Houston mayor questions legality of implementing Proposition B

City approves 500K to hire outside law firm to investigate

HOUSTON – On Monday, the Houston City Council adopted the pay parity item, also known as Proposition B, making it law Wednesday and effective come January.

To many firefighters, it seemed to be a formality after the proposition was overwhelming supported in the Nov. 6 election. However, the city questioned the legal legitimacy of implementing the ordinance and approved measures to take a closer look.

For many firefighters and city workers, the implementing of "Prop B" has been a hot-button issue.

Proposition B essentially gives Houston firefighters the same pay as police officers of the same rank. As firefighters commended voters for their support in the November election, the city said implementing this ordinance would require some steep cuts in other salaries and resources. The mayor said this would cost the city roughly $100 million over the next year.

After more than an hour of discussion at the City Council meeting Wednesday, the council approved Mayor Sylvester Turner's request to hire an outside law firm to represent the city in court as part of the city's quest to determine the legitimacy of Prop B, claiming that state law contradicts the ordinance's legality. If a judge rules that the state law preempts the city charter or Prop B, then the ordinance, despite being voted on, would be legally invalid. The mayor and city legal department requested $1 million in funds to hire the outside law firm. The City Council approved $500,000.

The mayor said at this point, all city departments are planning a 3 to 5 percent layoff plan in the case that the ordinance stands. The mayor said this could affect as many as 1,000 city workers.

"My hope is to get it before them as soon as possible," said Turner. "My hope is for the issue to be resolved as soon as possible. Look, if Prop B is not preempted by state law, then we have to move to its implementation."

Houston Professional Firefighters Association representatives say the city's move to hire an outside law firm is frustrating, as they believe the ordinance is legal and the voters have spoken.

"Houston firefighters have always and will continue to deliver excellent service and will continue to go out there and serve the citizens. The citizens are our bosses. This mayor and the administration need to take a look in the mirror and need to stop the vindictiveness. If 300,000 (voters) didn't send a message to this mayor, I don't know what will," said Houston Professional Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton.

Lancton said they have always been open to working with the city to make the ordinance happen and will continue to be open to doing so.