Texas state district court Judge Patricia J. Kerrigan on May 7 rejected Houston's petition to declare unconstitutional the law under which the Houston Firefighters' Relief and Retirement Fund operates, according to court documents provided by Darian Ward, press secretary for Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
The decision was announced by the court on May 9.
Houston filed suit against the pension fund in Harris County in January in an effort to obtain more input on contributions and plan design of the pension fund.
Under state law, the city is excluded from financial decisions related to the pension fund, including benefit levels and employer contributions. All decisions are made by the pension fund board. Janice Evans, spokeswoman for the mayor, told Pensions & Investments in January that Ms. Parker believes the law under which the pension fund operates is unconstitutional.
“This is a major victory for firefighters and their families,” said Todd E. Clark, board chairman for the $3.8 billion firefighters' pension fund, in a telephone interview.
The mayor's office was not surprised by the ruling and plans to appeal, said Ms. Evans in an e-mailed statement. “We were not surprised by the ruling. This is the kind of case we knew all along would be decided by the appellate courts. Our next step is to appeal the case.”
“It would be crazy in my opinion (to appeal the case),” said Mr. Clark. “It is already a major waste of taxpayer dollars, but I can't speak for the city.”
The city had unsuccessfully petitioned the Legislature to overturn the pension fund's statute twice before. The city claims the board has a conflict of interest because it is controlled by current and retired firefighters, and that the pension fund uses taxpayer money to lobby in favor of the current law.