Commentary: No Need to Appeal Evergreen, Finish Contract Negotiations Instead

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Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) wears a Vision Zero shirt in support of having zero pedestrian fatalities in San Antonio. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) wears a Vision Zero shirt to promote the idea of zero pedestrian fatalities in San Antonio. Photo by Joan Vinson.

As an elected official, I am committed to being a good steward of taxpayer dollars while governing with transparency and openness. These have been my principles since I took office in 2013, and I remain committed to these same values today.

The San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) union contract has been studied, discussed, and addressed for over two years. Numerous issues were discussed in B and executive sessions regarding healthcare benefits, and the cost of healthcare coverage for police and fire members, and their spouses. Discussions and debate have included the duration of healthcare coverage after a first responder retires, whether expenses for public safety support services should be attributed to the public safety budget, and the actual percentage of the city’s budget dedicated to public safety.

I have listened patiently and deliberated with purpose to understand these complex issues. I have gathered information in open meetings, executive sessions, and on one-on-one meetings with my colleagues, San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) leadership, San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association (SAPFA), and the City Manager and budget staff.

SAPOA has indicated they are open to negotiating the length of the Evergreen Clause.  The Evergreen Clause became the last point of contention when the City and SAPOA broke talks on September 25, 2015. The difference was manageable, but the City missed the opportunity to reach an agreement because their criteria for a new Evergreen Clause was driven by the goal of protecting their interests in the lawsuit against SAFF. My hope was that with only this issue remaining, we could complete the negotiations and restore positive relations with the union and our employees, better described as our family.  Instead, right before we reached the finish line, negotiations broke because the city was more focused on protecting their legal position than reaching an agreement.

I signed a City Council Request (CCR) along with four other colleagues asking that the Evergreen lawsuit be dropped.  This CCR should have gone to the Governance Committee for consideration of a full and open discussion as a City Council agenda item.  This would allow citizens to hear the debate through open channels.  My concerns have been the following:

  1. The Governance Committee never considered the CCR presented by 5 of the 11 members of council.
  2. The City Council as a body never voted in open session whether we should enter into a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Evergreen Clause.
  3. The cost or projected costs of the Evergreen lawsuit and appeals process has never been presented for discussion or approval by the City Council.

The City traditionally holds community budgetary sessions to engage the community before adopting the city budget with briefings on current and future projects and their related costs. However, we have not openly discussed the merit of a legal challenge or related costs in open session.  This is not in keeping with a democratic process where citizens have access to City Council deliberations and are able to evaluate and question the merit of specific actions.

I continue to receive calls from constituents on these negotiations. Calls have centered on the several consistent themes:

  1. Why were previous contracts executed and signed by the former City Attorney and current City Manager, yet now are being challenged as unconstitutional?
  2. The cost of union negotiations to date and whether the expense of insurance and audit consultants and negotiating attorneys is justifiable.
  3. What will the Evergreen lawsuit cost and how long will it take?
  4. Why is the city suing its own employees?
  5. Why aren’t taxes being directed to streets, lighting, sidewalks, curbs, and other city services rather than lawsuits and nonproductive hostilities with the city’s first responders?

I pride myself in listening and leading with a voice of reason.  I have listened and learned from my constituents. I appreciate their depth of understanding of the issues.  Most of all, I appreciate their honesty and the creative solutions they offer.

Recently, while walking to the grocery store, a couple stopped to talk to me.

“You have been on council now for three years and you have had two children,” the couple said. “How old will your children be when a contract is finally negotiated?  Stop spending money on saying no to the union and spend it on keeping our neighborhood safe.”

The court has ruled and I respect their opinion. Further, I am concerned that the City’s constitutional challenge of a contract written by the City and approved in good faith by City Council might tarnish our credibility with future creditors, vendors and collective bargaining bodies.  

The City of San Antonio lost the challenge; it’s time to accept the decision, return to the negotiating table and finalize this contract.  A new contract is in the interest of both parties, and the citizens of San Antonio. It is time to move forward as the unified team of elected leaders, staff and unions.

 

This commentary was originally published on Sunday, Dec. 13. 

*Top Image: Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) wears a Vision Zero shirt to promote the idea of zero pedestrian fatalities in San Antonio. Photo by Joan Vinson.

 

Related Stories:

Gonzales Calls on City to Drop Evergreen Lawsuit

 Judge Rules Against City in Lawsuit, City to Appeal

City, Police Union Meet Again, This Time in a Courtroom

Police Union: Drop Lawsuit or Negotiations are Dead

City, Police Union Stall Over Evergreen Clause

15 thoughts on “Commentary: No Need to Appeal Evergreen, Finish Contract Negotiations Instead

  1. You’re the representative of my district Shirley Gonzales but you don’t represent me. The Evergreen Clause in unsustainable and the City is right to sue the SAPOA and the fire Union to get it thrown out. The City should appeal and continue this just fight. The SAPOA is being ridiculous.

  2. Councilwoman Gonzales, thank you for the information you provide in your article. You openness and willingness to share your thoughts and positions are appreciated. I agree with you that the city needs to move on. It is embarrassing that the city is challenging the a clause they were parties to in creating the clause. They should have done their due diligence prior to allowing the clause to be included in the contract. They negotiated in good faith and need to live up to what they agreed to. My question is who was on city council and who was the city manager who negotiated the contract that first included the Evergreen Clause?

