Houston Fire Department vs Mayor Sylvester Turner
The Houston Firefighters’ disagreement did not start with a petition to change the City of Houston charter. It did not start with a lawsuit in State District Court Judge Dan Hinde’s court on parity. The issue began with the first negotiation as the smaller of the two Houston public safety employee unions. Understanding this story requires a knowledge of the history of both public safety employee unions. It is a complicated history, but it has set up the scenario we have today, which is the Houston Fire Department versus Mayor Sylvester Turner in the November 2018 election.
Turner was forced into placing the Charter Amendment on the ballot-shamed is more like it. Passage of the parity issue prevents Mayor Sylvester Turner from removing Bruce Hotze’s property tax cap for two years. The propaganda machines that pose as news organizations have told you little of the political operations of the public employee groups over the years. These labor organizations have enormous impact on our city, which is bad for Houston taxpayers.
City candidates battle over the public service union endorsements because they are very important in a strong mayoral form of government like the City of Houston. The police union has a larger membership and more money, so they are preferred. The police can undermine the mayor and city council in many ways including the narrative of crime statistics.
The sad reality is that Houston’s mayors have routinely given away taxpayer funds in exchange for union endorsements. Over the years, one or both public service unions endorsed the winning mayoral candidate. In 2015, Sylvester Turner was endorsed by both police and fire.
During the 2017 City of Houston bond election, the media failed to accurately describe the largest bond in City of Houston history. This was a disservice to taxpayers because voters were left with the misimpression that the bond was somehow tied to public safety. In reality, the funds were used to pay the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) accounts [some with millions of dollars] of police officers.
As I have written about for many years, during the collective bargaining process, the police union always advocated for pay raises over pension funding. In direct contrast, the firefighters were good stewards of taxpayer dollars and always elected to fully fund their pension.
The great news about the 2018 parity referendum is this – for once, the media will be forced to discuss city spending. A spending discussion will not be positive for the mayor. This week, the mayor was in Chicago getting advice from Rahm Emanuel.
This particular struggle is a competition between the public safety unions – police and fire. The municipal employees union typically keeps a lower profile, but it is important to recognize that the politicians are included in the largess of this particular union. The municipal employees union is paying for Annise Parker’s multi-million dollar mansion in Colorado. Yes, our former mayor has a multi-million dollar home in Colorado. The Chronicle will never tell you this fact.
The unions spread their power and influence to the state capitol over the years for a variety of reasons. This influence peddling was particularly visible with the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor. Of course, Patrick was easy because his longtime political consultant was already the lobbyist for the police union. State Representative Dan Flynn leads the House Committee on Pensions and Senator Joan Huffman championed the controversial Senate Bill 2190, which is a cause of the current problem. Both Huffman and Flynn and are both large beneficiaries of the unions. Again, none of this is good for the taxpayers.
Senate Bill 2190 threw the firefighters under a bus. Allen Blakemore, and Kevin Shuvalov, a Straus operative, finessed Senate Bill 2190 through the house. Allen and Dan Patrick covered the senate. The firefighters never had a chance.
Of course, none of these politicians or operatives could explain Senate Bill 2190. The bill itself was 200 pages of legal gobbledygook written by union labor lawyers designed to benefit the police union. Specifically, it was designed to give the police $750 million of your taxpayer dollars.
The firefighters wanted no part of Senate Bill 2190. This is because this law only benefitted the fiscally irresponsible police union. Remember that the firefighters had a solid pension while the police pension was in dire straits – close to a $10 billion unfounded liability related to the police DROP accounts.
Sylvester Turner is a politician and potentially the most corrupt mayor we have have ever had in Houston. As a former representative, Turner worked all of his magic at the capitol. It was very Orwellian watching Turner, Patrick, and Huffman casting aside the well being of City of Houston taxpayers to help the police union.
There was no way the firefighters were going to let the injustice stand and sought to petition their government for parity. Because, after all what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
The firefighters have good lawyers and consultants too. It was a great tactical move to go to the voters. Who doesn’t love our firefighters? We call them when we need them and they show up quickly. In Houston, we have a very good fire department – an essential need in a big city. They jump in boats and rescue us in high water and they climb up on tall buildings when needed. Heck, who doesn’t like our firefighters? They put their lives on the line for us every day too-just like the police.
I will support the firefighters in their fight with the city. This fight will not be good for Turner because it will highlight his unfair treatment of the firefighters.
There is lesson here – if you are going to run over people at the Capitol with a bulldozer, make sure that the bulldozer works back home too. Especially when your opponents have shiny red trucks with lights and sirens that attract voters. No one likes a bulldozer on city streets.
Friday, May 31, 2015