Houston IAFF President Resigns Citing Threats

Sept. 02--The president of the Houston firefighters union resigned Monday, 11 months into his three-year term, citing threats of violence and infighting.

Bryan Sky-Eagle, who led the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341, said his relationship with the rank and file faltered after certain board members didn't want to follow the local's rules. The problems intensified, he said, when he initiated a lawsuit on behalf of the Houston organization against its umbrella group -- the International Association of Fire Fighters -- and put union business into the public record.

HFD Union documents

In a news release, the local described Sky-Eagle's tenure as "tumultuous," saying the union's 3,800 members increasingly lacked confidence in his leadership. The statement cited the lawsuit; administrative charges the local's board lodged against him and the international union's upcoming trial on those allegations; and the 93 percent of voting members who, in June, rejected the proposed contract his team negotiated with Mayor Annise Parker's administration.

Three-year term

Sky-Eagle was elected in October 2013 to a three-year term. His letter said he was stepping down because of "threatening emails" and subsequent threats of "imminent violence" against him and his family. He also has filed administrative charges against other board members.

"I've been warned to watch myself at night," he said Monday, adding that he reported these statements to the Fire Department's internal affairs unit but has not sought legal restraining orders. "I can't perform the duties of president with these outstanding threats. ... I don't know how anybody can do a job under these conditions."

He said the disagreements worsened last month after the lawsuit was filed. The suit claimed that Sky-Eagle's approach as a law-and-order president, intent on following the local's constitution and bylaws, honoring contracts and firing certain employees, led to raucous meetings in which he was forced to hire a professional parliamentarian and sergeants at arms.

Decision reversed

Tensions escalated further this summer when Sky-Eagle, citing the local's governing documents, refused to pay for certain board members' attendance to the international union's convention -- a decision that was reversed by international leaders, court records show.

"No matter what the corporate or working conditions, that doesn't justify making threats on people's lives or advocating beatings," Sky-Eagle said.

Local 341 spokesmanT. Scott Wilkey said members never authorized Sky-Eagle to sue the international union.

"We not only differ, but we believe he is going above and beyond his authority as president," Wilkey said.

The union's statement said it questioned Sky-Eagle's explanation but supported his decision to resign.

Members "look forward to refocusing our association's attention and resources on protecting our members' wages, benefits and workplace conditions," the statement said.

Federal case

The local-versus-international lawsuit, filed in Harris County district court on Aug. 1, has been moved to federal court. The Houston union was dropped as a plaintiff on Aug. 27, but Sky-Eagle remains an intervenor in the lawsuit. Before the transfer, the case was progressing to discovery -- which meant forthcoming subpoenas for testimony, emails, text messages and phone logs.

"That's where all the rhetoric changed," said Sky-Eagle, who also is a lawyer.

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