City Council Gets Ready To Implement Prop B

It’s been over three months since Houston voters approved pay parity between firefighters and police officers and Houston City Council is getting ready to begin implementation. As the legal representatives who helped the Houston Professional Firefighters Association get Proposition B on the ballot, our entire team is very proud to see the measure come to fruition.

In a City Council meeting in late January, Mayor Sylvester Turner and City Council members discussed different options for how to roll the proposition out. Although Mayor Turner opposed Proposition B, claiming there was not room in the budget for pay parity, others have suggested the money can be allocated from other places. The City of Houston is required to keep 7.5% reserve funds on hand for emergencies, but Houston has an estimated 8.9% in reserves, meaning the city has an excess in its reserves. Some have suggested the excess in reserves can be used to immediately implement Prop B.

While there are many options for funding the implementation of pay parity for fire fighters, the City Council could look to its surplus funds to implement Prop B. Estimates indicate that if the city continues to spend at the same rate through the end of the 2019 fiscal year, there would be a surplus of $88 million available. This surplus could be used for the immediate funding of pay parity. But the city doesn’t have to implement Prop B all at once, as pay parity could be introduced in phases to be completed over five years.

We Are Proud To Support Firefighters

Feldman & Feldman has been honored to help Houston firefighters in their fight to get pay parity with police officers. We are also assisting Dallas and San Antonio firefighters in protecting their rights in separate actions. Our attorneys have extensive experience with governmental entities and workers’ unions and know how to achieve successful results.

Contact Feldman & Feldman For Help

The dedicated attorneys at Feldman & Feldman provide a unique approach to complex legal issues. If you would like to schedule an appointment with us to discuss your legal issues, contact us today.

Feldman & Feldman Is Proud To Support Houston Firefighters On Proposition B

Texas early voting starts this week, and Houstonians have a lot of important decisions to make. In addition to voting for candidates, Houstonians will be voting on a number of propositions that will have huge implications for the city. Feldman & Feldman has proudly assisted the Houston Professional Firefighters Association (HPFFA) in its effort to get its “Proposition B” pay initiative on the November ballot.

What Is Proposition B?

Houston firefighters are asking Houstonians to vote on whether or not firefighters should have pay parity with police officers. HPFFA President Marty Lancton described Proposition B by asking a simple question, “Do you equally value the service and sacrifice of the brave Houston firefighters the same way the city of Houston equally values that of brave Houston police officers?”

Since 2011, Houston police officers have had a 37% increase in their salaries, but Houston firefighters have only received a 3% pay increase during this same timeframe. Houston firefighters are just looking for equal treatment for doing a job that saves lives at the risk of their own. If Proposition B passes, firefighters across Houston will receive well deserved raises for their hard work.

Getting Proposition B On the Ballot

Houston firefighters have had a hard time getting Proposition B on the ballot. Critics of the plan, including Mayor Sylvester Turner, have aggressively tried to prevent the issue from going before local voters. Feldman & Feldman filed a restraining order against Mayor Turner on behalf of the HPFFA after a video showing Mayor Turner campaigning against the pay parity initiative during a city council meeting was posted to the City of Houston’s website.

Feldman & Feldman Is Proud To Represent Firefighters

The entire legal team at Feldman & Feldman has great respect for firefighters. We are proud to not only represent Houston firefighters, but also San Antonio and Dallas firefighters with their legal issues. As election law lawyers, with experience handling claims against governmental agencies, we are uniquely qualified to handle these types of cases. Contact us today to see how we can help you with your legal concerns.

Feldman & Feldman Obtains Restraining Order Against Mayor Turner On Behalf of Houston Firefighters

Cris Feldman of Feldman & Feldman has successfully obtained a restraining order against Mayor Sylvester Turner on behalf of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association (HPFFA). Feldman & Feldman filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of Texas Election Law and the misuse of public funds for political advertising.

The HPFFA has been at odds with the city over an initiative they would like placed on the ballot this fall for Houston voters. The HPFFA is seeking a pay parity initiative that would establish pay parity between Houston firefighters and police officers based on comparable rank and seniority.

In a finance subcommittee meeting last week, Mayor Turner and another city council member campaigned against the pay parity initiative. A video recording of this meeting was then posted on to the City of Houston’s website. Houston firefighters allege the mayor’s actions constitute a direct violation of Texas Election Law. Elected officials such as Mayor Turner cannot use public funds to push their own political ideas. By including the video on the city’s website, Turner was effectively promoting his disapproval the initiative. A district judge granted Feldman & Feldman a restraining order against Mayor Turner on behalf of the HPFFA, ordering the video be removed from the city’s website.

The fight over the pay parity initiative began last year when the HPFFA filed a petition with 60,000 signatures in an attempt to get the initiative on the ballot and in front of voters. Several weeks ago, city council members tried to hold a special meeting to pass a resolution in support of the city’s firefighters while Mayor Turner was out of town, but the meeting failed when not enough council members showed up. Mayor Turner has stated the city council will decide whether or not the pay parity initiative will be on the November ballot at a meeting on August 8, 2018.

