Mayor Ivy Taylor wants to make a few things clear, and she did so in an animated Thursday phone interview with the Rivard Report, taking issue with several key points in my morning post, Mayor’s Failed Truce: Unions Continue Attacks.
I’m not a big proponent of next-day corrections and clarifications appearing at the bottom of the story where few people ever see them. I’d rather give the mayor the same home page play my story enjoyed and let readers make up their own minds on one of the most contentious issues on the public agenda.
We are now nine months into the process of seeking a new collective bargaining agreement between the City of San Antonio and its police and firefighters, and at the heart of the prolonged dispute is the fast-rising cost of health care and retirement benefits – tough financial realities being faced in every city in the nation.
Players on both sides are a bit exhausted by the process, I’d venture, after so much time and no agreement in sight. More importantly, the police union’s campaign against City Manager Sheryl Sculley has become increasingly personal over time, and noisily drowned out the debate over the facts and the relative merits of the positions held by both sides. I’ve written some strong pieces in defense of the City’s position, the need to make changes to the contract, and my disappointment in the attacks on Sculley.
Mayor Taylor told me Thursday that she, too, supports Sculley, and she believes the City Council supports her. “Sheryl’s a grown woman and she’s in a difficult job and she knows this comes with the territory,” she added.
Here is where the mayor asserts I got it wrong:
One, she was not “shamed” into calling her Monday press conference, and she did not call it hastily on a Sunday night as I asserted.
“I never even read Patti Radle’s email, so I was not shamed into taking any action,” Mayor Taylor said. “I had talked to Sheryl and others about taking this approach the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I said I wanted to bring in a third party and call for a holiday truce. She didn’t agree with it, which wasn’t entirely surprising. It’s obviously a very difficult process. We were going to do it Wednesday and then we got into the holiday mode.”
The mayor emphasized that she chose her course of action before the holiday and before publication of a Sunday op-ed piece by former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, who is running for mayor, that essentially called for the same course of action. In fact, the mayor wondered as she read the op-ed piece, if someone from City Hall had shared her plans with Villarreal before she could publicly act on them this week.
Two, the mayor thinks I was wrong to characterize the situation as a failure on her part in calling for the “holiday truce.” I asked her if she felt undermined by the police union after her call for a cooling-off period didn’t lead to an end to the personal attacks against Sculley.
“Okay, I’ve called it a truce and they still have their Facebook page, that’s not keeping me up at night,” the mayor said. “I want to get a resolution of the numbers, and hopefully we’ll get past Mike Helle’s election and then maybe we can see if they will play ball.”
The elections for police union officers, I believe, are set for January, when Helle will seek re-election as the president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, a post he has held since February 2008.
“Mike Helle is a political actor as well, so he has to play to his audience.” the mayor said. “I call myself the accidental politician, but the audience he plays to are the guys in blue, and maybe a subset of the guys in blue who are all riled up and think the City and Sheryl have it in for them. I try not to give too much credence to any of it.
“I want to get a contract – I don’t want to bust the union, I don’t want to end collective bargaining,” she said.
Mayor Taylor said she, too, finds the attacks offensive, but doesn’t take them personally. She sees it as political theater – my words, not hers. I worry that the nature of attacks could cause our city manager, no matter how tough, to eventually decide she’s had enough. Her sudden departure in a highly charged political atmosphere could trigger rating agencies to downgrade the city’s AAA bond rating. That would be tragic for everyone, including the unions.
“I understand he has to do some posturing,” Mayor Taylor said. “I am trying to forge the best path possible given the, excuse me for saying it, a very f—– up scenario all the way around. I’m keeping my eyes open and have an end game in sight. I want everyone to stay focused on the end, to get a contract.”
In sum, Mayor Taylor believes a firm, but more diplomatic and cordial approach to Helle and the police union will yield better results than the more tough-minded rhetoric and bottom-line negotiating approach taken to date by the City’s team, which is a mix of senior staff and outside lawyers who report to both Sculley and, really, to the mayor and City Council.
Let me end this part of our conversation by saying I respect the job Ivy Taylor is doing as mayor, and ultimately hope she is right and I am wrong about tactics and negotiating approaches. I’ve written more stories about the collective bargaining talks than I care to count. I look forward to covering a contract signing.
Will Mayor Ivy Seek a Full Term in Office?
I asked Mayor Taylor if she is nearing a decision on whether to seek a full term as mayor in the May city elections, or if she will leave City Hall after completing her 300 days as interim mayor. To some degree, she must feel saddled by this unfinished business left behind by her predecessor, and now Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julián Castro.
“I am really still evaluating all my options. I’ve stayed focused on the issues, I haven’t 100% made up my mind,” Mayor Taylor said. “I understand the conventional wisdom about the time it takes to make a campaign and raise money, but when I got into this office I wanted to offer San Antonio a person who was going to be focused on the job and not political posturing.
“If that puts me at a disadvantage if I decide to do it, so be it,” she said. “The way I see it, I have up to the (Feb. 28, 2015) deadline. I’ve been praying, I’ve even been fasting. I have to think about my family and my life in general. This is my sixth year down here at City Hall.”
Taylor said the lack of pay for mayor and council members is becoming a growing consideration for those contemplating public service in San Antonio. One of her early agenda items as interim mayor was to create a task force to study city charter reform and propose ballot language that could include the pay issue.
The logistics of completing the committee membership application process, she said, have slowed the intended pace of work.
“We are going to set up a meeting either next week or the following week,” Mayor Taylor said, adding that she is open to placing the matter before voters on the May ballot, but is also willing to defer to others on the matter.
“The conventional wisdom is that something will not pass unless it’s a presidential election, but that means living through another whole two-year cycle,” she said. “I’ve been blessed with a teaching position at UTSA, but it’s been harder to meet my obligations since I’ve become mayor.”
*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor. Photo by Scott Ball.
This story was originally published on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.
See all stories related to the current contract negotiations here.