Fire Union President Cancels Appearance at Charter Amendment Debate

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San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele speaks during the scheduled press conference.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele wears a fake uniform while speaking during a press conference on Bexar County Democratic Party headquarters September 20.

San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele withdrew from a scheduled panel discussion Thursday night with Mayor Ron Nirenberg about three controversial proposed City charter amendments on the November ballot.

Christian Archer, campaign manager of the Go Vote No political action committee, speaks about Chris Steele cancelling the debate.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Christian Archer, campaign manager of the Go Vote No political action committee, speaks at Mayor Ron Nirenberg's campaign headquarters.

Christian Archer, campaign manager of the Go Vote No political action committee formed to defeat the ballot measures, told the Rivard Report that he received word from the event's organizers that Steele had canceled within hours of the scheduled start of the discussion, which was to take place at the University of Texas at San Antonio's Downtown Campus at 6:45 p.m.

Nirenberg subsequently canceled, according to UTSA's newsroom Twitter account.

"[This] really should upset every taxpayer in San Antonio because the impacts of these amendments that he's perpetrated – this fraud that he put on San Antonio taxpayers – would end up raising our taxes, lowering city services, and pitting neighborhoods against neighborhoods, and making our economic momentum come to a screeching halt," Nirenberg told reporters later at his campaign headquarters.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaks about Chris Steele cancelling the debate.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg appears at his campaign headquarters after a panel discussion scheduled with fire union President Chris Steele was canceled.

Steele, who typically avoids public appearances outside of union-organized events, agreed to participate in the panel more than a month ago, Archer said. But a post on the union's Facebook page Thursday night said the firefighters union never guaranteed its leader would take part.

After a press conference earlier Thursday at the Bexar County Democratic Party's headquarters, where he officially celebrated the party's endorsement of the propositions, Steele repeatedly refused to answer questions from reporters –including a question about whether he would attend the panel discussion – as he left the press conference and went to his vehicle.

The union leader also has refused about a dozen invitations from the City to start negotiating a new labor contract. Those invitations started in February 2014, before the current contract expired on Sept. 30, 2014.

After Steele pulled out Thursday evening, the firefighters union's Vote YES campaign proposed sending Reinette King, one of its leaders, in Steele's place, but Archer said the town hall-style event, hosted by the San Antonio Express-News and UTSA, could not take place without Steele.

"We agreed to meet and to do it with Chris Steele, because he's the one that started these terrible propositions," Archer said.

King is a health consultant and former Zoning Commission member who ran for the City Council District 10 seat in 2017.

"Reinette was among the core group of community stakeholders who came up with these propositions," the union said in a statement released after Steele's withdrawal. "... Chief Christopher Steele made the decision [to cancel] late today after visiting with multiple stakeholders who helped design these propositions."

Reinette King speaks on behalf of San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele in the lobby of the Buena Vista St. Building at UTSA Downtown Campus.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Reinette King speaks on behalf of San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association President Chris Steele in the lobby of the Buena Vista St. Building at UTSA Downtown Campus.

When contacted for comment, Steele deferred to the union's statement.

On its Facebook page, the union said it never guaranteed Steele's participation. "We committed to [send] a participant from vote yes [sic]. She [King] was there and the mayor walked away. ... The mayor chose to cancel the event instead of being engaged with the constituents he serves."

Asked if he was aware that Steele never guaranteed his presence, Nirenberg said, "That is an absolute lie."

O. Ricardo Pimentel, the editorial page editor of the San Antonio Express-News, stated in an email that the event's sponsors canceled the discussion despite the willingness of King to participate because "the event deserved the panelists who originally agreed to appear."

The proposed charter amendments – Propositions A, B, and C on the ballot – would (A) make it easier for citizens to put proposed ordinances and financial decisions to a public vote, (B) limit future city managers’ salaries and tenure, and (C) force binding arbitration between the union and the City for a new labor contract.

The fire union initiated the propositions earlier this year, gathering enough petition signatures to place the items on the ballot, and are largely thought to be connected to the nonexistent contract negotiations between the union and City. A 10-year evergreen clause keeps the terms of the old labor agreement in place until 2024 or until a new one is reached.

The Go Vote No PAC, the mayor, many business leaders, and labor advocates say Prop A would allow special-interest groups to bombard City government with referenda and reverse Council decisions. Such policy uncertainty, they say, would threaten the City’s AAA bond rating and cost the city millions in increased interest payments.