Feldman & Feldman Supports Our Firefighters

Feldman & Feldman is honored to support Houston firefighters. Our firm is representing firefighters across the state, in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Our firm is highly experienced and uniquely qualified to handle issues related to Texas election law, public policy, and governmental agencies. If you need Feldman & Feldman to stand up for your rights, contact us today.

David Feldman Fights for Houston Firefighters

Originally Published by The Houston Press

With a deadline fast approaching, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association is pressuring City Hall to verify the thousands of petition signatures that Houston Firefighters gathered in support of putting equal pay with police officers on the November election ballot.

The firefighters union has claimed that the city is “refusing” to confirm whether it will certify the 52,000 petition signatures the union turned in to City Hall in mid-July, and has claimed that it appears the city is just going to let the clock run out on the petition, which Mayor Sylvester Turner has made clear he opposes. The deadline for City Council to approve the election call is August 21 — meaning there’s a good chance the firefighters’ plea for pay increases to match the salaries of city police in equal ranks won’t make the ballot. Unless the city decides to do something about it.

“The firefighters have exhausted numerous resources in order to get fair and equal treatment,” HPFFA President Marty Lancton said at a press conference Monday. “We hope we can continue to work with the city and that equal treatment of the firefighters turns into putting our petition on the November ballot so that the citizens can decide.”

City Hall, however, has argued in return that what the firefighters are asking for amounts to unequal treatment, given the City Secretary’s office has not finished counting signatures on a different petition that was filed in April, said mayor’s office spokesman Alan Bernstein.

“The mayor’s opinion is that if there are special exceptions made, then everyone will want a special exception,” he said.

Lancton had in fact been so eager for City Secretary Anna Russell to begin counting signatures on the union’s petition that he offered to provide the funds for her to hire additional people or pay employees overtime — which he put in writing in a letter to Mayor Turner. Bernstein said this prompted the mayor’s office to request an investigation into Lancton for improper influence. But on Monday, the city attorney recommended that no action be taken, Bernstein said.

The April petition that’s apparently standing in the way of the firefighters’ equal-pay initiative is problematic for several reasons, Lancton claims. The petition was filed by the outside political group Texans For Local Control — which is based in Austin, according to campaign finance records — and it pushes for 401(k)-style pension reform. The problem with that, argues former city attorney David Feldman, who now represents the firefighters union, is that the Legislature already passed Mayor Turner’s pension-reform solution during the regular session, thus making this petition moot.

Feldman said the state, not city governments, has the final say on pension policies — which makes it highly unlikely that even if Texans for Local Control’s petition was verified by August 21, placed on the ballot and approved by voters, it would even matter much. That’s because the Legislature would then need to tackle Houston pension reform all over again after this year’s long slog working with Turner and the city to address it. On top of that, past and present city employees here, including the Houston Police Officers Union and the Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Fund, don’t even support the type of 401(k)-style pension this petition was advocating for. (Attempts to reach representatives of Texans for Local Control for comment before press time were unsuccessful.)

In his letter to Turner, Lancton asked that Turner direct Russell to quit counting the signatures for these reasons — but that does not appear likely to happen.

Russell, who has been city secretary for 45 years, told the Houston Press that she has always verified the thousands of signatures on petitions in the order she receives them, and that she doesn’t foresee making an exception for the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. Russell said she doesn’t focus on the content of petitions or whether they will be “moot,” just on her job to verify signatures. The city has maintained that Mayor Turner’s opposition to the HPFFA petition has had no bearing whatsoever on Russell’s own decades-long policies regarding how she reviews petition signatures.

Turner has long held that firefighters are asking for too much from the financially strapped city, from pay raises to better equipment. He said that equal pay between police and firefighters would be ill-conceived given that they work different hours and their command staffs are structured differently, and he has maintained that if voters were to approve the petition, Houston would be plunged into financial duress.

“What they are asking voters to sign is ill-defined, and making the most simplistic assumptions could cost the city more than $40M,” he said. “That would force the city to schedule layoffs in all department areas or further delay maintenance on buildings and purchase schedules for much-needed equipment. The City appreciates and respects every fire fighter, but the demands of their union leadership will financially cripple the City, absent removing the revenue cap and a further tax increase.”

City Councilman Dwight Boykins has pushed back, however, saying that, despite the budget constraints, Houston needs to find a way to treat its first responders better; and Councilman Michael Kubosh, while he may be more focused on the budget constraints, has still said he supports the petition and believes the equal-pay issue should be left up to Houston voters.

“We have said it before: Enough is enough,” Lancton said. “If democracy cannot prevail, I don’t know what can.”

He may just have to wait on democracy a little longer: Bernstein said if the city doesn’t verify signatures before August 21, the firefighters will just have to wait for the next election, in May.