Edward A. Ornelas for the Rivard Report
More than 10,000 San Antonians listened via telephone to the citywide "tele-town hall" on three proposed City charter amendments Wednesday evening, according to organizers with the Go Vote No campaign.
A panel of six advocates opposed to the amendments, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, answered about a dozen questions from callers and additional questions posted on a Facebook Live feed on Nirenberg's profile regarding the three propositions San Antonio voters will see at the bottom of their midterm election ballots.
Nirenberg and former Mayor Henry Cisneros, philanthropist Gordon Hartman, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, former Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association President Brian Dillard, and public relations expert Trish DeBerry took turns condemning the propositions backed by the firefighters union.
Christian Archer, the campaign manager for Go Vote No, said automated calls were made in batches of 35,000 at a time to collect listeners, who dialed in to ask questions throughout the hour-long event. At its peak, 10,000 listeners were listening at the same time.
The goal of the town hall was to "separate fact from fiction" in what has become a passionate debate, DeBerry said, and discuss the possible impacts the propositions would have if they are approved by voters on Nov. 6. Early voting starts on Monday, Oct. 22.
The propositions aim to A) expand the scope of what City Council decisions can be challenged with a public vote and make it easier to get referenda on ballots , B) limit the term and compensation of future city managers, and C) allow the the firefighters union sole authority to call an impasse in labor negotiations that would allow binding arbitration for their contract with the City.
Union leaders have said Prop A is about giving voters a stronger voice at City Hall, Prop B is to reign in public spending and the power of the city manager, and Prop C is aimed at resolving its four-year contract stalemate.
A better labor deal that disregards the City's financial capabilities is what the union really wants, Nirenberg said, and the other propositions will simply be used as leverage to weaken the City and further the union's power.
"We live in a representative democracy," Cisneros said, so voters elect their Council members and when they don't like what they're doing, they can vote them out.
Lowering the threshold for referenda will lead to a "constant flurry" of petition drives and ballot items proposed by special interests, he said. "[Prop A is] an opportunity for chaos. ... It takes away the democracy that we’ve got."
That instability, Saucedo-Herrera said, will drive companies and talent away from San Antonio while causing tax increases and reductions in City services because such amendments would threaten the City's AAA bond rating. Fitch and Standard & Poor's, two of the three major credit rating agencies, sent letters to the City earlier this summer saying just that, Nirenberg said.
"It's in black and white," he said. "We will be downgraded," and it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in increased interest payments.
Advocates for the proposed charter amendments have said those threats are exaggerated and it will be up to the City Council to better sell its funding requests and projects to the public before approving them.
"This is another part of the convoluted argument City Manager Sheryl Sculley and the Mayor are trying to make, that the propositions will cause your taxes to go up," the campaign's website states. "They don’t want you to have a greater say in how the city should be run, so they’re using scare tactics to try to confuse you."