Houston City Council approves 220 firefighter layoffs

Houston City Council approved 220 firefighter layoff notices April 24.

Houston City Council approved 220 firefighter layoff notices April 24.

Houston City Council approved 220 firefighter layoffs April 24.

In a 10-6 vote that followed three hours of often-heated discussion, council members approved the layoffs, which Mayor Sylvester Turner said will be sent out by May 1.

Council Members Mike Knox, Steve Le, Brenda Stardig, Michael Kubosh, Mike Laster and Dwight Boykins voted against the measure.

For two days leading up to the vote, Turner and Marty Lancton, the president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, sat down to court-ordered mediation to try to agree on a phase-in plan for pay raises for all Houston firefighters that would spread the cost out over time. Both days of mediation ended unsuccessfully, and another is ordered for April 29.

“I think this is among the toughest votes this council or any council has faced in the city of Houston,” said At-Large Council Member David Robinson, who voted in favor of the layoffs.

In the absence of a phase-in agreement, Houston City Council voted on whether to approve the layoffs in an attempt to fund the raises in full before the end of fiscal year 2019 on June 31.

The cost of implementing voter-approved Proposition B, which mandates pay parity between Houston police officers and firefighters, was originally estimated at $100 million by the city’s finance department. Latest estimates from the finance department total $79 million for FY 2020.

To pass a balanced budget at the end of the budget cycle, Turner said layoffs were inevitable if the full pay raises are included. If firefighters were not laid off, which requires city approval, Turner said the administration would issue layoffs for 220 or more municipal workers.

"If you vote not to proceed, you are in a sense instructing this administration in sending additional lay-off notices to additional municipal employees in order to secure the $20 million that we would have received from this item," Turner said.

Knox proposed the possibility of referring the decision back to mayor's office while awaiting the outcome of mediation and said a vote either way would act as a negotiating tool for the mayor.

"You're essentially holding municipal workers at gunpoint," Knox said.

District I Council Member Robert Gallagos, who voted in approval of the layoffs, said the city should not risk losing more municipal employees while awaiting the outcome of mediation and a pending court case surrounding Proposition B.

"At the end of the day, Prop. B was the fire union's proposal, we do have to face economic reality and pass a balanced budget, and I cannot support laying off more innocent municipal employees and getting the short end of stick on Prop. B,” Gallagos said.

In a written response, the Houston Professional Firefighters Association condemned the vote.

"[Turner's] failed leadership and relentless political and legal attacks on firefighter families will now put the communities we serve at risk," the letter stated.

Turner already issued layoffs for 67 fire academy cadets and 47 for municipal workers across multiple several departments in mid-April because the positions are not considered “classified” and do not require City Council approval. The layoffs serve as 60-day notices and are not official until the 60-day mark is reached, Houston Communications Director Alan Bernstein said.



Harmonium historic district
Proposed historic district Harmonium is a work of art—literally

The homes are owned by Houston-based artist Salle Werner Vaughn, who has turned the collection of early 20th century properties into an art installation called “Harmonium.”

The letter came a week after Longoria was virtually sworn into the office by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Nov. 18. (Screenshot via Zoom)
Harris County scrambles to make creation of Elections Administrator Office lawful after Attorney General's letter identifies deficiencies

Harris County is working to make right the appointment of Isabel Longoria as the county's first-ever elections administrator after County Attorney Vince Ryan received a letter Nov. 25 from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stating that the county did not follow the proper appointment process.

Houston residents can apply for $1,200 in direct cash assistance

Applications will be evaluated based on need rather than a first-come, first-served basis.

Gwen Sims first joined Harris County Public Health in 1997. (Courtesy Harris County Public Health)
Deputy Director Gwen Sims appointed interim executive director of Harris County Public Health

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously appointed Gwen Sims to serve as the interim executive director of Harris County Public Health in anticipation of Executive Director Umair Shah's departure Dec. 18.

1611 South Blvd., Houston: This fully restored 1925 home features designer touches throughout, as well as a guest quarters with a full-size kitchen. 6 beds, 4.5 baths / 6,374 square feet. Sold for $4,418,001-$5,081,000 on Nov. 30. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Heights-River Oaks-Montrose real estate: See some of the homes sold in November

Among the properties that sold are a 100-year-old First Ward bungalow with recent renovations, a 1925 restoration and a 2011 custom home in the Heights.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has launched a campaign to address declining college enrollment numbers across the state since the pandemic started. (Courtesy Pexels)
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board launches campaign to boost college enrollment

The decline in college enrollment across the state of Texas has prompted several agencies to partner up and create online resources for students and counselors.

new hope housing
Mayor Sylvester Turner announces initiative to restore an urban prairie, ease flooding

The project will serve as a model for future stormwater retetention efforts, the mayor said.

SheSpace unveils Lower Heights coworking suites, services

​​​​​​​SheSpace offers desk, office and conference room rentals; fitness classes; and a podcast studio, along with services supporting women entrepreneurs.

Downtown Houston Streetscape at dusk
Mayor Sylvester Turner considering curfew as 'last resort' to curb bar and club crowding

Houston fire chief Sam Peña, whose department is responsible for monitoring occupancy violations, said fire marshals have responded to over 20,000 complaints since March 18.

March restaurant
New in Montrose: 5 restaurant updates to know

Here is a quick recap of some of the new offerings now open, reopening or coming soon.

A project coming to Shepherd Drive will bring an updated roadway and drainage, along with features seen on other projects by the Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority, including brick paver crosswalks, widened sidewalks, lighting and landscaping. (Rendering courtesy Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority)
Project update: Rebuild of Shepherd south of Westheimer set for early 2021 start

Construction could begin in early 2021 and will take two years.