Lawsuit against City of Austin alleges misuse of taxpayer dollars

City sued for alleged misuse of funds

AUSTIN - The Texas Public Policy Foundation in conjunction with the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin Wednesday, claiming the city's collective bargaining agreement with the Austin Firefighters Association violates the Texas Constitution "gift clause" provision.

The lawsuit comes at a time when the city council crafting the city budget and the option of raising the tax bill of Austin homeowners.

"The current budget discussions with the City of Austin, you have, you know, concerns being raised by the fire, by police, by EMS, that they don't have enough officers out on the streets. Where here's a situation where you have staff being dedicated to the union. Let's put that staff on the street," said Robert Henneke, General Counsel and Director of the Center for American Future for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Henneke is represents the plaintiffs who are two Austin residents. They claim the "Association Business Leave" article of the agreement between the city and firefighter's association violates the Texas constitution's "gift clause" which states public entities can't give taxpayer dollars to private entities without a public purpose.

"The city pays up to 5,000 hours a year for city employees to be working for the union," said Henneke.

Those employees are firefighters using their leave to handle union business.

"When someone is working for the union, they're not representing the tax payers, they're not doing duties for the city, they're doing things for the union," Henneke added.

In a letter sent to Henneke before the lawsuit was filed, the city attorney wrote the leave ensures the association representatives are prepared and able to do business with city and it benefits the city's public safety operations overall.

"We believe that the business leave practices negotiated between the union and the City comply with state law and are prepared to defend against the claims outlined in the litigation," the Communication and Public Information Office for the City of Austin said in a statement.

KVUE News reached out to the Austin Firefighters Association for comment but they declined.

(© 2016 KVUE)


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