Leaked Recording Reveals 5 City Council Members Steele Believed Supported the Fire Union

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City Council members (from left) Ana Sandoval, Manny Pelaez and Shirley Gonzalez address comments from Fire Union President Chris Steele.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

City Council members (from left) Ana Sandoval, Manny Pelaez and Shirley Gonzalez address comments from Fire Union President Chris Steele.

San Antonio firefighters union President Chris Steele told firefighters he had "five solid votes" on City Council that would support the union, according to a second leaked recording released on Tuesday.

In the recording, Steele names five City Council members he believes would be in support of dropping a lawsuit the City filed against the 10-year evergreen clause in the union's current contract or a labor contract between the City and the union that favors firefighters.

"We got five solid votes now. Five solid: Greg Brockhouse in [district] 6 — he's heading that up; Ana Sandoval in 7, Manny Pelaez in 8, Clayton Perry in 10 and Shirley Gonzales in 5. We're solid," Steele said in the recording. "[City Manager Sheryl] Sculley can't even make a dent in them at this point. So we're in a better position than we have been in many years. But we don't have six, though."

There are 11 members of City Council, including the mayor. Six votes would have given the fire union the majority.

Steele did not respond for a request for comment.

This is the second leaked recording created by an unidentified firefighter and given to the Go Vote No Campaign, an advocacy group against the fire union's three proposed charter amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Steele also declined to comment on the first recording, which outlined the union's political plans.

Three of those five City Council members – Sandoval, Gonzales, and Pelaez – attended a press conference Tuesday to clarify that they are not beholden to the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association. Brockhouse and Perry did not attend.

"Nobody owns my vote," Pelaez said at the Go Vote No campaign headquarters. "You know who owns my vote? The people who elected me."

Sandoval and Gonzales echoed Palaez's comments and reiterated that they do not support the proposed city charter changes.

Pelaez and Gonzales have received campaign endorsements from the fire union.

The recording, according to Christian Archer, who is managing the Secure San Antonio's Future/Go Vote No campaign, was captured in a firehouse in November or December of last year – before Steele launched the San Antonio First campaign, which now also goes by Approved By Citizens. Around this time, the City's appeal of its loss at a lower court was awaiting a hearing by the Texas Supreme Court. The court asked for briefs regarding the case in December 2017.

"The city is probably not gonna agree and I hoped they wouldn't ... is not going to agree to an arbitrator because everything they have said has been a lie and the arbitrator is gonna see that the city has money and the city had no business filing the lawsuit, that the insurance is great the way it is.  They're going to see it all," Steele said. "So the city for their advantage they don't want uh... arbitration but we gonna have Council on our side."

Archer said he does not have access to the full recording of the meeting. "The clips that you have are the same sent to me," he told reporters, and he has not edited them.

Pelaez, Gonzales, and Sandoval said they support firefighters and contract negotiations, but that these city charter changes to A) relax and broaden rules for referendum, B) limit the compensation and tenure of future city managers, and C) allow the union to force the city into binding arbitration for contract negotiations are bad for the city.

"I've been on record calling for the City to drop the lawsuit ... this isn't new," Brockhouse told the Rivard Report in a phone interview Tuesday. As for the other Council members listed, he added, "the union misread who was with them and who wasn't. ... Nobody is saying [the union] 'owned' anything. What's in there is: them assuming these [Council members] are with us. Turns out they weren't. That's okay."

That kind of assumption and vote-counting happens every day, said Brockhouse, who worked for the police and fire unions before he was elected to represent District 6 and plans to run for the mayor's seat.

David Van Os, a spokesman for the San Antonio First campaign, noted firefighters have a right to participate in the political process.

"Doesn't he have the same right as the lobbyists who swarm City Hall every day," he said, to speculate about Council's support on an issue?

"People try to estimate how City Council members are going to vote all the time," Van Os said. "I think somebody ought to go around and record Christian Archer ... see how many deals and estimates he makes."

But Pelaez said this is an example of Steele spreading falsehoods. "What else are we not being told the truth on?"

"The assumptions made by Chief Steele on recent audio recordings released are just that," Perry said in a statement. "While it is not my intention to campaign for or against Propositions A, B and C, I’ll personally be voting no. This has nothing to do with choosing sides, this is about what I believe is the best way to move San Antonio forward.

"These propositions are a direct result of the failure to move forward with the contract between the City and Fire Union — both are to blame," Perry added. "There is no excuse to go over four years without a contract or to enter into multiple expensive lawsuits —some of which are still ongoing."

Gonzales has previously called for the City to drop the lawsuit against the evergreen clause. The city ultimately lost its appeal to the Supreme Court in August.

"I have seen the firefighters work to save people's lives. I've seen the incredible effort that they put in every day of the job," Gonzales said. "I look forward to the day that we can have a contract that supports our firefighters, but this idea that somehow our votes are locked [in] is just not the case."

"I as a Council member have spent a lot of my time talking with my constituents about why these propositions are so bad for us as a city," Gonzales said.

The Approved By Citizens (ABC) campaign has created a "false binary choice" between the firefighters and the City, Pelaez said. "The choice is ... [if] you vote for these initiatives that means you support firefighters – if you don't support these initiatives that means you don't support firefighters. That is an intellectual dishonest way of presenting the choice in front of voters in November."

5 thoughts on “Leaked Recording Reveals 5 City Council Members Steele Believed Supported the Fire Union

  1. On and On it Rolls. This is about fiscal responsibility concerning taxpayer monies and future municipal budgets that do not sky rocket to cover Public Safety cost. Let the Ever Green clause Tick On!

  2. Wonder how solid those city council votes will be if the 3 charter amendments the firemen’s union has put on the ballot fail as I hope they will?

    • If Prop A passes, who cares how solid or weak the city council votes will be. Prop A pretty much makes city council useless so why have one at all…which means why should a city council member then care about even retaining their position if every decision they make has the potential of being overturned. We have representation for a reason…so that the people don’t have to be bothered with the minutia of every decision that needs to be made. I vote for council members to make the hard decisions for me because I am a busy person who cannot spend all my free time researching the thousands of decisions council makes every year. I cannot enjoy life if all I do is think political 100% of my free time!

      If Prop A wins, I’m going to get 20,000 voters to sign a petition to vote to void any contract city council approves that allows ex spouses (legally divorced from a firefighter) to receive 100% health care benefits paid for by the city on the taxpayers behalf as the current contract stands!

  3. Any attempt to manipulate operational standards which the City utilizes flies in the face of years of successfully conducting its business.

    San Antonio has its problems, but adjusting the game to give one group advantages over the normal city’s procedures can only confuse the purpose for governing. These propositions do just that. Did the city hold out just to penalize the Fire Union. I hope not, but the police union found common ground.

    These propositions have the potential of backfiring on the fireman’s union. What if the people (just 20,ooo) decide the fire union contract is unfavorable to their pocket book? We would be right back where we started. Too many cooks spoil the broth; These three proposed charter amendments will do just that!

    Once a can of worms is open we will need another Charter Amendment to fix the poor wording of these three charter amendments. Which will increase the costs for every citizen of San Antonio. Think long and hard about what may sound good on the surface could very well stab you in the back sooner or later!

  4. I would like to know who was city council and city manager at the time the city agreed to the evergreen clause? They signed a contract now the city and its taxpayers must live with it. Please expose the real culprits of a bad contract. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

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