1979 election could be one reason Dallas goes bankrupt

A potential $4 billion judgment that could be responsible for helping bankrupt the City of Dallas stems from a little-remembered 1979 election. Mayor Mike Rawlings told a state board on Thursday that the judgment combined with the pension crisis could bankrupt the city.

The lawsuit that dates all the way back to an election in 1979, when police officers and fire fighters demanded if their bosses got a raise they would get one too.

Attorney Ted Lyon, who represents the police and fire fighters in the massive class action lawsuit, says the city could avoid a big judgment by responding to a request to settle. Lyon says he never got a response from the city for an invitation to go to mediation.

Lyon, a former state lawmaker, remembers helping guide police officers and fire fighters to get the referendum on the ballot.

"The ballot language was fixed so you couldn't give a raise to the chief and assistant chief and not give a raise to the patrolmen on the street.  That's what it was all about,” Lyon said.

The public safety employees turned in more than 75,000 signatures to force a special election. The raises passed by a wide margin. But years later, some fire fighters learned that fire chiefs had been getting raises while they had not.

Rawlings said the pay raise formula only applied to 1979.

“Citizens approved a one-time raise for police officers,” Rawlings said.

But Lyon points the words "shall maintain."

“Shall be maintained means, shall be maintained,” Lyon said.

In a city document, officials admit, "No one in personnel had knowledge of the 1979 referendum because of turnover."

Attorney Marcos Ronquillo, who represents many municipalities but is not involved in the case, said the city is delaying the inevitable.

"It's sort of like delaying your credit card payment. If you lose, you owe 4 billion plus interest,” Ronquillo said, who also ran for mayor in 2015. “We continue to kick the can down the road, those dollars because of interest increase."

Little did anyone know that police officers and firefighters would still be trying to benefit from their victory 37 years later. The sister lawsuit to the case is set for trial next spring.

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