Judge to city: You can put meeting video back online

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Firefighters battle a fire in an undated file photo. (KTRK)

An appeals court judge Friday sided with the city over a video of a finance meeting about a firefighter pay ballot initiative.

The spat started with a filing from the firefighter's union against Mayor Sylvester Turner and council member Dave Martin over a city finance meeting discussing the cost of an initiative brought by firefighters for "pay parity."

If you're trying to keep score at home, you'd be forgiven if you can't keep it all straight.

Earlier this week, a judge sided with the firefighters, who claimed the meeting amounted to electioneering. The city removed the meeting from its website after the ruling. It was back up Friday afternoon.

Firefighters have waited over a year to get their petition to the city council for scheduling. The union sued the city secretary for delays. A judge sided with the union in that case.

The issue, that seeks to make equal pay between fire and police personnel, has worked to further the divide between the fire union and Turner as other groups take sides in the issue.

At last week's finance meeting, the fire union refused to testify in front of the city council. The police officers' union and the Houston Greater Partnership both spoke against the measure at the hearing.

Turner admits firefighters deserve a raise, but points to raises he says he's offered the union that they rejected. He's made no secret he finds the proposal expensive, sending dozens of tweets about the cost of the measure. His communications staff has sent dozens more, swatting back at individual tweets that are critical of the mayor's position.

Even though the parity proposal didn't start with Turner, he is obligated under the law to inform the public of how much the proposal would cost.

In still-published tweets, Turner said the city's cost was $230 million for three years, a number he repeated several times at a city council meeting July 25.

Later, Turner echoed finance documents that put the cost at a maximum of $295 million.

July 31, the cost estimate jumped to a starting figure of $300 million, only to go up from there.

The mayor was mistaken about the early figures, Turner's press secretary Mary Benton said.

Regardless of the firm figure, the end result would be layoffs and service cuts, Benton said. Fire Chief Samuel Pena says layoffs would be a certainty.

The city is already facing a budget deficit of tens of millions for the next fiscal year with increasing health and benefit costs.

Voters could decide on the measure as early as November of this year, though they will vote August 8 to place it on a ballot in 2019.

Complicating matters, ReBuild Houston is on the ballot in November for re-affirmation after a court challenge. If it passes, city rules require a three-year cooling off period, moving the fire item to 2021.

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