Houston officers union lawsuit challenges city Proposition B

HOUSTON (FOX 26) — After the Houston Police Officers Union filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of City of Houston Proposition B, a judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevents either side of doing anything for at least fourteen days. Voters supported the proposition on Election Day.

"The Houston firefighters have never taken a position against any group, especially our brothers and sisters in blue," said Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 president Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton. "I’ll let their actions speak for themselves."

In its lawsuit, the Houston Police Officers Union claims Proposition B is an unconstitutional amendment to the city’s charter and was void from the outset.

"We just got their pleading and they’re throwing all this stuff out for the first time and no one’s had a chance to review it,” said attorney Chris Feldman, who is representing the HPFFA. "So I’ll hold off on saying anything about it."

Voter support shows the obvious desire to bring the salaries of firefighters in line with those paid to police with corresponding rank and seniority, but Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the police union maintain the price tag is too high and the only way the city can afford it is through layoffs including police and firefighters.

"We weren’t aware of it, I’m not shaven,” added Lancton.

While half a dozen attorneys for the City of Houston attended an afternoon hearing on Friday for a temporary restraining order, the HPFFA says it didn’t even know about it until a couple of hours before it started.

"Today, we saw a standard waste of taxpayer money," added Feldman. 

The police union and the City Attorney requesting the temporary order had nothing to say to FOX 26 News after the judge ruled in their favor. 

Mayor Turner's statement says in part: "...there's at least a $100M cost every year to the passage of Prop B, which the city cannot afford. It would lead to significant layoffs...Some could involve police and firefighters."

The Houston Police Officers Union released the following statement on Friday:

In this past election, the firefighters put Houston voters in an unfair position by asking them to vote on Proposition B, the so-called "pay-parity" charter amendment. As this lawsuit will make clear, Proposition B is not only an unconstitutional and legally void provision in itself, but it is also the result of a petition process that violated state law. Proposition B violates a provision of state law that was adopted by the City of Houston in 2003, at the urging of firefighters themselves. By tying firefighter pay to police pay, Proposition B is an unlawful attempt to change the standard by which firefighter pay is to be determined, which is supposed to be through comparison to private sector compensation, not other public employees who have completely different job requirements. State law also provides the sole legal process to address an increase in firefighter pay in the event that the City and Firefighters' Union cannot reach an agreement through collective bargaining. Simply put, the process does not permit the matter to be submitted to the voters through the petition process that was used by the firefighters in this case. Unfortunately, we didn't have the ability to make these challenges to Proposition B until now. We would have preferred to address these issues in court prior to Proposition B being voted on, but under state law, this is the earliest opportunity we have had to assert these claims. Regardless, we believe that it is critical to stop the implementation of Proposition B. Its sudden and drastic financial impact puts all essential City services at risk, including fire and police protection. 

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 president Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton released the following counter statement earlier on Friday evening:

This throw-down lawsuit by the Houston Police Officers Union proves again that it is a willing political pawn of a vindictive mayor. Sylvester Turner simply refuses to respect the will of the voters and now the HPOU is forcing its members into costly litigation that follows their expensive, failed anti-Prop B campaign.

Just a few days ago, the city claimed its legal department did not have the resources for Prop B litigation. Eight City Council members then gave the mayor a half-million dollars to hire outside counsel ahead of this predictable litigation. In court today, the city had at least six staff attorneys on hand, along with outside counsel, to ‘defend’ the HPOU litigation.

This cynical, Sylvester Turner-orchestrated legal play proves that the mayor, the eight city council members that voted to spend taxpayer funds on this wasteful litigation, and HPOU President Joe Gamaldi apparently will do almost anything to defy the will of the voters.

Houston firefighters are grateful for the support of the 292,000 voters who passed Prop B and we’re confident we will ultimately prevail in court. When that happens, Sylvester Turner will be forced to equally value the city’s first responders as the voters demanded.