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San Antonio Latinas have organized to campaign against the firefighter union’s proposed City charter amendments, saying they would undermine the City government’s effectiveness if passed.
Members of the self-proclaimed “100+ Latinas” held a press conference Friday at Milam Park. The group includes local leaders in government, business, education, law, health care, and community advocacy, including former City Councilwomen Maria Berriozábal and Mary Alice Cisneros, activist Rosie Castro, educator Ellen Riojas Clark, artist Ruby Nelda Perez, and Juany Torres, former advisor to Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
Berriozábal said the coalition is made up of “independent thinkers who love our city, and we are saying ‘no.’”
“We are mothers, grandmothers, spouses, daughters, sisters, aunts, and in these roles, we are an integral part of our community and we are leaders,” she said.
Berriozábal said solutions to local challenges come only through developing working relationships and collaborating within the established City government system and representative democracy.
“We take seriously our responsibility as citizens, and we do not want to support shortcuts that hurt our community,” she added.
If approved, Proposition A would relax requirements for and expand the scope of future ballot initiatives aimed at challenging City Council decisions; Proposition B would limit future city managers’ term to eight years and pay to no more than 10 times the lowest-paid full-time City employee’s compensation; and Proposition C would allow the fire union to force binding arbitration with the City for a new labor contract.
Carolina Canizales, a representative of the SA Stands coalition, said reducing the number of petition signatures needed to get a referendum on the ballot from 70,000 to 20,000, as proposed in Prop A, is problematic.
She said an even smaller number of residents focusing on one single issue, such as potentially overturning a City ordinance, is not representative of the local population.
“Twenty-thousand signatures does not represent the majority of San Antonio,” she said. “Twenty-thousand people is just an easy number to obtain without having a meaningful conversation with the majority of our community members about any ordinance in question.”
Canizales said she fears approving Prop A would encourage special interest groups to seek to overturn ordinances pushed by grassroots groups, such as the paid sick leave and free speech permitting ordinances.
“These efforts did what they were supposed to – [groups] organized and talked to more than 120,000 people, and that’s why they became a reality,” she added.
Olivia Travieso, partner in local consulting firm OCI Group, said the fire union’s proposal to reduce the city manager’s salary and tenure could spark political turbulence, leading to a lower bond rating and a downturn in investment in the city.
As a result, Travieso added, funding for City services and infrastructure projects could be jeopardized.
“We are putting that at risk by hindering our ability to attract top talent from across the country to our community for the [city manager] position,” she said.
Travieso said while a successful Prop B would not affect current City Manager Sheryl Sculley, it would apply to future city managers.
“Regardless of how you feel about that current person in that current role, it does affect our future and our ability to provide for our city and maintain our position as a national leader for years to come,” she added.
Barbara Aguirre, community and union organizer, said opposition to the three propositions does not mean opposition to firefighters and their work. But there is a better way to address the issues the fire union has raised, she said.
“Democracy will be the biggest loser should these amendments pass,” Aguirre said. “Democracy is about negotiation and compromise, yet the democratic process here has been abandoned. Instead, a petition drive was initiated to fundamentally reshape the City charter.”
Aguirre said if the City were to go to arbitration, it would be forced to cut funding for services and find other ways to raise revenue. She also said the union’s propositions represent a grudge against City leadership due to its years-long battle over its labor contract.
“Stop putting revenge over fairness and justice,” she implored.
After the press conference, Castro told the Rivard Report the proposed charter amendments have created confusion, adding that they threaten the effectiveness of the administration overseeing the nation’s seventh largest city that continues to grow.
San Antonio needs “to be run efficiently,” she said. “These propositions really harm that ability by trying to put limits on our city manager.”
Castro continued: “I think sometimes people forget how large we are. We think of ourselves as a community, but a very large community, and we cannot afford to have the City poorly run.”