'How about you resign?' Houston council members get heated after failed meeting

ByKeaton Fox KTRK logo
Friday, July 20, 2018
Council members spar over firefighter ballot initiative.
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Council member Dave Martin, Greg Travis and Mike Kubosh speak to the media outside city council chambers.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Shouting erupted Friday outside Houston's city council chambers after a special meeting was called to discuss a ballot initiative for firefighter pay.

The meeting was called outside Mayor Sylvester Turner's authority when five council members, Dwight Boykins, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Martha Castex-Tatum, and Greg Travis, signed a memo to call the meeting. Turner has sole authority to place items on the agenda.

To have the meeting, nine council members had to show up. The most that ever did was seven when Boykins, Kubosh, Stardig, Travis, Mike Knox, Dave Martin and Greg Le showed up. The meeting was set to begin at 10 a.m., but as the minutes ticked by after, council members Boykins and Martin verbally prodded Stardig to begin the meeting. Sniping between Kubosh and Travis, who wanted to wait a few minutes, and Martin and Boykins began in an ugly display that included personal attacks between Travis and Martin. Today's sparring is not the first for either.

Boykins left at 10:13 a.m., irritated the meeting hadn't started. Stardig cancelled the meeting at 10:15 a.m. when no one else showed up.

Castex-Tatum, whose name appeared on the meeting request, did not appear.

The tension spilled into the hallway where the discussion continued with the media. Martin said he had spoken with Turner about holding a meeting next week to discuss the financial implications surrounding the issue and failed to send it on to the other council members because he was on vacation at the time. He assured the others it was set for the council agenda in August.

"I haven't seen it," Kubosh said.

"I tell you what," Martin said. "If it is [on the agenda], how about you resign. Will you make that bet?"

Not long after, Houston Professional Firefighters Association attorney Cris Feldman and Turner's press secretary Mary Benton joined the fray.

"The campaign against this petition has already started," Feldman said. "This is a game."

The meeting scheduled for next week is going to be used to bash the measure and almost amounts to electioneering, Feldman added.

Benton shot back.

"Council members attend those meetings so they can get additional information, you know that attorney Feldman," she said. "It's not about electioneering and you know that."

Benton later sent a statement from Turner chastising the council members for holding the meeting.

"A proposed meeting called by a few council members while the mayor is out of town on official business is wrong on so many levels," Turner's statement reads, in part. "Now that we have reformed the city pension system, it is unthinkable that these council members would put us right back in deep financial turmoil."

Turner is out of the country. The initial estimate for the cost of the measure is $79 million a year, Turner said.

Late Friday afternoon, he tweeted a response to the HPFFA, saying major cuts to services would be necessary if the initiative passes.

The one item on the agenda was to set a date to place the initiative in front of voters. The meeting was called one year to the day after thousands of signatures were delivered to the city secretary's office. The issue has yet to be scheduled for voters.

The HPFFA had to sue the city after months passed and nothing was done with the petition.

"The chaos we saw at Houston City Hall today reflects the pressure being put on city council members behind the scenes," said HPFFA president Marty Lancton in a statement. "The political smoke and mirrors is disappointing, but predictable."

It seeks equal pay with police officers in the city of Houston.

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