Scott Ball / Rivard Report
The perfect politician is the one who promises to cut taxes and expand services. Unfortunately, such promises suggest the politician isn’t going to be a good leader willing to tell citizens the truth: We can’t have it both ways.
It’s with that caveat that I read last week’s email blasts from the political campaign of Councilman Greg Brockhouse as each day his Austin campaign consultant, Matt Mackowiak, who also worked for then-Mayor Ivy Taylor, sent out new policy planks in Brockhouse’s “Action Plan SA” platform.
Haven’t heard of Mackowiak? You must not live on Twitter. This early Texas Tribune article captures him pretty well. Readers should get to know the out-of-town man behind all of Brockhouse’s sweeping campaign promises. Give him credit: He did help Republican State Sen. Pete Flores get elected in District 19, a longtime Democratic stronghold. It’s just odd reading a daily blast of what’s best for San Antonio coming down Interstate 35 from Austin.
Mack engineered a five-day PR blitz on behalf of Brockhouse designed to capture media attention, and it worked. Day One promised voters a cut in property taxes and a new homestead exemption. Day Two called for a “pro business” climate change policy highlighted by more tree plantings. Day Three was a promise to restore transparency and ethics to City Hall. Day Four was Brockhouse’s answer to the city’s transportation challenges. Day Five promised to reduce crime and improve public safety, including hiring more police officers.
That’s a lot of policy for a councilman who has spent the last two years opposing almost every initiative put forth at City Council and offering few concrete, well-argued alternatives. Suddenly Brockhouse is generating more policy paper than a Washington think tank.
It was actually smart politics, generating substantial coverage here at the Rivard Report and in other local media. Early voting in the June 8 runoff does not start until May 28, but any objective observer would say Brockhouse definitely stole the spotlight from Mayor Ron Nirenberg this past week.
All those policy initiatives put Brockhouse as would-be mayor under the microscope. For a candidate who has consistently derided efforts by Nirenberg and a City Council majority to engage in real long-term planning on affordable housing, transportation, climate change, and population growth, Brockhouse has suddenly promised to put city government into overdrive in his first 90 days.
That’s bad news for City Manager Erik Walsh and team. They’ll have to work around the clock to get everything done while watching general budget revenues shrink by millions, thanks to those tax cuts and homestead exemption.
As the days ticked by and Mackowiak’s Austin emails fixing San Antonio city government kept coming, I found myself eagerly awaiting the Brockhouse plank on how he plans to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the firefighters union. That challenge, above all others, is key to the city’s future solvency and the stability of its general operating budget. Without a deal with the union, we simply do not know how much money will be left over to address streets, sidewalks, parks, libraries, and all those new trees we are going to plant.
Alas, Mackowiak ran out of days last week and there was no plank on the firefighters contract. Brockhouse, even as he promises a new era of transparency, is not showing voters his cards on the long standoff with the union that he once worked for, the union whose president calls Brockhouse “our guy.”
Until Brockhouse shares his plan, if he has one, with voters, don’t believe a word of “Action Plan SA.” It’s better seen for what it is: Mackowiak’s Austin PR Plan.
For readers and voters who are angered by my position on the mayor’s race and the City’s negotiations with the fire union, I have questions: Why can’t firefighters follow their brothers and sisters in the police union and agree to terms after five years? What specifically is wrong with what most regard as a very generous contract the City has given the police union? What more do the firefighters want?
I thought Taylor capitulated to police union President Mike Helle when a deal was struck and approved way back in September 2016. Going by Helle’s facial expression in this photograph after City Council approved a new five-year deal on a 9-2 vote, Helle felt the same. Taylor and those who voted to approve the contract did so with little enthusiasm and certainly no celebration. With good reason.
Nirenberg, then the District 8 councilman, and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) were the only two elected officials to stand their ground and not capitulate.
To refresh memories, the police union agreed to a five-year deal that included 3 percent bonuses for its members and a 14 percent increase in pay over the life of the contract, while union members agreed to pay minimal health care premiums for their dependents.
Then-City Manager Sheryl Scully held the position that the firefighters’ refusal to come to the bargaining table forfeited that union’s right to the same generous terms, but it’s my guess the City would agree tomorrow to something equivalent to keep the two public safety union in sync and end the long standoff.
Voters deserve to know what Brockhouse would do as mayor, and until he is honest and transparent about the issue of the firefighters contract there is little reason to pay much attention to what a headline-hunting Austin campaign operative is churning out.
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