Judge orders city, firefighters and police into Prop B mediation

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Even as she admitted she would like to send firefighters and the city of Houston to their rooms without dinner until Prop B is solved, a Harris County judge conceded she does not have the power to do that. However, she can force warring legal adversaries to talk, and Judge Tanya Garrison did.

Everyone has to answer to someone, and late Thursday afternoon, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was ordered to mediation with firefighters over Prop B.

Wednesday, Turner said no to the idea twice. This time he doesn't have a choice. He has to go.

RELATED: Council delays layoff vote as Houston firefighters say details are still missing

Thursday morning, lawyers for the city of Houston, firefighters and police were in court arguing over the constitutionality of Prop B, the voter-approved firefighter pay parity issue.

The city and police officers argue the ballot measure is unconstitutional. They suggest firefighters must use options aside from a public vote to get a pay raise, and further object to fire salaries being tied to police into the future.

Police officers brought the first legal action in this round of the fight.

Firefighters told the judge the connection between police and fire salaries set up by Prop B is the start of negotiations, not the only consideration.

SEE ALSO: Leaked Houston Prop B proposal documents show millions in slashed firefighter incentive pay

After more than three hours of legal argument, Judge Garrison told both sides how hard this argument will be to decide. She said she "had gone back and forth several times," and hinted she may need 30-60 more days to determine her ruling.

Based on press accounts, she told firefighters and the city she thought they were close to a deal and suggested mediation. City Attorney Ron Lewis told the judge he did not think it was the best course. Kelly Sandill, the lawyer for the Houston police union, similarly did not think mediation was best.

Firefighters were willing to try.

Firefighters' Union President Marty Lancton told reporters, "Firefighters had been absolutely clear on record for months and months that, not only do we ask the city to go to arbitration back when their collective bargaining was an impasse, we've asked to go to mediation. We have said 'Yes' to every time the city wants to do it."

The judge's order forces a mediator to be selected by Monday.

Mayor Turner said in a statement, "What is important is that the mediation occur as soon as possible, preferably Monday or Tuesday (April 22-23). By law, the City budget must balance by the end of June, and where a reduction in personnel is necessary to balance the budget, employees must be given a 60-day notice prior to July 1."

The Houston Police Officers Union was also ordered to the mediation. Their interest may not be in a deal on Prop B pay parity terms. The union continues to believe Prop B is the improper method for firefighters to be given raises.

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