After getting word of Steele's withdrawal from the event, Nirenberg tweeted:

 

37 thoughts on “Fire Union President Cancels Appearance at Charter Amendment Debate

  1. What a coward. Yes Local 624 this your guy charging into battle?! Like the bully at middle school when someone decides to fight he runs like a coward.
    Can you imagine if it was the City Manager that didn’t show up?!? She would be crucified. but you know what?! she has a way BIGGER pair than Chris “oh I didn’t know my ex wife was under my medical benefits” does! As Stone Cold Steve Austin would say, “Chris-You can talk about your Psalms and your John 3:16. Well Austin 3:16 says the Mayor just whooped your a**.”

      • “The union leader also has refused about a dozen invitations from the City to start negotiating a new labor contract. Those invitations started in February 2014, before the current contract expired on Sept. 30, 2014.”

        I’ll just leave this right here for you Lora. The City tried coming to the table 7 months before the contract expired when it was up for renewal, but this blowhard refused to join the City at the table then. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he ducked out of this event at the last minute.

        Take your blinders off.

        • The city didnt have to renew a contract with the evergreen clause, they were in the driver’s seat prior to expiration of contract – so, tell us, why did they renew it as it was? If you have a contract up for renewal and the contents benefit you, would you want to make changes? The city simply overlooked it! Kinda like obamacare, gotta pass it to find out what’s in it.

  2. In other news, Ted Cruz pulled out of tomorrow’s debate with Beto. Cruz said that he was sending the local president of the dogcatcher’s association to debate on his behalf. When asked his opinion, Union Boss Chris Steele called Beto a coward for not agreeing to debate the dogcatcher.

  3. The mayor’s comment is odd given he has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars losing to Steele in court both in challenging the charter amendments and in fighting the evergreen clause.

    • I may be mistaken but I believe the money raised to challenge the charter amendments has been raised/is being raised separately by the the Vote NO campaign and funded by local business leaders and direct donations specifically for this cause.

    • No, Bill. Chris Steele said himself said he would lie, and big surprise, here they are lying. UTSA and the Express News put on this event, and they were the ones who received the call from Steele’s party. Steele backed out last minute and tried to send someone in his place.

    • It’s reported correctly. The organizers canceled the event.
      But here is their statement just to be clear.

      EVENT CANCELED:
      “With regrets, we are canceling tonight’s Town Hall at the downtown UTSA campus on the city charter amendments on the November ballot. This is necessary because Chris Steele, who heads the San Antonio Firefighters Association, which has pushed the amendments, withdrew hours before the event. In reaction, Mayor Ron Nirenberg then withdrew. The Firefighters Association offered to send a substitute, District 10 City Council candidate Reinette King. However, the sponsors decided the event deserved the panelists who originally agreed to appear,” event organizers.

    • I was there, and spoke to the moderator who had no one to moderate. She said Steele called her at 5:05 PM to say he wasn’t coming. She called the mayor with the news and the mayor felt he had to cancel also without the advertised counter presenter. Should be no doubt who is responsible for stopping the show.

  4. Can we get more clarity of BCDP’s vote of support for the amendments? Who in the BCDP voted to support them? Were the precinct chairs part of the vote? The Executive committee?

    It’s a bit concerning that the BCDP would support an organization that is actively campaigning against Democratic candidates in multiple elections.

  5. Well I’m glad I didn’t haul all the way downtown to a canceled event. Those involved should give a thought to the voters who wanted to come out to hear both sides. It’s becoming even more of a circus…you want to fight do so among yourselves and leave the public out of it

  6. COWARD. This was Steele’s chance to set the record straight and provide the city with a definitive, clear vision of his proposals. I will admit I am biased toward VOTE NO, however, I have a very open mind and would have genuinely listened to what he had to say. I would have come to a conclusion not based on my own preferences, but off facts provided by both parties during this debate.

    This was his opportunity and he blew it because he’s a psycho on a power trip. What a disgrace!

  7. My husband and I DID drive all the way downtown for this town hall meeting because we wanted to hear from both sides. Who backs out at the very last minute like that, and without letting those who have signed up know about it???? Steele refused to answer questions from reporters??? What a coward. The Bexar County Democratic Party endorsed these propositions? That doesn’t sound right. Who in the Democratic party endorsed these propositions???? The whole thing sounds fishy. We want to support the fire fighters, of course, but the SA Firefighters Association is stepping into issues that they have no business stepping into and apparently their leader can’t take the heat. We’ve made up our minds now – we’re voting NO!!!

  8. This is speaking volumes that even the Democratic party is backing the vote YES! Amazing how such a conservative referendum is getting a thumbs up from a liberal party. Maybe we can all stand together afterall, for the REAL betterment of the public of this used to be great City. MSAGA!!!

    • Lora, the REAL betterment would be to vote NO on these absurd, dangerous amendments. This IS a great City with great leadership, and it is trying to be destroyed by a corrupt union thug who is a serial liar. This is all about him, not this City and certainly not the firefighters we all respect.

