Scott Ball / Rivard Report
San Antonio firefighters union President Chris Steele told firefighters that his goal is to secure a labor contract and make Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) the next mayor of San Antonio, according to an audio recording shared Wednesday by the campaign to defeat three union-backed ballot propositions.
In the recording the Go Vote No campaign said was made by an unidentified firefighter, Steele says he wants to "put our own guy in the mayor’s office, which would be Greg Brockhouse in the mayor’s office.”
The 49-second recording was given to the Secure San Antonio's Future (SSAF) political action committee by a firefighter, said Christian Archer, who is managing SSAF's Go Vote No campaign.
"He or she is a coward," Brockhouse said of the unidentified firefighter. "The cowards are out in full force.
"That [is 49] seconds of what probably was a half-hour conversation," he added. "And the fact that firefighters would want to see me as mayor, is that really breaking news?”
Brockhouse said he plans to run for mayor "when the time is right" but stopped short of saying when he will formally announce his intentions. Before he was elected to represent District 6, Brockhouse worked as a political consultant for both the police and fire unions.
Archer declined to provide the identity of the firefighter who made the recording, and it was not clear when or where it was made. Although the Rivard Report was not able to independently verify the recording, it seems to be authentic; the person speaking on the recording sounds like Steele.
Steele could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
The portion of the recording provided to the Rivard Report is part of a longer recording, Archer said. He declined to provide further details but added "more is coming."
Following a petition drive, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association got three propositions to amend the City charter placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. The propositions would (A) expand the scope of future ballot referenda and lower the threshold for signatures on future ballot petitions, (B) limit the tenure and pay of future city managers, and (C) force binding arbitration on labor contract negotiations between the City and union.
“This is what’s going on – it’s really a campaign tactic, but it’s also a lobbying tactic to get City Council to back up in three things," Steele said in the recording. He does not specifically mention the San Antonio First campaign and the associated ballot propositions, but he appears to be referring to the long-term goals of that campaign.
"Everything we’re doing here, the strategic objective, is to get us a contract within the next year," the recording continues. "The tactical objective is to get the city to drop the lawsuit. Get the city to negotiate fairly because at the end of this when we go to the table, they can do like they did in mediation — they can just jack us around. … The third thing is setting it up to where May of 2019 we can put our own guy in the mayor’s office, which would be Greg Brockhouse in the mayor’s office.”
Steele has said that the San Antonio First campaign was launched to give the people of San Antonio a stronger voice. The recording – or at least the portion of the recording shared by the Go Vote No campaign – implies that the long-term goal of the proposed charter amendments is securing a favorable contract with the City and amassing political power. Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other business and community leaders have maintained those are the firefighters union's goals in speeches, public appearances, and campaign advertisements.
"We have always known that these propositions are about Chris Steele. They are not about the people of San Antonio,” Nirenberg said in an email. “They are the product of Chris Steele’s obsessive hunger for power, and now he has been exposed by his own words. ... I intend to remain focused on protecting the people of San Antonio and defeating the special interest propositions in November."
The brief recording contains no context, Brockhouse said, for what was discussed before and after Steele's comments.
"I don’t see how [the recording] negates the fact that people get to petition and the people get to vote," Brockhouse said.
The fire union released a statement that echoed Brockhouse's comments.
"We have seen an extreme lack of leadership in the Mayor's office over the years," the statement 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."
The clip is from an "hour long presentation" that was given about how "community groups asked us to do these petitions and how Greg standing for what is right and stepping out front could propel him to the mayor's seat and allow us to move past the city's refusal to fairly bargain."
Texas is a "one-party consent" state, meaning that it is legal to record a conversation as long as one person involved consents to the recording, according to State law. However, it's unclear how the recording was obtained.
The fire union has refused to start negotiations with the City on a new contract. The City filed and lost is lawsuit challenging the previous contract’s evergreen clause, which keeps the terms in place for 10 years until a new agreement is met.