HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Six months after Houston voted for equal pay for firefighters and police, Mayor Sylvester Turner fighting to fill a hole in the city's budget called for a vote to lay off 220 current firefighters and 47 municipal employees. Council agreed with a vote of 10-6.
This week’s panel: Wayne Dolcefino – media consultant, Laura Moser – former Democratic congressional candidate, Bob Price – Associate Editor of Breitbart Texas, Carmen Roe – Houston Attorney, Kathleen McKinley – conservative blogger, Antonio Diaz- writer, educator and radio host, join host Greg Groogan to discuss Houston's ongoing struggle to balance the city budget and keep firefighters on the job.
History was on the table at City Hall.
Never before had firefighters in Houston been subject to mass termination.
Claiming Mayor Sylvester Turner was "holding a gun to the heads of City Employees", Council Member Mike Knox called for a postponement so that court ordered contract talks could run their course.
"It is now premature for us to vote on this issue until the mediation is complete," said Knox.
But Mayor Turner pushed back hard, claiming the clock was ticking for the City to adopt a legally mandated balanced budget.
"As the Mayor of this City, I will do it to balance this City's budget as we give nearly 3,800 firefighters a raise that they have asked for of 29 percent, costing about $80 million," said Turner.
But on this day when 267 people would lose their livelihoods, it was Public Safety Chairman Brenda Stardig who led the opposition, placing the blame for lay-offs squarely on the Mayor.
"Mayor, we have asked you to do your job for two years. We've waited. Two years of negotiations, two years of failed negotiations and now its being put back on this body," said Stardig.
"I've done my job and I've done it well, to District A, to all of the other districts," responded Turner.
"Don't throw it back on the administration because you're trying to dodge a tough vote," he added.
Turner's argument was successful.
70 percent of Council member Robert Gallegos District supported Prop B at the polls, but today he voted for firefighter lay-offs along with eight others and the Mayor.
"I cannot face putting more innocent municipal employee workers out of their jobs and getting the short end of the stick on Prop B," said Gallegos.
"I will vote for pink slips today," said Council Member Jack Christie.
Prior to the vote, Council Member Dwight Boykins issued a warning.
"If you lay-off 200 plus firefighters, your response time is going to go down. That's common sense, it's going to go down!" said Boykins of the lay-offs which take effect in 60 days.
The Houston Professional Firefighters Association issued a response, pledging to hold those who voted for terminations accountable at the ballot box.
“In one of the most reckless political stunts in Houston history, the Houston City Council has gutlessly voted, 10-6, with Mayor Sylvester Turner to lay off hundreds of firefighters. We are grateful to Council Members Boykins, Laster, Knox, Kubosh, Le, and Stardig for their courageous resistance against the political pressure of the mayor. The other City Council members that voted with the mayor are more focused on protecting their pet projects and political cronies than on protecting citizens. Having manufactured a city fiscal crisis in a tantrum of Proposition B, the mayor has become an out-of-control, unaccountable political fraud. His failed leadership and relentless political and legal attacks on firefighter families will now put the communities we serve at risk. From his Prop B lies to the phony fiscal crisis and city hiring ‘freeze,’ during which he hired hundreds of police and municipal employees, Sylvester Turner’s legacy will be spending secretly hundreds of millions of dollars on his pay-to-play political cronies, friends and family while ignoring his most basic responsibilities as mayor. Contrary to what the mayor and fire chief say, reduced fire and EMS coverage will endanger Houstonians. Now, we also will lose hundreds of taxpayer-funded, HFD-trained firefighters. Third-rate politicians are destroying our world-class fire department. Our association is now focused on helping firefighter families that will be affected by the mayor’s vindictive layoffs and on raising awareness of the public safety risks imposed upon Houston by the mayor’s complicit city council members. We will help community leaders hold them accountable for their failed leadership.”