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Mayor Gets Firefighters Flaming Mad

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By an anonymous city of Houston employee

Art by Blake Jones

The mayor is suing the Houston fire department. You know those guys that are often referred to as everyday heroes in other cities. Yes, that’s right…our mayor is after those guys. Personally I have a deep respect for firefighters, because that’s a service that I can clearly see being done. When there is a fire it HAS to be put out. When there is a crime, they don’t have to be solved. In fact, there have been whole TV shows dedicated to unsolved crimes-there maybe be a whole network, now that I think of it.

Regardless, Parker has twice failed to convince state legislators to grant her the ability to negotiate the Houston firefighters’ pension, so she’s suing them. Now I am all for the city making budget cuts, but Parker and a host of others have blamed the Fire Department as the meat of this budget problem.

But local media has failed to address a number of issues when it comes to the Mayor Parker’s efforts in saving us money. We could start looking at Parker’s increased pay to executives by 8%. Or Parker herself accepting a pay increase of 12% in 2004. Between 2009 and 2011, Parker’s chief of staff, Waynette Chan, was awarded half a dozen pay increases, lifting her salary from $123,000 to 180,000. In a three year period, beginning in 2009, Finance Director Janet Evans’ salary went from $ 76,000 to $128,000. But to add to Parker’s failure in economics, city employees also recently changed health providers to Cigna.  This new plan has costed the city millions. The prescription benefit portion of the plan indicates that its role as middleman Cigna kept somewhere around $4 million dollars in rebates. This money could have gone to the city had Mayor Parker’s staff done a better job of deal making.

But Parker’s pay raise to the city attorney seems the most interesting. The city’s attorney David Feldman, who of course is a major player in the suit against HFD, was recently given a major pay raise. How much of a raise? Oh just about 43% more. Feldman is the second highest paid city attorney in the nation.  Houston firefighters are ranked 139th in nationwide firefighters pay (and we are the 4th largest city?)

Last fall Parker also granted large raises to her senior staff, several of whom have incurred pay increases of 30% since assuming their duties. So why attack the fire fighters’ pension?

The mayor wants to regulate overtime work and as well as limit the number of firefighters on duty in surrounding areas such as Alief and Acres Homes. One big issue with the firefighters’ contract is that they are required to staff four people per engine and two per ambulance. But take into account unexpected absences and moved resources and there is quite a bit of overtime pay. The goal for both sides is to limit overtime pay so the department doesn’t go over budget. Why doesn’t the city just hire more firefighters if overtime is such a problem?

That seems fair, until you look at Mayor Parker’s role before she was Mayor. Annise Parker was the City’s controller from 2005 to 2007.

What is the function of the City Controller?

The city controller serves as the city’s chief financial officer and is responsible for ensuring that the assets of the city are properly accounted for and expended in a manner consistent with applicable laws, policies, plans and procedures. To accomplish this goal, the city controller performs various functions including but not limited to the following:

  • ●certifying the availability of city funds prior to council approval of city commitments,
  • ●processing and monitoring disbursements which total 2.4 billion dollars annually,
  • ●investing the city’s funds,
  • ●conducting internal audits of city departments and federal grant programs,
  • ●operating and maintaining the city’s financial management system,
  • ●conducting the sale of the city’s public improvement and revenue bonds, and
  • ●producing a comprehensive annual financial report.
  • I literally copied and pasted that from the city of Houston website. If anyone is responsible for our city budget falling short, it would seem like all fingers point to Ms. Parker.
  • In addition to the dangers firefighters face in their immediate job roles, selflessly serving the community, as well as the long-term physical and mental toll the job places on their health and wellbeing, it seems like there should be other ways of looking at the budget.
  • The city is required by law to make its full annual payment to the fire pension, yet they don’t want to honor that. Now the city is filing a lawsuit stating that they want to break this law, in order to get them out of debt. Increasing the salary of a city attorney seems more in line with a mayor who has been making questionable decisions, rather than a mayor who is saving us money.

6 Responses to Mayor Gets Firefighters Flaming Mad

  1. Richard Reinitz May 6, 2014 at 11:32 am

    The basis for this dispute between the Mayor and HFD is personal and nothing more trying to exact retribution for the the HFD’s lack of support for Parker’s predecessor, Kathy Whitmire. The article was great but failed to mention the millions of dollars Parker is spending on the “greening of Houston” and unnecessary public parks even as our roads and bridges crumble and traffic is out of control. Lastly not only has Ms. Parker given herself a raise maximally each year she has been in office, she is also the highest paid Mayor in the nation. Doesn’t seem like we are getting our money’s worth. She is perfectly content to put all of us at risk not to mention our property as response times will inevitably rise and our fire fighters become fatigued.

    Reply
  2. Ann Cole May 6, 2014 at 11:00 am

    It is amazing how our elected officials go about padding their own pockets and that of their staff when they take office. I don’t know what it’s going to take to elect fair and honest people. It seems they become greedy and all about themselves instead of the welfare of the blue collar worker, if you will. Our firefighters and that of the police force should be among the better paid positions for no one else in office gives the ultimate sacrifice in performing their jobs.

    Reply
  3. Louis Zepeda Jr May 6, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Reading your article, I will provide you with some comments: Seems to me that what the Mayor is trying to do and is accomplishing her issues is to increase the salaries to her departments and her (friends) personnel. In order to do this she must cut cost and is sacrificing the Houston Fire Department and not to mention the people of the city of Houston just to line her pockets with wealth. Politics is Politics and we all know the old quote, “Shit runs down hill” People in positions like the mayor can do mostly anything they want because once they are in office they are in control. The only way to remove these people is to not vote for them during election time. The increases or bonuses that the mayor and her constituents are not necessary. If a person can not live within their means they have no business running the city. If a salary of $123,000 is not enough to survive on then those people need to take up some type of Financial management courses. I praise the Houston Fire department for their stand and wish them the best.

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  4. Wanda Zwahr May 5, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    I have utmost respect for our firefighters. It is such a dangerous job that so many people can’t do. I think this is deplorable and Parker needs to restructure her priorities. These brave men and women deserve everything they get and deserve raises before we up the minimum wage in Houston - and that’s coming. God bless our firefighters.

    Reply
  5. Carlos May 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    I believe I read somewhere that the city attorney was in the middle of a legal battle with the state of Texas regarding benefits for same-sex couples married out of state. His unprecedented raise came just before her own out of state marriage. Seems like a huge conflict of interest to me…

    Reply
  6. Rick Watterson May 5, 2014 at 9:22 am

    It is never mentioned that when HPD is short staffed that they “just” don’t fill that position. HFD as stated in the original comment are REQUIRED to fill the position. Now the city is browning out various fire apparatus and jeopardizing the lives of the citizens.

    Regarding the City budget and the two law suit. How many millions has she spent on suing the Houston Fire Department? The Citizens of Houston is paying that bill. Way to go mayor!

    Reply

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