Silver medalist mayoral candidate Bill King and former County Tax Assessor-Collector Sen. Paul Bettencourt (pension recipient and future state pension beneficiary) have a website where they are asking Houstonians to sign a petition that would put all new hires in Houston in a 401k-type plan and require a taxpayer vote before any pension-obligation bonds could be issued.
On Feb. 7, the mayoral first runner-up posted on his Facebook that the Harris County Republican precinct chairs unanimously and enthusiastically voted to oppose the City of Houston’s proposed pension plan. He stated that the chairs were particularly adamant about no new pension bonds without voter approval.
Who presented the facts to these chairs before they voted? Was it King himself? He has been attending forums all over Houston in an attempt to stay relevant since losing to Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Who was there to present the real facts, and why wasn’t Republican City Councilman Dave Martin called upon to present the other side? Councilman Martin has been doing a superb job giving voters the facts about the pension bonds.
As a lifelong Republican, I also believe that voters should vote on any new pension debt. However, this is not new debt; it is a bill owed by the City of Houston.
Even though King should know that the pension bonds would only pay for bills already owed to the Houston Police Pension System and the Municipal Pension System, it appears that he sometimes forgets to make that point when he speaks.
When the reserve grand champion was president at Southwest Services and provided services (at a great profit) to the federal government and other planes flying into Ellington Field, I am sure he always demanded payment. I wonder how he would have felt if Houston police helicopters had run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenance costs and then said they would require a vote to see if Houston was going to pay the bill?
I have no doubt that any voter who is actually given all the facts would realize that a Yes vote on the bonds is a no-brainer. The problem is that an education campaign would cost millions and a vote would delay fixing the pension problems for months.
The King-Bettencourt-supported petition drive not only deals with the bond vote, but also wants all new hires put under a 401k-type retirement plan before any interim studies are done to see how much additional money this would cost the City of Houston.
So, since Bill King is not currently employed as the Mayor, you would think he would be the one out there getting the petitions signed himself, right? Nope!
Someone has paid individuals, many from outside the City of Houston, to get the signatures on those petitions. We have not been able to confirm who is running the sham, but you can see them outside CVS and Walgreens stores, grocery stores, and the “cash cow” location – outside the library at the University of Houston campus. Those college students are easy pickings to obtain their name and address on a petition that would take a financial genius to explain.
No explanation necessary, just sign your name and address. “It doesn’t mean you plan to vote one way or the other, it just means that you want to keep Houston police and fire from getting laid off and keeping the City of Houston from becoming bankrupt.”
I received a call about the misleading information being given to signers at the UH. On Feb. 24, I went to the UH library and was immediately approached by a male asking if I was a Harris County voter. I advised him that I was. He asked me to sign the petition to help keep the City of Houston from going bankrupt.
I asked him for details and he could provide very little information. The petition had no cover page explaining what one was signing. When he advised me that he did not live in the City of Houston, I asked why he cared about the issue. He stated, “I’m getting paid to get 60,000 signatures from a friend I am helping out.”
He would not give me the name of the friend. I never identified myself and most certainly did not sign his petition. Of course, I taped the conversation – with my phone, not my body camera!
The following Monday, I sent HPOU 2nd Vice President Joe Gamaldi to the UH library for Round Two. Joe was immediately approached by a different male who asked Joe to sign his petition. Joe asked similar questions and the male could not give him details. He referred Joe to a website that does not exist.
Joe told the guy that he was not registered in Harris County, but that he had a brother who was very interested in pensions and lived in Harris County. Joe asked if he could sign his brother’s name to the petition. Without hesitation, the male stated, “Yes you can.” He told Joe to make sure he put the brother’s address and ZIP code. Joe did not sign and left. Of course, he also taped the conversation – again no body camera.
While there may not have been a criminal act actually consummated, it was clearly unethical, misleading, and something that those receiving the petitions should know.
So, two days later, Joe and I returned to the library, this time with Isiah Carey from Fox 26 and a visible camera. It only took a second for the person who Joe had spoken with to approach me. He asked if I would sign his petition and then saw Isiah was filming. I asked on camera if I could sign for someone else. He stated that I could not. Joe then asked him why he stated two days earlier that Joe could sign.
The man then became irritated and asked why he was being filmed. The man who I had spoken with previously saw what was going on and headed inside the library and could not be found.
Legitimate petition drive? I think not.
I asked some of the students standing around if they had signed the petition. Several had. One told me he signed because he was opposed to police and firefighters being laid off. Another stated that he signed because he was told workers would lose their pensions.
The person getting signatures did not even know the difference between a defined benefit plan and a defined contribution plan. Whomever is behind this effort should be ashamed. If the person is an office-holder, then he or she should be voted out.
It is virtually impossible for one to have a valid petition drive on something that requires so much education before a rational decision can be made. I am confident a phone call to any group of individuals who signed that petition cannot provide the details of what they signed.
This is greatly different from the red light camera petition. One knows if they support cameras at Houston intersections – or not.
On this pension issue, the person getting signatures did not even know the difference between a defined benefit and a defined contribution plan. Several of the students who signed the petition told us varying stories of what they were told when they signed. One even thought he was signing to help police get a pension.
I truly hope our elected officials who receive these “petitions” will realize this petition drive is an outright SHAM!