City of Houston sues firefighters' pension fund

Mayor Parker says the city wants input in the way the fund is managed
January 22, 2014 2:53:42 PM PST
The city of Houston is taking aim at the firefighter pension system, planning to take its case to court. The city wants more access and more say when it comes to the design and implementation of the pensions.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says it's frustrating that the city's paying into the firefighters pension system, but can't, by state law, negotiate with the pension board on the terms.

"There is something wrong with the system where the person who pays the bills has no access to the information on the bills they are paying," she said.

That's why the city has filed a lawsuit against the firefighters pension system. According to the mayor's office, the average Houston firefighter who retires after 30 years of service will get a pension of 94 percent of their salary, plus an average lump sum of $850,000 -- a formula Parker says is unsustainable.

She asked, "Any viewer out there, if you can retire with 94 percent of what you take home today, for the rest of your life, would you keep working?"

The firefighters union was quick to respond, saying those numbers are exaggerated.

"I think those numbers are inaccurate in the least," said Bryan Sky-Eagle, president of the Houston Firefighters Union. "I'm a firefighter. I'm not in the path to become a millionaire."

Both the union and the pension board have had a contentious relationship with the mayor for years. The board says this lawsuit is just political payback.

"This mayor has continuously attacked us from day one," said Todd Clark, chair of the fire pension fund. "This lawsuit is nothing more than a political grab, political stunt."

Mayor Parker says this is simply a numbers issue, and if the court sides with her, she's happy to reinvest any savings back into active firefighters.

"I would make a commitment in a heartbeat that any savings we have on the pension side, I would pump directly into the active side," Mayor Parker promised.

The city's lawsuit does not have any impact on the Houston Police Officers Pension System and the Houston Municipal Employee Pension System.

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