Fire Union Delivers 15 Boxes of Signatures for ‘San Antonio First’ Petitions to City Hall

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San Antonio Professional Firefighter Union President Chris Steele delivers petitions to City Hall.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele and union members deliver petitions to City Hall.

Members of the firefighters union, its president, and a petition consultant delivered 15 boxes to the city clerk's office Wednesday morning. Inside the boxes were "more than 100,000" signatures in support of three petitions, Union President Chris Steele said.

It's the greatest number of signatures the office has ever received at once, City Clerk Leticia Vacek said as the group approached her office on the second floor of City Hall, adding that she is unsure how long it will take to verify that at least 20,000 signatures came from voters registered in San Antonio.

A petition to change the city charter requires 20,000 signatures within a 180-day period for it to go to voters on a citywide referendum. Launched on Feb. 20, the three petitions the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association is collectively calling the "San Antonio First" initiative each garnered more than 31,000 in 50 days, Steele said.

Those petitions aim to limit future city managers' salary and tenure, force arbitration between the union and the City for a new contract, and make it easier for citizens to put proposed ordinances to a public vote – and override City Council decisions – by requiring fewer signatures and allowing petitioners more time to collect them.

Each petition produced five boxes full of pages with signatures.

The goal is to "let the people decide" these issues rather than elected officials, Steele said. Around 50 supporters repeatedly chanted those words at a press conference on the back steps of City Hall.

San Antonio Professional Firefighter Union President Chris Steele delivers petitions to City Hall.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele delivers petitions to City Hall.

In his office, Mayor Ron Nirenberg told reporters that the San Antonio First campaign is the union's attempts to distract from the real issues involved with its collective bargaining agreement, and that the fire union refuses to negotiate.

If the petitions make it onto the ballot, Nirenberg said, it will have "devastating effects" on the City, including diminishing its ability to attract top talent like City Manager Sheryl  Sculley to its executive management, neutering the collective bargaining process, and turning the city into a "referendum state" like California where local government is paralyzed by special interest groups that leverage the threat of an election.

Steele maintains that the petitions have nothing to do with the union's contract – which expired in September 2014 – or the City's lawsuit and subsequent appeals to the Texas Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the "evergreen clause" that keeps the terms of the expired contract in place for 10 years until a new contract is signed.

Drop the lawsuit, Steele has said, and the union will be at the negotiating table the next day.

“Now that the petitions have been received, we are beginning the process of verification according to the law, which includes time stamping each page as received for each of the three petitions and verifying the number of pages," Vacek told the Rivard Report in an email. "After completing that process, we will work with the Bexar County Elections Department to utilize their system for verifying individual signatures and that the signers of the petitions are truly registered and qualified voters of the City of San Antonio.”

Steele claimed the union had "independently verified" at least 21,000 as qualified voter signatures. "We know they're there."

If the petitions make it onto a municipal ballot, Nirenberg said he will "challenge it at the ballot box," adding that he is confident that citizens, businesses, and organizations will too.

As firefighters and their consultant waited for the elevators at City Hall and local media made their way toward the stairs, Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) watched from across the lobby. Brockhouse has worked as a political consultant for the police and fire unions in the past.

He may not agree with all the language in the petitions, Brockhouse said, but "it's their right" to file them.

"They got 'em pretty quick," he said of the signatures.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks with members of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks with members of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.

Meanwhile, the City's Charter Review Commission is expected to produce proposed revisions to the charter. Nirenberg directed the new commissioners to focus on issues related to development, public finance, ethics, and governance. Items for a special November election must be placed on the ballot by Aug. 20.

Typically, press conferences are held on the front steps of City Hall, but at the time of the union's event, workers were performing routine maintenance on cracks in the concrete.

Steele said the City scheduled the maintenance work on purpose; a City staffer said it was a coincidence.

7 thoughts on “Fire Union Delivers 15 Boxes of Signatures for ‘San Antonio First’ Petitions to City Hall

  1. Forced to choose between negotiating and breaking city government, the Firefighters choose to break out city government.

    Ironically, a lot of the supporters of government-by-referendum here are the same ones who complain about the city becoming more like California.

  2. The lack of confidence by the Fire Dept. in our elected leaders decision making is discouraging. And any union who thinks it is fair for the police and fire fighters to have free medical for their family in 2018 is not thinking clearly. I care for our city first responders but my goodness, I haven’t had free health care since the 1980’s.

  3. Have said it once, will say again, ALL city employees should pay for health care just like the majority of all taxpayers. Non uniformed police and fire city employees have to pick up the burden of higher premiums for the sake of no premiums to uniformed employees, fire and police. If accomplished, this will ultimately reduce the burden extended to ALL taxpayers. And, yes, get rid of high paying City Manager salary. She is laughing all the way to the bank, while we ponder her huge salary; she will retire before anything changes in her salary!!

  4. What are Chris Steele and the firefighters union even fighting about anymore? This seems so far afield from discussions about the union contract. It seems like they are carrying out some personal vendetta against Sheryl Sculley. Get to the bargaining table.

  5. If the SAPD and SAFD really wanted to “put San Antonio first”, they’d stop fighting tooth and nail to preserve ridiculous and untenable benefits levels that most people never get, and that the City can only support at the expense of other needs. While I respect the work they do for citizens, they chose their careers and shouldn’t expect to have the right to break the City bank – or our system of municipal government – just to benefit themselves.

  6. It is a personal vendetta. This is a bad idea. They are out of touch. This community supports our first responders, but this doesn’t help their image. This will just be wasted time and money to proceed with this referendum.

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