In a challenge to Mayor Sylvester Turner, five Houston City Council members have called a special meeting for Friday, seeking to force a resolution to the issue of a referendum on firefighters’ pay parity with police.
Firefighters have been trying for many months to get the issue on the ballot.
One year ago, the Houston Professional Firefighters Association turned in more than 32,000 signatures on petitions asking the city to put the issue on the November 2017 ballot. To secure a spot on the ballot, 20,000 signatures are needed.
The issue didn’t make it onto that ballot, and it’s still not scheduled to go to the voters.
The Houston Fire Department union sued the city in December when the city secretary hadn’t begun to count the signatures. A state district court in March ruled against the city, calling the delay in counting the signatures “unreasonable.”
“Considering the importance of Petitioners’ interests in having their proposed charter amendment submitted for voter approval promptly … it was unreasonable for the City Secretary to fail to review the Pay-Parity petition, count the number of valid signatures on the petition, and report her findings to City Council before the August 21, 2017 deadline for City Council to order an election on November 7, 2017,” 269th Judicial Court Judge Dan Hinde wrote in his findings.
HFD union chief Patrick Marty Lancton said he was pleased that council members were taking action.
“The burning question now is: Will the City of Houston finally respect the will of tens of thousands of Houston voters and finally put this issue on the ballot?” Lancton told The Texas Monitor. “We were forced to go to court and we won there. Yet the mayor has refused for more than a year — and two election cycles — to put this before Houston voters. We are gratified that there now are Houston City Council members who take this issue seriously and are willing to try to get this issue before voters.”
The council members aim on Friday to secure their colleagues’ support for a resolution calling on Turner to place an item on the council’s July 24 agenda to schedule a November election on the petition, which seeks to grant firefighters the same pay as police officers of corresponding rank.
In Houston’s strong-mayor form of government, the mayor generally has sole authority to decide what appears on the agenda for the weekly council meetings.
The lone exception allows three council members to set the agenda of a special meeting. Such gatherings — including this one — typically are organized without the mayor’s approval and often struggle to muster a quorum, as many of the 16 council members are loathe to invite the mayor’s wrath.
The council members who called the meeting are Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Dwight Boykins and Martha Castex-Tatum. Although that was enough to schedule the meeting, the group will need to convince at least four more members to attend in order for business to be transacted.
A spokesperson for the mayor says the meeting is unneeded as the process is already in motion and council members had been notified of the timeline.
Turner is out of the country on a trade mission.
The special meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.