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City and firefighters battle over retirement fund: Lawsuit filed amid charges of a "vendetta"

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Mayor Annise Park with city attorney David Feldman and finance director Kelly Dowe on firefighter retirement benefits January 2014
Mayor Annise Park with city attorney David Feldman and finance director Kelly Dowe on firefighter retirement benefits January 2014 Annise Parker, Office of the Mayor/City of Houston/Facebook

In an effort to curb the rising cost of long-term retirement benefits, mayor Annise Parker announced that the City of Houston has filed suit against the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF)..

The lawsuit attempts to give the city the same negotiating powers it maintains with Houston police and municipal workers in determining retirement ages, pension contributions and retiree benefit levels.

A statement released by the city takes aim at the current firefighter pension program, which, unlike in other Texas cities, is controlled a board of current and retired firefighters "who have an obvious conflict of interest." Recent attempts to persuade state lawmakers to change the rules have fallen on deaf ears.

HFRRF chiarman Todd Clark released a statement of his own on Wednesday, calling the lawsuit a "power-grab" and a "vendetta" lead by Parker against his organization.

“State law that applies only to Houston is unreasonably restricting our ability to protect taxpayers and keep our commitment to secure and sustainable firefighter retirement benefits,” Parker said.

"We cannot and will not kick the can down the road," says  Parker.

“It is clear from the difficulties experienced by other cities that this is an issue that must be addressed. We have to have the ability to negotiate these benefits at the local level and be able to verify the financial health of HFRRF.

"We cannot and will not kick the can down the road.”

City Attorney David Feldman says that litigation is the only remaining option to declare the pension board rules invalid and give city officials a say in crafting long-term benefits. The lawsuit does not seek to change benefits to current firefighter retirees.

According to the city, firefighters with 30 years of service currently can retire with an average initial monthly lifetime annuity of 94 percent of their average pre-retirement salary, plus an additional lump sum of approximately $850,000. The benefits package for each firefighter retiree is estimated at $1.6 million, equal to a lifetime monthly annuity of 197 percent of his or her average pre-retirement salary.

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