    • Ken,

      That evergreen has been there forever. It’s not that easy for anyone to take steps to change it. I think it was pretty smart for the CM to wait until she has a long track record of accomplishment here before taking it on and subjecting herself to mudslinging. Think about this- she could have easily kicked the can down the road like so many others but she has chosen not to. Thats the kind of leader every organization needs.

    • The mayor did not propose dropping the lawsuit. She has repeatedly stated that the lawsuit would be dropped if and only if the unions came to an agreement with the city. In truth, this amounts to an ultimatum laid down by the mayor to concede the city’s proposal or be sued.
      The police union has decided to discontinue negotiations because an agreement cannot be met in good faith under the continued threat of litigation.

      • Not sure what source you’re using, but WOAI reported that if Sapoa agreed to resume “contract talks” the city wouldn’t finalize the appeal.

        whether you interpret it as a threat or an offer its still results in a dropped lawsuit and resumed negotiations if Sapoa chooses.

  3. When I pay to have my taxes prepared, I do so because I do not have the time or inclination to attempt to understand the intricacies of tax law, and I am paying for the knowledge and ability and experience of those who do.

    If I do not understand some of their decisions, or am confused or perplexed by some things they do that do not make sense to me, I attribute this to my lack of understanding, not their lack of expertise.

    I trust that they know what they’re doing since that is their job, that is what they have done for years, and that is their field of expertise. Thinking I know better than they do, when the only reason I pay them is for that knowledge, would be amazingly ignorant, short-sighted, and ill-advised.

    “Why is the city suing its own employees?”

    Primarily because public-sector unions are a terrible idea and a huge mistake.

    • I contend that they may be knowledgeable but that is not what drives a lit of government employees outside of the military. Even when they know better they will approve something they know is not in the best intetests of the public but do so for political reasons. Don’t be naive to think otherwise-regardless of how complicated the tax code is.

  4. Shirley Gonzales has my vote…..she has the right perspective regarding this mess that has continued above and beyond reasonable time…..No body can put a price on a life and that is exactly what our officers in blue do 365 days of each year……The city including the Mayor is willing to deplete the entire city budget to pay for the “Lawsuit” …..with alll the thousands and thousands of dollars the city has now spend paying out expensive consultants and Attorney’s etc .,etc.etc……this issue has now become a battle of forces ,the city is no longer doing anything in good faith,they want to win at any cost but they want to win with my tax money and your tax money, and that’s where I say Whoa!!!…use your own money and stop giving yourselves those big mega increase…Oh my goodness I do believe they would have been able to cover the increase of pay that our men and women in blue truly deserve….. I say this with great pride,Shirley Gonzales, has the best interest of our city at heart….I will vote for her any day of the week…I’m very proud that I live in her district and I am very proud of her accomplishment for all the westside projects and investments that are currently going on as I type. Shirley has been our voice for all the people of District 5 and is now being a voice for our city too and I’m even sure she had to convince council people and give them a thousand reasons for wanting to improve the westside , because I’m sure that alll council people are not jumping with joy to quickly advance and invest money into the westside of our city,politic games cost money from our own pocket….And Shirley is not wanting to play games ………I end this by saying …..You go Shirley !!!!and don’t let people with titles getting paid mega money intimate you or throw any big titles at you …..You are a very bright intelligent wise woman:)Thank You for looking out for the Westside.

  5. I did 30 years in the fire department. The last 20 years were in EMS. It drained me physically and mentally. I did it so I can retire in comfort without the possibility of some idiot city manager taking away my benefits. If I had known this was going to happen I would’ve chosen a different career. Something along the line of destroying city managers.

  6. The reason the SAPOA wants this lawsuit dropped is because they KNOW they are going to lose in the courts. That’s the only reason.

    There is no good faith bargaining on the union side. The offers are already on the table, but the SAPOA wants to maintain the status quo, particularly maintaining the Evergreen clause to keep bargaining power over City. It must go…there is no option.

    While I respect Councilwoman Gonzalez, I believe she is wrong on this. If there’s misunderstanding by her constituents, its because the union media and political machine has been hard at work trying to muddy the picture.

    Keep in mind that the unions backed Leticia Van de Putte in an effort to get a sympathetic ear on City Council. #Fail. They’ve run attack ads and commercials against the City Manager. #Expensive They backed District 7 City Councilman Chris Medina, ensuring his re-election despite his near-absent role. #Politics

    Pure and simple, this is about bargaining position. Gonzalez is willing to give it up. Sad.

  7. Time that we have a councilmember that is willing the standup to the city manager office and her staff. I agree it is time move on and honor the court decision, and a decision on a contract that was signed by our city many years ago.

  8. Drop the lawsuit and return to negotiations. If the collective bargaining process fails then litigation can be filed again. Not a perfect solution but one to move the parties forward and terminate the stalemate. Only the inexperienced and foolhardy predict the outcome of litigation taken to the appellate courts. Enough already !

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