Fire Union President resigns

The Houston Chronicle reports that Bryan Sky-Eagle, the President of the Houston Firefighter’s Union, has prematurely resigned his position. Sky-Eagle was elected to the post in October 2013 to what was ostensibly a three year term. However, not even one year into the position, he has called it quits, citing the irreconcilable difficulties he had with his membership. To put it bluntly, he was seen as too cozy with Mayor Annise Parker by the rank-and-file members of the union, whom he was quite unpopular therewith.

The Firefighter’s Union has recently been in the news due to a long standing argument between its members and the City of Houston on the topic of pensions. Firefighter’s pensions are considerably more sizable than those for other municipal public servants (Bureaucrats and Police Officers, respectively), and while they have been reduced and modified for others at City Hall in recent years, the same has not happened for the firefighter’s. This is mainly due to an arcane State Law that allows the Legislature to directly oversee the firefighter’s pensions.

Over the summer, there was a tentative agreement reached between Sky-Eagle and Parker on future firefighter contracts, specifically curtailing overtime benefits. Sky-Eagle unilaterally reached this agreement, and when it was supposed to be confirmed by union membership (typically a mere formality), a whopping 93% of members voted it down. Furthermore, there have been other examples of Sky-Eagle going at it alone and without the proper authorization of his membership. The Chronicle article even notes a few examples where he was sternly rebuked by the International Union association.

Specifically, on one occasion, Sky-Eagle made a point of not reimbursing union members for their attendance at a conference. The International Association of Firefighters specifically ordered him to reverse the action. This, among other actions, led to a lawsuit between the local and international entities. The only problem with this is that Sky-Eagle went gunboat on the lawsuit, without seeking the requisite approval from the union membership.

Sky-Eagle, for his part, said that he has been receiving anonymous threats of violence, and decided that it all just wasn’t worth it anymore. I am angered to hear that someone personally went after him, as it cheapens the validity of actual criticisms against him.

As for the underlying issue, I’ve opined broadly on both sides of this issue before, and haven’t necessarily made up my mind about the philosophy of it all. I didn’t actually think the compromise reached between Parker and Sky-Eagle was that bad, but I suppose this was more a comment on how he went about it all.

NDO Public Session held

I climbed the steps of City Hall today for the first time in a couple months. I did not have a surplus of time, so I only got to peak my head into the very beginning of the public session. For those unfamiliar, the City Council is required by law to listen to members of the public on agenda and non-agenda items weekly. Anyone in the city may call the City Secretary and receive at least 60 seconds of speaking time before the Council. This week, the discussion centered unanimously around the non-discrimination ordinance being considered by the Council, which I have written about extensively in the past. In short, the ordinance codifies existing Federal regulations against discrimination into local law, as well as expand them to protect both sexual orientation and gender identity.

There were over 80 speakers on this ordinance, with over 4/5ths of them being supportive thereof. Elected officials, such as State Senator John Whitmire, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, State Representative Garnet Coleman and State Representative Carol Alvarado lent their support in person. Other elected officials, such as State Senator Rodney Ellis, State Senator Sylvia Garcia and State Representative Sylvester Turner, have also been quite supportive, but did not make an appearance in person. Another who did, however, was former Congressman Chris Bell, a likely Mayoral candidate in 2015 (along with Turner and, possibly, Garcia). A number of other stalwarts in the community spoke up today, though perhaps my favorite speaker was Sissy Farenthold. Simply put, she was Ann Richards before there was Ann Richards, serving at one time as the only female member of the Legislature and coming heartbreakingly close to winning the Democratic nomination for Governor in the 1970s.

Click here to read about more supporters, opponents, and the Councilmembers’ reactions!

Brownout agreement reached

The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker and the Houston Fire Department have reached a tentative agreement that would avert upcoming brownouts in fire service. The brownouts were thought to take effect after a City Council committee voted to not allocate any more money to HFD’s budget after they overspent following massive overtime pay (largely thanks to a generous union contract). The standoff was part of a broader disagreement of principles between Mayor Annise Parker and the Firefighter’s Union. Because of a sweetheart law, the union is mostly regulated from Austin, where they receive much nicer terms than the Police or Municipal Employees. Parker has been actively campaigning to nix this State control, thus allowing her to curtail some of the frills of their pension plan.

Recently, neither appeared to willing to budge on their position relating to this overtime/budget crisis. Parker was unwilling to spend more money on the department, while the union was unwilling to accept any sort of cut to their wages or benefits. Accordingly, it looked that the big loser would be the people of Houston, to whom would bear the brunt of diminished public safety.

Click here to read more about an agreement reached!

HFD union sues City

UPDATE: Further hearing on the matter is set for March 7th.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Houston Fire Department’s union (Local 341) has sued the City over the recent brownouts in coverage going around the City. Last Thursday, a Council Committee voted to compel the Fire Department into managing a large budget deficit (predominantly caused by excessive overtime pay through a generous union contract) through their own means. Accordingly, after Mayor Parker gave the nod to this course of action, the Fire Department announced they would begin rolling blackouts of service throughout the city, grounding ambulances for example, such as what happened this weekend.

Today at noon, the Firefighter’s Union sought a temporary restraining order from Judge Elaine Palmer (215th Civil District Court), which was then summarily denied. City Attorney David Feldman, Houston’s key counsel on legal issues, laughed off the suit as frivolous, proclaiming “This is not what the courthouse is for.”

Rather than Chief Terry Garrison, who must retain some semblance of a working relationship with Mayor Parker, this push has largely been driven by Bryan Sky-Eagle, the Firefighter’s Union President. In comments first reported by KPRC, Sky-Eagle noted he believed this would be an ongoing effort, albeit he made his comments before Judge Palmer denied his request for a temporary restraining order.

Click here to read more, including a statement by Mayor Parker!