Fire Union President Distances Himself From Proposition Fight

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Attorney David Van Os responds to reporters questions directed at Chris Steele during a press conference at the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters headquarters.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Attorney David Van Os responds to reporters' questions directed at Chris Steele during a press conference at the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association headquarters.

San Antonio firefighters union President Chris Steele stood silent and stone-faced Thursday as journalists hurled questions at him about a recent leaked recording that captured him outlining the union's political plans behind the three propositions voters will see on the November ballot.

In the recording, Steele says they are aimed at securing a new contract by the end of the year and getting "our own guy," Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), into the mayor's seat. Before he was elected to City Council, Brockhouse worked as a political consultant for both the police and fire unions.

Instead of answering reporters' questions, Reinette King and David Van Os, spokespeople for the San Antonio First campaign, attempted to steer the press conference toward their willingness to inform the public and debate the issues ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Steele canceled his appearance at a "town hall" debate with Mayor Ron Nirenberg and others at UTSA Downtown Campus last month and sent King in his place. He claims he never promised his attendance, which organizers with UTSA and the San Antonio Express-News refuted. Steele declined to answer questions about a live debate slated for Wednesday night on KSAT 12.

"This is not about Chris Steele, this is about the citizens," King said. "I'm really sad that the mayor has made this about personalities. It's not about personalities. This is about issues that the citizens of San Antonio care very much about. If you believe that you have not been listened to ... then vote yes."

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Reinette King

The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association paid a petition consultant firm out of Buda $510,000 to collect most of the signatures required to get three City Charter changes on the ballot to (A) expand the scope of future ballot referenda and lower the threshold for signatures for them, (B) limit the tenure and pay of future city managers, and (C) force binding arbitration on labor contract negotiations between the City and union.

Steele has led every press conference since launching the San Antonio First initiative and hand-delivered the petitions with fellow union and consultant representatives to the city clerk in April.

"If the media feels that a debate is necessary for the citizens, they should probably allow the politicians to continue to do that. But what we offer is a talk about he facts, about the issues, and we will always send a representative to do that," Steele said.

San Antonio Fire Fighter Association President Chris Steele.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Fire union President Chris Steele (center) stands near television camera operators before the press conference.

When the press conference concluded, Steele was rushed out of a back door while journalists followed to ask more questions. Office staff blocked photographers and reporters from following them.

"Every time Mayor Ron Nirenberg opens his mouth about these issues, he hurls insults," said Van Os, a "lifelong Democrat" and attorney who represented the union in a 2005 lawsuit. "He demonizes this good man [Steele] ... who is working as hard as he can to represent the will of his members. And when he does that, he's demonizing all these good union members."

Nirenberg has called Steele a "fraud" and accused him of launching the petitions to satisfy his own want for power. The mayor has led rallies that focused on the fiscal and political impacts of Propositions A, B, and C and has emphasized that voting no is not a vote against firefighters. The City Charter amendments would lead to higher interest rates for municipal bonds that would decrease funds for critical infrastructure projects and increase taxes, he has said.

"This has always been a con job perpetrated by Chris Steele," said Christian Archer, campaign manager for the Go Vote No/Secure San Antonio's Future political action committee.

The con started when Steele paid an out-of-own consultant more than $500,000 to send people out to "pretend to be firefighters" and mislead citizens into signing the petitions, Archer said. "He's like the dog that caught the car. The election is right around the corner, and he's running from the propositions, running from the people, and now running from the press."

The Go Vote No campaign is not focusing its efforts on "demonizing" Steele, Archer said. "[It is about] educating voters about how devastating these [propositions] would be if they pass. But at the same time, there's a credibility question.

"There are business leaders and community leaders from across the city saying, 'Here are all the reasons why you should vote no.' When you turn around and ask why people should vote yes, Chris Steele fails," Archer said. "Why can't he answer that question?"

The propositions, Van Os and King said, are about giving the people of San Antonio a stronger voice at City Hall. But that seems to run counter to the 49-second recording Archer gave media outlets Wednesday. He says a firefighter recorded the full meeting and leaked it to the Go Vote No campaign.

"Now we have tapes," he said. "If Chris Steele wants to continue to hide, have no fear – there are firefighters willing to release tapes of him."

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 about Chris Steele canceling the debate at Mayor Ron Nirenberg's campaign headquarters.

On Wednesday, Brockhouse called the unidentified firefighter a "coward" and said the audio clip was likely taken out of context.

Brockhouse's history as a paid consultant for the police and fire unions as well as his mayoral aspirations have been well known for years.

“We have seen an extreme lack of leadership in the Mayor’s office over the years,” a Wednesday statement from the fire union reads. “In Greg [Brockhouse], we see someone who listens to the people, someone who won’t be owned by the city manager and/or special interests.”

