14-day hold granted on Prop B implementation in Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Two days after the city of Houston approved half a million dollars for legal services for litigation surrounding the recently-approved Proposition B, a district court judge granted a 14-day hold on its implementation following a suit filed by the Houston Police Officer's Union.

The suit, anticipated by city officials, claims the charter amendment is unconstitutional and takes bargaining power away from the police union.

HPOU sued at the "first legally available opportunity" according to the suit, saying the challenge couldn't come until after the measure was approved. Voters resoundingly approved Prop B by a 59-to-41 percent margin at the beginning of November. Wednesday, Houston's city council formally approved the vote, officially making the charter amendment part of city law.

Prop B, often referred to as a "pay parity" initiative, gives firefighters and police of similar rank and experience equal pay.

That move set the stage for Friday's challenge.

In a statement, HPOU president Joe Gamaldi said the voters were put in an unfair position by voting on an issue that was legally void from the start.

"Unfortunately, we didn't have the ability to make these challenges to Proposition B until now," Gamaldi said. "We believe that it is critical to stop the implementation of Proposition B."

According to the lawsuit, the police union is asking a Harris County judge for an emergency order to "prevent the unlawful expenditure of taxpayer dollars in connection with an unconstitutional amendment to the Houston City Charter mandating pay parity."
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner estimates the parity initiative could cost the city close to $100 million in the first year.

Firefighters have asked the mayor to negotiate the implementation of so-called Prop B. Turner says he cannot legally do that.

Patrick M. Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, released this statement Friday:

"This throw-down lawsuit by the Houston Police Officers Union proves again that it is a willing political pawn of a vindictive mayor. Sylvester Turner simply refuses to respect the will of the voters and now the HPOU is forcing its members into costly litigation that follows their expensive, failed anti-Prop B

Just a few days ago, the city claimed its legal department did not have the resources for Prop B litigation. Eight City Council members then gave the mayor a half-million dollars to hire outside counsel ahead of this predictable litigation. In court today, the city had at least six staff attorneys on hand, along
with outside counsel, to 'defend' the HPOU litigation.

This cynical, Sylvester Turner-orchestrated legal play proves that the mayor, the eight city council members that voted to spend taxpayer funds on this wasteful litigation, and HPOU President Joe Gamaldi apparently will do almost anything to defy the will of the voters.

"Houston firefighters are grateful for the support of the 292,000 voters who passed Prop B and we're confident we will ultimately prevail in court. When that happens, Sylvester Turner will be forced to equally value the city's first responders as the voters demanded."

Mayor Turner also released a statement Friday, reading:

"Let me remind everyone there is at least a $100M cost every year to the passage of Prop B, which the city cannot afford. It would lead to significant layoffs and a reduction of services. Some of those layoffs could involve police officers and firefighters.

The City cannot afford to lose one first responder for public safety purposes. I believe people understand that.

Placing the matter in court will clear up the issue of whether state law makes the proposition invalid."

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