The battle over voter-approved pay raises and pending layoffs of Houston firefighters continues, and the biggest loser so far could be Mayor Sylvester Turner himself.
Weeks into his re-election campaign, Mayor Turner insists hundreds of firefighter layoffs would not be necessary if the union accepted a phase-in plan for Prop B.
“Phase-in the cost of Proposition B over five years,” the mayor told reporters Wednesday. “That is what we have put forth. That's the request that we have made.”
But the president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association says no such offer was ever made by the city.
“The city of Houston has not proposed anything, three years or five years,” says Marty Lancton. “He's intentionally misleading the media and the public.”
In fact, Lancton says it was the fire union which proposed a three-year phase-in that would save taxpayers $120 million and still cover insurance, but the city walked away.
Dr. Robert Stein, professor of urban politics and public policy at Rice University, says none of the bickering reflects well on Mayor Turner's re-election campaign, adding he needs to pivot the discussion and focus on why the city is able to layoff hundreds of firefighters to pay for Prop B.
“Although the mayor is dutifully trying to implement Prop B, he seems at every which way to do himself more harm than help,” says Stein.
Mayor Turner on Wednesday did mention a two-year-old study that bolstered his argument. “We have more firefighters than per 10,000 capita than any other city in the United States with the exception of New York, so we can create greater efficiency.”
Lancton says that too was a false statement.
“A 200-page report told the city we needed 400 more firefighters,” he says. “The mayor then spent another half-million dollars of your taxpayer money to put forth 'proposals' that are illegal.”
Meanwhile, the two men challenging Mayor Turner, Bill King and Tony Buzbee, have jumped on the side of firefighters.
“What's the mayor left with saying, that the voters were wrong? They may have been. But voters don't like to hear that, particularly when you're in an election year,” says Stein.
Also Wednesday, City Council delayed a trio of budget amendments by Member Dwight Boykins which would institute a trash fee to help pay for Prop B without any layoffs.