14 thoughts on “Fire Union President Distances Himself From Proposition Fight

  1. Dude- this civil servant is BOLD! Fire Chief Hood , how can this civil servant still be on city (fire public servant) payroll? I read in SAEN that you disciplined him for “Fake Uniform”; So, are you able to TERMINATE his position?
    I, as a informed voter/ tax paying citizen of COSA will not have a Public Safety union (whatever # of active FF’s) dictate charter amendments!!
    Let Evergreen clause run (4 of 10 years, now) then start Fresh. Is there such a thing as County Fire Department ( eliminate City Fire Department)?

  2. It’s clear from the recording that the charter amendments represent a power grab by Chris Steele and have nothing to do with improving our city or helping firefighters. If these propositions pass, we will pay more in taxes and receive less in city services. The amendments would increase the number of years between capital improvement bonds, and tie our hands when hiring the next city manager. And, the low threshold for creating referenda would be abused by zealots to want to roll back the progress our city has made in the last few years. But Chris Steele doesn’t live in the City of San Antonio, so I guess it doesn’t matter to him if we have to suffer because of his ruthlessness.

  3. The Mayor is actively campaigning to DECREASE citizen’s voice at City Hall. Think about that. Forget this Steel character or anything else. Remember this in May- Ron has to go.

    • Nope. Wrong. If this amendment doesn’t pass, nothing changes. The status quo that the firefighters union had to meet to get these amendments on the ballot in the first place would remain.

      • Andy – What is the status quo for a proposition to modify the charter? 20,000 signatures. That’s what the Union got.

        What is the status quo for a proposition to challenge a CoSA ordinance? About 70,000 signatures, or 10% of voters. That’s what Prop A is about.

        What does Texas statute 174.053 say about petitions for collective bargaining for the Fire Union: the lesser of 20,000 or 5% of voters. In CoSA, that would be 20k. Note that it says the “lesser”, or a lower threshold for voter action, not a higher one.

        10%, or 70k, is too high and is inconsistent with other rules.

        20k, or what Prop A asks for, would make those numbers align.

  4. Steele and the firefighters union are but ONE issue. We are voting on 3 items that have to do with “we the people”. Two of those give us the right to have a voice, which as many present-day issues have shown, we have not been heard. Do not let this issue with Chris Steele cloud your vision. I am also appalled the “tape” and the views above have tried to besmirch the reputation of Greg Brockhouse. It is NOT his voice! VOTE YES. Call me sceptical when the City Council (of whom these votes will take away some of their almighty power) and this publication push their NO agenda. I have never seen public governance so strongly telling the public how to vote!

  5. With this propositions elections we have an opportunity to redistribution power back to the San Antonio citizens. The millionaires funding the vote no campaign will have their puppet fear monger, bad mouth, countinue their misinformation campaign to confuse the issue. I will Vote YES because we the people need more of a voice in our government. #GoVoteYES

  6. By all means, vote for these propositions if you want to bring California-style referendum nonsense to San Antonio and make this city broke and ungovernable. Let’s ensure we can’t ever get a decent city manager and that public-sector unions continue to get unsupportable benefits. And let’s make taxpayers pay for all of this. By all means, let’s do all the above, if you want to experience living in a place like Detroit without actually having to move there. Chris Steele and Greg Brockhouse are power-hungry halfwits and these propositions are idiotic.

  7. I’m voting Yes on A, and No on B & C.

    The current 70,000 signature threshold is too high in voter-apathetic San Antonio. Under that criteria, it would take nearly 130% of the mayor’s supporters to even put an issue on the ballot to see if the public agreed/disagreed. Nirenberg was elected with 54,000 votes, but you need 70k to even get an item on the ballot? Does that make sense?

    San Antonio voters should have an option to reverse bad policy by the Council with an achievable threshold – and in this climate, 10% is too high.

    The cost for SAWS sewer program has exploded by over 40% and $400 million, up from $1.1 billion in 2017 to an estimated $1.5 billion in 2018. Did the mayor & SAWS board member mention this to the public? Your sewer bills have gone up over 100% in the past 10 years – does SAWS tell you this, or do they persistently misrepresent it?

    Sewer has an 8% rate increase this year, but SAWS – and the mayor – says 3.7%. Read the ordinance, not SAWS slides.

    Water supply rates to pay for Vista Ridge will go up between 40-50% in 2020, but SAWS claims it’s only a 9% increase by misrepresenting the impact. The media, to include Rivard Report, does not report this, but does repeat SAWS’ talking points with almost no analysis.

    That’s why I’m voting yes on A – because the current power structure in CoSA is happy with apathetic voters that are not able to affect policy due to the excessive burdens to entry.

    A Yes vote on A is not a vote for the union. If I could vote to disband collective bargaining for them, I’d do that too.

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