decision to leave 68 trained fire cadets unsworn and undeployed.
"This issue can be resolved. All we have to do is seat the firefighters, the cadets who are trained and prepared and ready to go. That's all I'm asking," said Boykins.
Around the Council "horseshoe", frustrated colleagues reacted with scorn.
"Tagging everything makes a mockery of the process. It's insulting to the citizens," said Council Member Ellen Cohen.
"I don't like these games," complained Council Member Karla Cisneros.
"What I just heard a few minutes ago was extortion," accused Council Member Greg Travis.
And yet, for another week, the Mayor couldn't muster enough support to override the protest, as just enough members viewed a vote against Boykins as undermining their own capacity to use the same leverage in the future.
"I am prepared to die on the hill of protecting the tag as a council member. It is the only tool we have," said Council Member Mike Laster.
During a week when the festering controversy over impending firefighter layoffs led to a march on City Hall, the Mayor did deliver one concession - a vote next week on Boykins' proposal to fund pay parity for firefighters with a city-wide garbage collection fee.
"I think it's important for the Mayor to get the votes, because it's good for the City. It will prevent layoffs in the City of Houston," said Boykins of the fee proposal, which would add between $19 and $27 to the monthly utility bills of property owners
But after Wednesday's meeting, the Mayor repeated his opposition to Boykins' revenue generating plan.
"Let me be very clear, I don't support it and I won't vote for any one of those amendments. I think they are regressive," said Turner.
Also Wednesday, the International Longshoreman's Association announced it was rescinding its political support of the Mayor as a show of solidarity with the Firefighter Union.
In a statement, the ILA claimed Turner had "turned his back on the labor movement".
On March 1st, the Houston Federation of Teachers withdrew its support as well, citing City litigation challenging collective bargaining rights.
With more than 400 first responders now facing layoffs, Houston firefighters answered the alarm, gathering in force, fighting back with both their voices and their feet, by marching on City Hall.
"The time has come to stop playing politics with public safety and stop jeopardizing the lives of not just citizens, but also the firefighters by threatening layoffs and fire station closures," said Houston firefighter Ryan Lee.
Of course, Mayor Sylvester Turner says the force reduction is necessary to fill an $80 million financial gap generated by voter approved pay parity with Houston police.
But firefighters call that a "vindictive" grift and claim the Turner Administration hasn't negotiated in good faith or genuinely searched the city's $5 billion annual budget for the savings needed to maintain the current level of public protection.
"You jeopardize the public by laying off firefighters and talking about closing fire stations," repeated Houston firefighter Corey Richardson.
"I just wish the two sides could come together in a meaningful way and solve this," said Houston firefighter Jay McIntire.
Speaking on the steps of City Hall, Union President Marty Lancton laid down a political gauntlet to Council Members backing the Mayor's lay-off plan.
"We'll make sure you have another job come November," promised Lancton.
Amid the yellow clad crowd were mayoral challengers marching in solidarity with firefighters.
"This is all about Sylvester Turner winning and the fact that the firefighters and the citizens of Houston are losing, he does not care," said mayoral candidate Bill King.
"Let's be brutally honest, this mayor has not made an effort to actually negotiate with this fire department, I mean he has not made an effort," said mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee.
Fox 26 asked Mayor Turner's spokespeople for comment. They referred us to Monday's press release, which stated, among other things, that the firefighter's union had rejected a 29 percent raise, phased in over five years.
The mayor also cited consultants who claim the city could shed 800 firefighters without compromising public safety.
Today's march follows reports that half a dozen fire stations across the city will be closed as a result of the planned drawdown.
-------- How to fund raises for firefighters under Prop B has the city looking for money under the proverbial couch cushions. City council member Michael Kubosh thinks he found some cash.
"I don't know how much of it is wrong or illegal, if any of it is. But citizens need to be aware that a whole lot of money is being spent that the city council never sees to vote on."
And it can add up.
In the last two years, the city has spent $112 million with United Airlines, over $100 thousand with the mayor's old law firm, and a lot of money with someone named Lorenzo Davi.
"Well he's collected $405 thousand from the city since 2010. I don't know who he is or what he does," said Kubosh.
By law, if a contract is under $50 thousand, the mayor's departments don't need to put it up for a vote, and it's been this way for years. But, it was almost $400 million in the last fiscal year.
Council member David Martin says if the council voted on everything, it would get nothing done. Here's his analysis.
Last year there were 149,000 such contracts.
The average contract was for $2,700. 92% of contracts are under $10,000. The mayor's office declined to comment, but this is an election year, so his challengers are.
"I think that before we lay off any firefighters or any employee of the city, we need to see this list of $400 million in expenses and see if any of that can be cut," said Bill King.
"There's an old expression, if you watch your pennies you'll watch your dollars." said Kubosh.