HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Though city of Houston voters approved Proposition B more than six weeks ago and the likelihood of that happening persisted for months prior, Mayor Sylvester Turner said creating a plan to implement those changes is "just now getting underway".
His comments came one day after a judge instructed the city that it could wait no longer to carry outvoters' directive to give firefighters a pay raise.
Turner said he previously stopped police overtime unless he personally approved each exception on a case-by-case basis. He implemented a city-wide hiring freeze in late September, pointing to the Prop B vote. On Wednesday, Turner said the city was still "lining up the process now."
"It will not be overnight," Turner said. "It'll take some time to get things on track."
Turner said the city was "set back" because of the temporary restraining order it helped ask for. The city did nothing during the time the TRO was in place, Turner said. A judge Tuesday dissolved that TRO and denied a city request to implement an injunction that would put a hold on implementing the raises until legal issues were settled.
Turner fought forcefully against the charter amendment known as Prop B and warned that the measure was too expensive. He claimed it would result in nearly 1,000 layoffs starting Jan. 1. City documents, prepared for town hall meetings led by the Mayor, indicated more than 900 firefighters could lose their jobs. The city's finance director, Tantri Emo, told a council committee on Sept. 4 that 931 firefighters would be fired.
But Wednesday when pressed, Turner wouldn't commit to that timeline or number of potential layoffs.
"I don't want anybody to operate under the assumption that even as we move forward to implementation, that checks are going to start flowing in January," Turner said.
Impacts to services and employees would be impacted as little as possible, Turner said.
"I don't want to lay off one single firefighter. I don't want to lay off one single police officer, or one person who fills the potholes," Turner said. "But the reality is elections have consequences... I didn't ask for this to be on my plate."
Turner's comments are a sharp contrast to the dire warnings of immediate layoffs of hundreds of firefighters made in the ramp up to the vote in early November. Wednesday when asked how many layoffs the city was facing, he gave no number, saying only they were still working on the details of how to implement the measure.
"You're going to have about a thousand layoffs," Turner said at the Oct. 7 debate with the fire union president. "You're going to have firefighters being laid off. Police officers, municipal workers services are going to be disrupted."
So far, the police union has declined to take the court case further. Turner said he would leave it to the legal department to see if an appeal should be filed. Turner, as the chief executive of the city, would ultimately decide if the case should continue.
Fire union officials said they are willing to work with the city to phase in implementation of the charter amendment and negotiate the terms of the new pay increases so the city doesn't have to move forward with cuts.
Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighter's Association, said the contract, carried out through state collective bargaining rules, would supercede the local charter amendment.
Turner rejects that, saying he must follow the vote and implement Prop B without changes.
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