      • You are entitled to your opinion, as for myself and the Democratic party decision, we will be wearing hats that say MSAGA.
        Said many times before, Chris Steele is not the cause of this boondoggle, he is the effect! And we need to thank him for simply wanting to fight the “ever”green clause that dominoed into “ever”growing divide within the power makers of this city and its voters, which includes non incorporated city residents.

          • Don’t know where I miscommunicated, but yes, of course, you are 100% correct. I thought I had done an overwhelming job of this being all about fighting FOR, IN FAVOR OF, SAY YES, to keeping the evergreen clause. Sorry for my “ignorance” in your non ability to comprehend.

  9. Does Chris Steele have paralyzing stage fright? Was he drunk? Even if he didn’t make a cogent, fact-supported, convincing presentation, he could have slung mud for an hour to the cheers of his supporters.
    I don’t get why he didn’t show up.
    Needless to say, I have lost respect for the fire union’s side in this debate.

    • He didn’t show up because he didn’t have to. The people who support him support him because of his association with the almighty “first responders”. He is an embarrassment to the union and to the fire department. He needs to take several seats and take his charter amendments and power trip with him.

  10. Neither side is blameless when it comes to the negotiation quagmire, but I hope Steele’s last-minute, cowardly decision to distance himself from Vote Yes even though that risky game was his baby, reflects that at least enough members of the Fire Firefighters Union recognize how badly this whole fiasco depletes their moral authority among San Antonio citizens, which weakens their claims when it comes to the most important issues in their contract. I don’t have a problem with each side being tough negotiators, as long as it’s in good faith. So I think the score is even, now, with both sides gaining and losing with with their game- playing. Let’s get down to business. And let’s not forget that the extremely generous evergreen clause had its roots in political games as well. It’s time we kept negotiations clean, unlinking them from the influence the public safety unions can have on the outcome of elections that political officials have tied their legacies to. Firefighters and police officers, wouldn’t it feel nice to be liberated from obligations to deliver votes for candidates or issues… even possibly conflicting with your own best judgment on what’s right for you, your family, or the city? Just MHO.

  11. What many conveniently forget is that this fight began five years ago by the City suing the union and losing twice in court!
    Nirenberg and his puppet masters from the Chamber of Commerce are the ones afraid to discuss the issues.
    Steele offered to send a delegate, and Nirenberg backed off.
    WE NEED FIREFIGHTERS,
    NOT CORPORATE OWNED POLITICIANS!

  12. So, we like having a AAA bond rating?
    Worst schools in Texas (and USA).
    Most uninsured children in the world.
    Lowest numbers of voters in the USA.
    Fattest & sickest people in the country.
    Most dead babies at birth.
    Worst traffic in Tx & US.
    Among the most drunks on the roads & most drug-infested citizens in Tx.

    But a AAA bond rating A+???? SO WHAT???? Big banks love us? SOOOOOOOO????!?
    WE NEED A CHANGE OF LEADERSHIP & GOALS!!!!!

    • The AAA bond rating effects us locally in San Antonio. You bring up a lot of issues that are valid. However, they are mostly up to TX state government or US government, not necessarily our local SA government.

  13. The health statistics will shift as more and more people move here due to simple dilution. Hopefully, healthier habits and cultures will influence here. Government can’t force people to stop drinking soda, eating poorly, having babies at 15.
    “Worst traffic in Texas” depends on exactly what your commute is. Many commutes aren’t bad at all. If you bought out there in Alamo Ranch and Potranco, yes, it’s bad. But that was predictable and easily known if one had just spent a little time thinking about how many houses vs roads are out there. No brainer. No one HAS to buy out there. They can choose that commute or choose otherwise. Same for Stone Oak. Don’t like it? Buy elsewhere. There are good schools in several places in the metro. And, it’s way better than Austin traffic.
    ONLY major city in Texas with no toll roads anywhere. Zero.
    Our flood control, Houston will never catch up, and they were foolish not to build bi-level freeways like San Antonio has when freeways drop below ground level. About 100 years of flood control efforts under our belt, and efforts still continue. Since 2005, several low water crossing bridges have been built easing traffic significantly in many areas during rainy times.
    #1 city in the world for urban water recycling.
    #1 city in the world transplanting kidneys.
    Major center for medical research and training in Texas and USA.
    One of the first ten cities in USA to officially come out of the Great Recession
    One of the better diversified city economies in the nation.
    Our linear city parks and River Walk are the envy of cities around the world and they try to copy us. Many of these were built out in the last several years.
    UNESCO World Heritage site. The only site in Texas and one of only 10 cultural UNESCO sites in the USA.
    Some of the best employment statistics in the nation, for several years.

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