Before the Supreme Court of Texas, a Question: What's a Dallas Referendum Really Worth?

We kicked off yesterday by previewing Dallas's "billion-dollar" case before the Supreme Court of Texas: City of Dallas v . Kenneth Albert, a 13-year-old consolidated suit involving hundreds of firefighters demanding thousands in back pay. The city says it's immune from being sued; the attorneys on the other side, of course, argue otherwise. And while I haven't listened to the entirety of yesterday's discussion, which runs 50 minutes, one of the issues being argued yesterday was: What's a referendum really worth?

The suit, as we mentioned yesterday, stems from a 1979 referendum: Voters passed a pay raise for firefighters, police officers and rescue workers, with the caveat that there would always be "a pay differential between the grades in the sworn ranks." But over the next several years, city officials started messing around with payroll to make some higher-ups happy, the pay structure got all kinds of screwed up, and lawsuits were filed.

So, then, I would direct your attention the video and audio from yesterday's hearing, during which Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson asks Deborah Hankinson, one of the attorneys hired by the city for no small sum, this questionhypothetical that gets to the heart of the matter:

The ordinance guarantees this sort of structure pay for life for these firefighters. That's what the residents wanted, and that's what the ordinance adopted. The city simply won't comply with that. Let's assume that's the case. What remedy would they ever have if there's no suit against the city to enforce it?
Update at noon: In the comments, you will find the full language of the ordinance.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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