Houston City Council approves plan to lay off 220 firefighters

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- More than 200 Houston firefighters are set to lose their jobs after a heated city council meeting Wednesday.

In a 10-6 vote, council approved a plan proposed by Mayor Sylvester Turner to lay off firefighters in order pay for Prop B pay parity raises for the remaining firefighters.

The plan also calls for an adjustment from four shifts of firefighters to three, and mothballing several fire trucks.

Wednesday's vote comes as mediation between the city, firefighters union and the police union continues. The next session is Monday, April 29.

Council member Mike Knox called the firefighter lay offs "premature," and suggested that the council delay the measure to allow time for mediation to work.

"If I was hopeful, I would not be moving as forcefully as I am. There is nothing certain about this mediation," Turner told council.

The mayor insisted that Wednesday's vote on layoffs could not be delayed. Firefighters must be given a 60-day notice before they're laid off.

"No one is saying you have to like the vote. I don't like the vote. I didn't like authorizing the letters going to the municipal employees or the cadets. I didn't like that, but we have to balance our budget," Turner said.

Turner told council if his measures were voted down, he would have no choice but to lay off 220 municipal workers outside of the police and fire departments.

"If you choose not to move forward today, then you are directing this administration to find 200 other municipal workers to be laid off by May 1," he said.

The meeting started with fireworks as council members raised concerns about the city's spending, and hundreds of hires made by the city since Mayor Turner implemented a hiring freeze.

"There are wants being satisfied that I don't believe are needs to run this city," Council member Brenda Stardig said.

Some of the council tried to delay the voting one more week, but failed. The mayor encouraged the members to take the tough vote.

"Council members, district attorneys at large. Do your job," Turner said.

Stardig shot back saying, "Mayor, we've asked you to do your job. For two years we've waited. Two years of negotiation, two years of failed negotiations, and now it's been put back on this body. It's unacceptable. I'm asking you to do your job, and now I will remind you there's only one CEO."

Turner, who has often called himself the city's CEO, shot back, "I've done my job and I've done it well."

Turner insists that if a deal can be struck, the layoffs can be avoided.

"They are still deserving of a pay raise, but they are deserving of a pay raise that the city can afford. So, this is just about the numbers. It's just about the numbers," Turner said.

The firefighters' union says this is the first time firefighters have been laid off in Houston's history.

Their president, Marty Lancton, called this move "gutless" in a statement, adding that "(the layoff vote) is one of the most reckless political stunts in Houston history."

Lancton put the blame on Turner, saying his "failed leadership and relentless political and legal attacks on firefighter families will now put the communities we serve at risk."

After the vote, Councilman Dwight Boykins reflected.

"It's a sad day in the city when firefighters are being laid off," Boykins said.

The layoffs go into effect July 1 when the city's new budget starts.

Here's the full statement from Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association:

"In one of the most reckless political stunts in Houston history, the Houston City Council has gutlessly voted, 10-6, with Mayor Sylvester Turner to lay off hundreds of firefighters. We are grateful to Council Members Boykins, Laster, Knox, Kubosh, Le, and Stardig for their courageous resistance against the political pressure of the mayor. The other City Council members that voted with the mayor are more focused on protecting their pet projects and political cronies than on protecting citizens. Having manufactured a city fiscal crisis in a tantrum of Proposition B, the mayor has become an out-of-control, unaccountable political fraud. His failed leadership and relentless political and legal attacks on firefighter families will now put the communities we serve at risk. From his Prop B lies to the phony fiscal crisis
and city hiring 'freeze,' during which he hired hundreds of police and municipal employees, Sylvester Turner's legacy will be spending secretly hundreds of millions of dollars on his pay-to-play political cronies, friends and family while ignoring his most basic responsibilities as mayor. Contrary to what the mayor and fire chief say, reduced fire and EMS coverage will endanger Houstonians. Now, we also will lose hundreds of taxpayer-funded, HFD-trained firefighters. Third-rate politicians are destroying our world-class fire department. Our association is now focused on helping firefighter families that will be affected by the mayor's vindictive layoffs and on raising awareness of the public safety risks imposed upon Houston by the mayor's complicit city council members. We will help community leaders hold them accountable for their failed leadership."

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