Houston increases funding for law firms in fight against Proposition B ahead of possible showdown with Texas Supreme Court

The City of Houston has made monetary efforts to file a lawsuit against Proposition B with the Texas Supreme Court. (File photo from Community Impact newspaper)

In a 12-4 vote, the Houston City Council voted March 9 to increase the maximum contract amount between the city and Norton Rose Fulbright, the law firm representing the city in its ongoing legal battle related to a dispute over firefighter pay equity stemming from a 2018 ballot proposal often referred to as Proposition B.

General Council Members Michael Kubosh and Letitia Plummer voted against the ordinance along with District A Council Member Amy Peck and District J Council Member Edward Pollard.

Proposition B is a charter amendment that requires Houston firefighters to receive the same pay as Houston police officers. The battle for better pay has been ongoing since 2017 after Mayor Sylvester Turner walked away from a contract deal with the Houston Fire Department.

Proposition B was passed in November 2018 with the approval of 59.24% of voters.

The original lawsuit was filed by the Houston Police Officers’ Union against the City of Houston and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. The lawsuit claims Proposition B is an “unlawful expenditure of taxpayers’ money in connection with an unconstitutional amendment to the City of Houston charter.”

Instead of defending firefighters, the city ended up joining the pay equity lawsuit, HPFFA President Marty Lancton said in an interview with Community Impact Journal.

Lancton said the association was stepping in, defending the will of voters who made their voices “loud and clear to make democracy prevail.”

As previously reported by Community Impact Journal, the city has repeatedly said that Proposal B would be “financially devastating”. Turner previously said it would cost the city $100 million each year, a sum he said would result in reduced services and significant layoffs, potentially including both police and firefighters.

On July 29, 2021, the 14th Court of Appeals ruled in favor of pay equity. The decision came just months after Turner used federal stimulus funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to give firefighters an 18% raise over a three-year period.

“We appreciate the Court of Appeals and are confident that ultimately these continued attacks on our men and women and our families will end the same way they did in the Court of Appeals, Lanton said.

The Texas Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will take up the case. The City of Houston has until March 23 to file a response with the court to legal arguments previously raised in a filing by the HPFFA.

With the approval of the agenda item, the maximum contract amount with the law firm increases from $500,000 to $675,000. The additional $175,000 is to cover expenses related to research, preparation and presentation of oral arguments and background information, according to the order.

Since Houstonians voted in favor of Proposition B, Kubosh said he doesn’t think it’s necessary for the city to pursue the lawsuit.

“I want council members to know that what we’re really voting on here is supporting the law firm to overturn an election,” Kubosh said. “And I oppose it.”

To ensure an issue like this doesn’t arise in the future, Kubosh said he plans to ask the Texas Legislature this year to create an elected city attorney position. by voters, a move he said would help ensure the attorney represents Houstonians and not necessarily. administration.