Fire Union’s Chris Steele Outlines City Hall Power Play in Leaked Recording

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Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks with members of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association when the petitions to the city charter were delivered in April.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks with members of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association when petitions to amend the City charter were delivered in April.

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.

31 thoughts on “Fire Union’s Chris Steele Outlines City Hall Power Play in Leaked Recording

  1. Chris Steele is crooked as a dog’s hind leg and Brockhouse is more of the same. Together they would do far more harm to the city than good.

  2. The city is scared. The “no” vote tactics aren’t fooling anyone. Think about it- they city is literally campaigning against MORE democracy, MORE citizen involvement, MORE bang for our buck. I know what the roots of this fight are, but you are joking me if you think that citizens should have LESS power at City Council.

    I will vote yes on all 3.

  3. I will vote “no” on the 3 propositions because they will not benefit our city. I would also like to know how much money each firefighter pays in union dues. If the union can afford all this expensive propaganda being used to get their way, the union should maybe change their status to a PAC.

  4. Requiring fewer numbers of signatures on petitions and allowing referenda as they do in Austin and many other cities seems reasonable to me, but I’m not a political scientist. City manager term limits seems like a bald-faced effort to get rid of Sculley, one of the few people in the city who has had the courage to oppose the two unions that would otherwise run the city and drive it into bankruptcy. The other one clearly serves the union, very likely to the detriment of the city. It would be a nice journalistic touch if articles about the propositions included the propositions. Not safe to assume that everyone knows what they are.

    • I completely agree a journalistic approach to expand on the propositions would provide more clarity on these propositions. However, true leader who is impassioned about the beliefs and principals of the propositions would have confidently participated in the debate if it’s really about “the people”. And Mr. Brockhouse, I take offense to your name calling a firefighter a coward. Cowardice is not the trait of any firefighter unless one does not show up to debate.

  5. Vote no , Brockhouse is corrupted and sneaky. No no no ..I said no no no. We will not mirror our federal government with lies. Vote no

  6. Our elected leaders should be protecting us from “special interests” that are running this city, but that job has been left to the Firefighters. Nirenberg can sure talk- but he is ‘dead from the neck up’ – when it comes to critical thinking. He will say anything, much like New Braunfels resident, Christian Archer. Brockhouse will have an uphill battle next May, hopefully, the Powers that Be, will be broke from their current fight against the people.

  7. I just can’t understand how The city manager influence how much interest we pay when we borrow money to my opinion she is over pay regardless of how good of a job she is doing. She was hired to do a good job and we expect no less

    • The good news is that you don’t have to understand bond ratings or consider how certain budget actions will affect those bond ratings. You can elect a representative who will sit in all the meetings to understand the tradeoffs involved with each decision, and use their good judgment.

      There is no reason to expect average citizens will be able to do this wisely based on individual ballot initiatives, when they are voting on a one or two sentence description of a given issue.

  8. C’mon San Antonio, don’t fall for Steele’s crap. Sheryl is the only one that had the lady cajones to fix this old sweetheart deal. She’s not anti SAFD OR SAPD. Its about doing whats right for our city. And please get over her salary. NON STORY. Look at what she’s done since she’s been here. Compare her salary to other large city CEOS and add the thought that shes been here since 2005! How many of you are earning what you made in 2005?!? She’s the Mother F’ng CEO of over 12000 employees! If you’re not going to limit Paula at CPS or Puente at SAWS then fng get over it!!!!

      • I assume that you’re referencing the Wallet Hub survey and that you did not read the entire list or the methodology used. 95 of the 98 cities listed before SA are *significantly* smaller than our population (e.g. Nampa, Indiana, population 91k was ranked #1). Additionally, a substantial portion of the ranking is based on “Health” metrics such as the infant mortality rate and life expectancy. You can blame both of those poor indicators on the state legislature – not Sculley.

  9. More fear mongering tactics by the vote no side and the mayor. What a lame news story. I agree the vote no side is campaigning for less citizen involvement. Where is the democracy in that?

  10. Told the wife, if those charter amendments are approved by voters, time to sell and move out of COSA.
    Keep reading people believing that Prop A equates more participation from citizens; Yeah.. ask your neighbor from California how that is working. Besides, I prefer the 5-10% of informed voters deciding the Future.

    • Mayor Nirenberg was elected with only 7% of registered voters.

      If 70,000 signatures are required to change a rule (~10%), shouldn’t we expect our politicians to get at least that many to get elected?

      Mayor Nirenberg got 4.8% in the first election – and that was good enough for second place although it was lower than Ivy Taylor @ 5.1%. And he got only 7.1%, or 54,010, in the runoff.

      If 70,000 is a reasonable number of voters to enact policy, then should we even have a mayor?

    • I am totally disgusted that you “told the wife”! Ugh, that she should have a mind for herself! Maybe after the Kavanaugh hearings, she might stop to think for herself?

  11. Again the Vote No machine ignores the facts. They have yet to explain how the proposed amendments will cause us harm. They ignore the fact that leaving our city under the control of corporate greed is what is causing gentrification, unequal public education, cheap wages and growing poverty.
    SAN ANTONIO NEEDS WELL COMPENSATED FIREFIGHTERS, NOT SCULLEY!

    • Typical rhetoric of someone on the firefighter’s payroll. The facts have been stated over and over and over again. You’ve commented on most of the articles so I know you’re reading them.

  12. Apparently the “YES” campaign likes the idea that 3% of the citizens can control the pricing of city utilities and ignore the downside of their ” the citizens say”. Do they believe that City Improvements are free? One firefighter actually told me that they balance their checkbook and the city should be able to do the same. That is tea-party gibberish.
    They ignore the fact that the cost of selling bonds for City Projects will be increased, aka the cost of projects will increase. They also ignore or accept the fact that increasing costs will be a burden on all citizens in this City.

    Firefighters are well compensated, no one is arguing that they should be paid less, but the City carrying the burden of their family members healthcare insurance is above and beyond even the Police Union Contract.

    It will be interesting to read their fiscal impact statements that are required to be printed before the election? Will they claim that a lower compensated City Manager will cover all the new costs that their agenda will impose on the City.

    Many remember the craziness of the 90’s when the City suffered from the crazies. Most don’t want to return to that misadventure. Apparently those who are pushing that agenda want to move backwards, not forward. I disagree with the Yes Agenda.

    • We already suffer the crazies now, this Council is something out of San Francisco and not representative of the good people of Texas. The Mayor is from PA, why can’t we elect a native who understands the culture?

  13. A very handsome salary at SAFD….$181K+ without fighting life threatening fires.
    All health insurance fully paid by SAFD for employees and all family members.
    The City of San Antonio can do bad all on its own. Vote NO.

    • and free legal representation for divorces and other personal reasons, and free college degrees so that they can bump up their salaries and…..

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