A few days ago, I wrote about the upcoming brownouts at the Fire Department. At that time, the Council Budget Committee voted on a non-binding resolution to idle certain trucks and force the HFD to solve a ballooning deficit solely from their own coffers. This deficit was largely created by a flood of overtime pay in just a couple of big holiday weekends. Critics charge a favorable union contract for the deficit.
Now, Mayor Parker has announced that she will go forward with implementing the Committee’s resolution. The brownouts will begin soon and follow through to the end of the fiscal year (the end of June). As Off the Kuff notes, one of the bigger critics of this strategy is Councilmember C.O. Bradford, who has long been both sympathetic to the firefighters and unfriendly towards the Mayor’s platform and agenda. However, the Parker/Bradford dichotomy is a drastic oversimplification of the real politics of the issue. Also disagreeing with Mayor Parker on the issue has been Mayor Pro Tem Ed Gonzalez, a typical ally of the administration.
CM Gonzalez had some choice words for this resolution, expressing concerns of how it could directly affect the safety of both the firefighters and the general public. By comparison, the chair of the budget committee, Stephen Costello (a likely Mayoral candidate in 2015), was significantly more dubious of the dire predictions. “I find it hard to believe we’re going to compromise public safety. I really don’t believe that’s the case,”Costello said. “It’s simply a matter of, once we respond to a call, we make sure that we have backup from another station. They do it all the time when they have two- or three-alarm calls.”
Then, of course, there are those who would criticize Mayor Parker for not doing enough to mitigate the concerns over the pensions of municipal employees. I was watching KHOU (Channel 11) this morning, and caught a couple minutes of Bill King going all “chicken little” about Houston turning into Detroit.
A surprising addition to this list is State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), who recently had a recording come to light where he had some choice comments on this whole controversy. “Since ’93, we’ve done nothing in the Legislature that Bob Lanier, Lee Brown, Bill White [or Annise Parker] has [sic] asked for,” Whitmire said. He went on to discuss his openness to 401k bills.
“It is a problem, but I’m going to suggest the real solution is going to have to come, probably, with some new leadership at the City because of strained relationships,” he said. When asked to compare Councilmember Costello with Mayor Parker, he especially painted the Mayor in negative terms:
“On rhetoric, Costello has not accused the firemen of being greedy, has not gotten after [sic] them on the second day he was in office, the incident at the airport, suing them. I could go on and on,” Whitmire said. “There’s enough brain power and willingness to make a difference [on the firefighter pensions] but you gotta do it respectfully and as a grownup. But you’re not going to do it you’re calling people names and at the same time giving your City Attorney a huge raise. It poisons the water.”
The comments were obviously surreptitiously recorded at the Houston Chronicle’s Editorial Board meeting with both Sen. Whitmire and Damian LaCroix, his primary opponent. As Ben Hall taught us all last year, you are not allowed to record these meetings or open them up to other press, but I digress. The YouTube video was uploaded by a woman named Gladys House, a famous activist in the Fourth Ward.
Mayor Parker fired back at Sen. Whitmire on her twitter shortly thereafter, and LaCroix has wasted no time in trying to use this issue at his advantage. I cannot say I really have a dog in this fight, and Sen. Whitmire did not say anything untrue or even not on the mind of a few others around the legislature. That being said, in my humble opinion, it was impulsive and callous to throw Mayor Parker under the bus like that in such a public setting.