Chamber of Commerce, Fire Union Leader Lay Out Stark Differences on Prop Impacts

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez, moderator John Clamp, and San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association official Stephen Moody discuss proposed city charter amendments.

Firefighters union official Stephen Moody and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez debated the merits of three local ballot propositions to change San Antonio’s city charter in a discussion Tuesday night.

The concept of trust in San Antonio’s government emerged as a key theme of the talk, which was organized by Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) at the Alicia Trevino Lopez Senior One-Stop Center in northwest San Antonio.

“We have trust those people that represent us,” said Perez, whose organization opposes all three propositions. “I trust City government.”

Moody, who is a member of the union’s legislative committee, told the audience of about 60 that how to vote on Nov. 6 depends on individual viewpoints.

“It comes down to who do you trust to make decisions for your life?” Moody said. “If you trust the government, then you probably need to vote no. But if you don’t trust the government, then you need to vote yes.”

If approved, Proposition A would relax requirements for and expand the scope of future ballot initiatives aimed at challenging City Council decisions; Proposition B would limit the tenure of future city managers – but not current City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s – to eight years and their compensation to no more than 10 times that of the lowest-paid full-time City employee; and Proposition C would allow the fire union to force binding arbitration with the City for a new labor contract, which dictates wages, raises, health care premiums, and more.

Most City leaders and the Go Vote No campaign call the propositions “dangerous” because they would create ballot chaos that would ultimately cost the City billions. The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, which led a petition drive to get the measures on the ballot, and its associated San Antonio First/Approved by Citizens campaign say the propositions are aimed at fixing a corrupt system and that the potential negative financial impacts on the City are overstated.

The proposition effort stems from 2014 when the firefighters union joined a successful petition drive with other community groups against a proposed downtown streetcar project, Moody said. Voters later approved a charter amendment that subjects all future streetcar and light rail projects to a public vote.

“Out of that came a coalition,” Moody said. They called a meeting and sorted out “what can we do next?”

People opposed to the Vista Ridge water pipeline and other controversial project issues backed Propositions A and B to give voters a “voice at City Council” and “get rid of Sheryl [Sculley],” Moody said. “Prop C is all about us.”

The Go Vote No campaign contends that all three propositions would work to give the union – and its president, Chris Steele – more power over City Hall.

“It’s all about an ax that they have to grind,” Perez said. “San Antonio is one of the best-run cities in the entire nation” and each of these propositions threatens that status.

The city isn’t perfect, Perez said, but it’s a better place because of the job Sculley has done. “She’s tough as nails, but she is smart and she is fair,” he said.

Sculley would not be impacted by Proposition B, Perez said. The city manager position is appointed and not subject to a traditional contract – though Sculley can negotiate raises and other terms. If City Council is unhappy with her work, Council members can fire her with a majority vote.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) (left) speaks with Richard Perez, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce CEO & President, before the meeting.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) (left) speaks with Richard Perez, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, before the discussion.

But Moody pointed to a recent list of Best- and Worst-Run Cities compiled by personal finance website Wallethub that ranked San Antonio 99th among the 150 largest U.S. cities. Despite the ranking, Moody said, Sculley is one of the highest-paid city managers in the nation. She earned $550,000 last year, including a bonus.

“If you’re 99th and you’re the highest-paid, there’s a serious problem there,” Moody said.

“Internet surveys like this one should be taken with a grain of salt,” said Jeff Coyle, the City’s director of government and public affairs in an email. “For example, WalletHub includes in its methodology high school graduation rates and the number of hospital beds, which are metrics clearly outside of the reach of city government. And WalletHub’s top-ranked cities – places such as Nampa, Idaho; Provo, Utah; and Missoula, Montana – don’t have nearly the same challenges and complexities of a major metropolitan city like San Antonio.”

The City points to its top bond rating, AAA, from all three of the major credit-rating agencies, as a better metric for city management. San Antonio first achieved the rating in 2008, three years after Sculley became city manager, and has maintained it.

Perez cited a City-commissioned economic impact report on the propositions that was completed earlier this year by Steve Nivin, director of the SABÉR Research Institute and an associate professor of economics at St. Mary’s University.

The report details how an uncertain business and legislative climate, such as one that would be created by the passage of the proposed changes to the city charter, would likely result in a lower bond rating for the City. That could cost it between $382.3 million and $4.2 billion over 20 years as a result of slower economic growth and higher interest payments on loans.

Click here to download Nivin’s report and here for his summary presentation.

Moody called into question the legitimacy of the report, because Nivin is routinely hired by the City to complete economic impact reports. “[This report] is biased from the get-go,” Moody said.

Just because someone performs contract work for the City, it “doesn’t mean he is dishonest,” Perez responded, noting that the City works with contractors in almost all industry sectors.


5 thoughts on “Chamber of Commerce, Fire Union Leader Lay Out Stark Differences on Prop Impacts

  1. Thanks Iris. Nicely written.

    All I would add is that Nivins wrote the impact on streetcar and was wrong. On this issue he has been a spokesman for Vote no and is writing the city impact. Seems a bit like a bias…

    See you at the next one!


    • Wrong in what way? Hard to say a study of the impact of a hypothetical project that never happened is wrong. At least you’re honest that “c” is all about you.

  2. If a $4.2Bn negative impact (worst case) is the equivalent of an economic disaster (per Dr. Nivin’s forecast) then why was there no equivalent hue and cry over the forecast of up to $36Bn due to ozone nonattainment? It’s only nine times higher.

    An awful lot of ink has been spilled on the propositions, but barely a mention of the economic impact due to marginal nonattainment of ozone. A cursory search of articles showed the Rivard Report only mentioned the economic cost of THAT problem one time in a half dozen or so ozone articles, and that was the best case of ‘only’ $3.2 billion. “Economic losses in the San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical Area due to marginal nonattainment could cost upward of $3.2 billion, the study found.”

    But the ozone study (also compliments of the esteemed and go-to prognosticator, Dr. Nivin) “revealed costs could range from $3.2 billion to $27.5 billion under marginal nonattainment and could increase from $7.1 billion to $36.2 billion if the region is given a moderate nonattainment classification.” According to the City.

    When faced with a threat to the political power structure, the result is a full-court press against that threat – highlighting the worst case economic outcomes. But when faced with an even more serious economic and health risk – well, not so much…

    • Tired of the fear-mongering and misinformation from city hall insiders like Richard Perez, and the go voto no campaign. Time to hold city hall accountable when they make bad discussions. I see nothing wrong with citizens/taxpayers have more involvement in their government. If city hall is doing a good job they have nothing to fear. We are voting YES on proposition A. B. C.

  3. Interesting read of best/worst cities article cited. SA sits well among bigger cities, while being knocked down the list by a good # of smaller, easier to manage cities that don’t have many of our challenges. Phoenix is a notable exception even though they are last in air quality. SA is 37th and 36th for Financial Stability and Economy respectively that the CM has most impact on. Biggest negative was Safety @115th. Don’t know how we are 15th for education (colleges?). We are 48th for Quality of Services. A gain of just one point (57 to 58) could move us as high as 34…And so on.

    Other notable finds — We might consider ourselves still young as a big city and growing better with infrastructure in particular. Bike, VIA and SAWS plans come to mind. Also, one expert noted a main indication of a good city is a mix of seasoned, long term players with new blood. The council is already term limited. If CM was also limited, it would weaken the city’s team in planning, negotiating and growing.

    Wish I had more time as there is so much to learn in the details versus the top level number.

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