Graham Watson-Ringo / Rivard Report
Eight days before Election Day, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and four of his predecessors urged voters to reject three proposed charter amendments on the midterm election ballot.
Nirenberg and former mayors Julián Castro, Phil Hardberger, Henry Cisneros, and Ed Garza asked San Antonians on Monday to vote no on the three propositions at the bottom of the ballot. Former mayor Lila Cockrell joined the others in an advertisement for the Go Vote No campaign, but did not attend the press conference.
The mayors held the press conference in response to an advertisement from the Vote Yes campaign that claims that the City has raised property taxes in the past six years. In support of propositions A, B, and C on the ballot, the campaign argues in the ad that passage of the measures would make it harder to raise taxes.
San Antonio hasn’t raised property taxes in 25 years, and property values are set by the Bexar County Appraisal District. The City Council has also approved lowering the City's property tax rate four times during City Manager Sheryl Sculley's tenure. Nirenberg criticized the Vote Yes campaign for what he said was spreading false information.
“The San Antonio First campaign has been loose, to say the least, with facts,” Nirenberg said. “And it has been doing so because the facts aren’t on their side. Their M.O. is to incite anger and misdirect it towards the City and in a deceptive attempt to get people to change the way the city functions to the favor of special interests.”
Fire union spokesman Fred Johnson dismissed the criticism as "semantics."
"We’re not even going to comment on that," he said. "We’re not going to muddy the water or debate semantics. We’re just going to let the voters, the citizens of San Antonio decide at the polls."
Proposition A decreases the number of signatures needed to put new City rules on the ballot from 10 percent of registered voters, which is roughly 70,000 people, to exactly 20,000 signatures. Proposition B limits the tenure and compensation for future city managers, while Proposition C would allow the firefighters union to declare an impasse in contract negotiations with the City and force binding arbitration for a labor contract. (Read more about the propositions and what they do here.)
Nirenberg said he understands why the proposed charter amendments could sound good to voters, especially the idea of making it easier to put more things on the ballot.
“There's no doubt that their message is seductive, and it’s intended to fool people into believing they will have more of a voice if we lower threshold for petition referenda,” Nirenberg said.
The Vote Yes campaign also released a statement following Monday's press conference, saying the gathering showed how City Hall benefits only a "handful of people like these former mayors."
"These propositions are about the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are paying higher taxes and utility rates every year," the statement read. "It is hardly news that people in power want to remain in power. These propositions rein in City Hall and end insider backroom deals and they are afraid of that."
Cisneros, who served as mayor from 1981 to 1989 and was the secretary of Housing and Development under President Bill Clinton, said passing Propositions A, B, and C would threaten San Antonio’s success and ranking as third-best in the nation for job creation in the last 10 years.
“To threaten that [success] with the instability these amendments would imply is very dangerous thing,” Cisneros said.
Cisneros said he respects firefighters, as they hold one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, but that they are already treated well in San Antonio, with an average salary of $145,000 including benefits and overtime. He also argued that no reasonable business owner would put a cap on an employee’s salary or tenure, and doing so on San Antonio’s city manager position would hurt the City’s economic future. Cisneros implored voters to use common sense and not vote out of anger.
“Acting out of pique to do permanent damage to the city is the wrong instinct,” Cisneros said. “Don’t let other matters distract you. These will do permanent damage to the city. Vote no.”
Hardberger, who served as mayor from 2005 to 2009, said he’s seen mayors work with San Antonio’s residents to move the city forward. He encouraged people to keep sharing reasons to vote against the proposition with others in their lives.
“Go vote no if you haven’t,” Hardberger said. “And if you have, talk to your neighbors. It’ll be close, but dramatic fights are always close, and this is when you’ll see what San Antonians are made of.”
As of Sunday, 218,418 people in Bexar County had cast their ballots during early voting. Early voting continues through Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.