The biggest point of contention standing between the City of San Antonio and the police union reaching an agreement on a new contract continues to be the evergreen clause. The City’s refusal to drop a lawsuit challenging the clause and the police union’s refusal to sign a contract until it does were reiterated Monday night during a neighborhood forum hosted by the Highland Hills Neighborhood Association (HHNA).
Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh and police union President Mike Helle answered community member questions – most wondering why negotiations have stretched on over 19 months – and rehashed arguments over contract details that are effectively moot until the evergreen clause issue is resolved. The first hearing of the lawsuit is scheduled for the morning of Nov. 17.
“They (the City) could turn the tide on this thing if they would just drop the lawsuit,” Helle said after the forum, which quickly turned into a formless Q&A session when the crowd was allowed by moderator Tommy Adkisson to ask questions directly of Helle and Walsh. Adkisson is the HHNA vice president and former Bexar County commissioner.
The clause keeps the current contract terms in place, continuing longevity and Step increases but without raises, until 2024 or until a new contract can be reached, a provision that the City hopes a judge will find unconstitutional because it impedes effective contract negotiations. While “in evergreen,” the City continues to cover ballooning health care costs. Union members and their dependents do not pay monthly premiums.
“(The evergreen clause also) puts an unconstitutional debt onto future City Councils,” Walsh told the crowd. “But if we get this contract done, we’re pulling the lawsuit.”
The latest proposal presented by the City is a contract that includes a five-year evergreen clause. The lowest the police union is willing to go is eight years.
“We would have agreed to five,” Helle said, but not as long as there is a pending lawsuit or threat of one.
The two sides had essentially come to an agreement on salary and benefits packages in September, but the police union ended talks when it became clear the City would not drop its lawsuit filed in November 2014. So the City pushed ahead with the then-dormant lawsuit and called for a summary judgement.
About 30 people attended the forum on Monday, including San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus. McManus declined to comment on the progress of the negotiations but said the forum was “productive.”
“Having an opportunity to explain to the general public what the issue is (with negotiations) is beneficial,” Walsh said after the meeting. “The public picked up on big sticking issues.”
Police union has responded to the lawsuit by calling for their own depositions of City staff including Assistant City Manager Maria Villagómez, Helle said. Villagómez was director of the City’s budget office until her promotion in October and continues to be involved in the negotiation process.
“You sued me, I didn’t sue you,” he said, directing his closing comments to City officials. “So if you want to put the lawsuit to bed, let’s get rid of it.”
*Top image: Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh, SAPD Chief William McManus, and SAPOA President Mike Helle stand together before the neighborhood forum. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.