Houston firefighters, mayor disagree on next steps after pay parity is approved
Mayor Sylvester Turner said the ballot initiative’s passage would force him to downsize the department, cause response times to rise and endanger public safety
By Jasper Scherer
HOUSTON — Houston City Council on Wednesday approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s move to delay voting to hire a law firm to represent the city in possible litigation over Proposition B, the ballot item passed by voters to grant Houston firefighters pay parity with police.
City Council had been set to consider a contract with Norton Rose Fulbright for $1.3 million. The contract would set aside $250,000 for the firm to handle litigation over real estate purchases in connection with infrastructure projects, with the rest set aside for a court fight over the parity measure approved Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Turner said he will look to Fire Chief Samuel Peña to restructure the fire department to absorb the measure’s additional cost, which both Turner and City Controller Chris Brown say will total more than $100 million in its first full year.
Turner said Wednesday he does not know “how we’re going to pay for it,” but he made clear initial layoffs would come from the fire department. For months, Turner has warned that the city would need to make cuts if voters approved Proposition B. It passed with 59 percent of the vote.
The measure would tie firefighters’ pay to that of police of corresponding rank and seniority. City Council, which is not meeting Thanksgiving week, agreed to bring the item up at its Nov. 28 meeting.