Five Houston City Council members who wanted a special meeting to address the fire department’s concerns over pay equity with the city’s police force failed to achieve a quorum Friday, leaving the firefighters’ issue in limbo again.
Only seven council members showed up. Nine are needed for a quorum.
The five council members called the meeting because they believed the city is ignoring a firefighters’ petition to put the pay equity 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 still 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.”
Indeed, District Judge Dan Hinde said the city secretary’s “continuing failure” to deal with the petitions “constitutes a continuing failure to fulfil her ministerial duty” and ordered her to complete the process “forthwith.” It is unclear what, if anything, the city secretary’s office has done with the petitions since then, prompting the five city council members to call the special meeting.
Council members Dwight Boykins, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Martha Castex-Tatum, and Greg Travis called for the meeting. Council members Mike Knox, Dave Martin and Greg Le showed up. Castex-Tatum failed to attend.
The meeting was set to begin at 10 a.m., but as the minutes ticked by after, council members Boykins and Martin verbally prodded Stardig to begin the meeting. Sniping between Kubosh and Travis, who wanted to wait a few minutes, and Martin and Boykins began in an ugly display that included personal attacks between Travis and Martin. Today’s sparring is not the first for either.
Boykins left at 10:13 a.m., irritated the meeting hadn’t started. Stardig cancelled the meeting at 10:15 a.m. when no one else showed up.
The tension spilled into the hallway where the discussion continued with the media. Martin said he had spoken with [Mayor Sylvester] Turner about holding a meeting next week to discuss the financial implications surrounding the issue and failed to send [notice] to the other council members because he was on vacation at the time. He assured the others it was set for the council agenda in August.
From South America, where he is on a trade mission, the mayor upbraided the council members who called the special meeting and challenged them to justify the $79 million annual price tag for the pay equity plan.
“A proposed meeting called by a few council members while the mayor is out of town on official business is wrong on so many levels,” Turner said in a statement. “The firefighters’ referendum needs to be vetted by council committee. Council members have a responsibility to their constituents and people in the city to justify these costs and explain how it will be paid for.”
“Now that we have reformed the city pension system, it is unthinkable that these council members would put us right back in deep financial turmoil.”
Turner said he would call a special meeting of the council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee for 10 a.m. Thursday to discuss “the substance of the petition.”
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or 832-258-6119.