Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Pointing her comments at Councilman Rey Saldaña’s criticism of the proposed police union contract, Mayor Ivy Taylor said Friday that she refuses to “play politics” with police and community relations.
Saldaña and Black Lives Matter activists have called on the mayor and City Council to vote no on the collective bargaining agreement, or call off the Thursday, Sept. 1 vote entirely, until its long-established transparency and disciplinary procedures for the Police Department are revised.
Taylor shares concern about those items in the contract, which protestors say give police officers power to skirt the law without accountability and takes away the police chief’s power to fire bad cops, but chose instead to “focus on what we actually can accomplish together,” she told a sold-out crowd at the Omni San Antonio Hotel at the Colonnade during the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce‘s annual Mayor’s Vision for San Antonio luncheon.
“We weren’t able to accomplish everything in the contract,” she said. “Given that almost one-third of police officers (that voted), voted against the agreement, I suspect they’d say the same thing – which is why they call it compromise.”
Reopening contract negotiations is a nonstarter for Taylor and many in City Hall who want to see a conclusion to the contentious, on-again, off-again process. Police and firefighter union contracts expired in September 2014. Throughout the discussions, health care costs and wage increases took center stage, so when Taylor suggested negotiations surrounding disciplinary reform this summer, the police union demanded higher wages, as first reported in the San Antonio Express-News. Saldaña and others were “appalled that the union would ask for payment in exchange for them to do the right thing.”
In a letter to City Council, San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) President Mike Helle stated that Saldaña’s and the media’s interpretation of the negotiating process is “misleading.”
“As in any negotiation, both sides find room to compromise where they can to find a deal. We did that, and as a result have a contract with shared sacrifice on both sides,” Helle stated, going on to say that SAPOA will be a committed partner in any discussions of internal police policies and police-community relations.
Taylor plans to continue such discussions outside of the contract negotiations. She’s working with Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who chairs the Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services Committee, to solidify those plans.
“We’re putting together a plan of strategic steps for addressing the issues of community relations, the needs of the officers, and having more of a dialogue with each other,” said Viagran, who attended the mayor’s speech on Friday afternoon. “It’s still in draft form right now.”
Next steps could include public forums and outreach events that connect police to citizens face-to-face, Viagran said. “We’re trying to be very creative.”
Many doubt the efficacy of such talks without them resulting in changes to the contract – they wouldn’t be legally bound changes.
“I think we need to try,” Viagran said when asked if she thought coming dialogue would spark actual change.
Later in her speech, Taylor addressed more broadly the spikes in violence and tenuous race relations nationwide.
“I know that folks want to hear a simple answer on how to address this – I’ve already told you, I’m not a politician,” she said. “So I won’t stand here and give you a soundbite that will make you feel good on this issue. There are many things that we must do, including having candid dialogues, increasing access to opportunities for neighborhoods and individuals that have been disconnected, and improving police-community relations.”
Efforts are underway on these fronts, Taylor said.
Taylor Reflects on Year of Successes
If the police contract is approved in September, it will be one of the biggest accomplishments under the mayor’s tenure thus far. Taylor also highlighted several other big wins for San Antonio during her speech to the Chamber, which was a whose who of local business and politics.
The return of ride-hailing companies Uber, Lyft, and others is widely credited to Taylor and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who worked with advocacy organization TechBloc to produce a pilot operating agreement that removes the requirement of a fingerprint background check. Such requirements have caused most rideshare companies to cease operations in several major cities, including Austin.
“If I could only tell you how many people said to me during that contentious campaign, ‘Why can’t we just do what Austin does?'” Taylor recalled. “Well, what do you think about that now?”
This drew laughter and applause from the crowd.
The pilot agreements expire on Oct. 31. City Council is expected to vote on new regulations for transportation network companies before then, which would codify the terms used in the pilot. Further reforms are expected for the City’s ordinance as several Council members have expressed a desire to “level the playing field” for the more traditional vehicle for hire companies.
Taylor also praised the recent approval of SA Tomorrow, the comprehensive master plan and process, that she initiated in 2014, back when the word “interim” was before her title as mayor. The Sustainability, Multimodal Transportation, and Comprehensive plans will serve as policy playbooks for the next two decades as San Antonio adds more than one million people – that is, if they are implemented by future City Councils.
Part of the plan’s implementation starts with passing a 2017 fiscal year budget and 2017 Municipal Bond that reflects the priorities and roadmap provided by SA Tomorrow, Taylor said.
“Implementing SA Tomorrow is the next step, and that’s what we’ll be doing with the current fiscal year 2017 – and future – City budgets, and the 2017 bond,” she said. “This is a historic opportunity that no Council has ever had before, to leverage our investments with those of our community partners through implementing an integrated, regional plan.
“Our plan, SA Tomorrow, offers an integrated approach to development, transportation and sustainability, supporting San Antonio as a globally competitive city where everyone has a chance to prosper.”
Central to the City’s plan is partnership with other public and private entities, Taylor said. “We are a city at work, together.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff testified to that collaboration during an interview with the Rivard Report after Taylor’s speech.
“We meet every other Monday and go over a number of issues,” Wolff said. “We brought everyone together on workforce (development) which led to SA Works, we’re working on San Pedro Creek – all across the board we’re working on projects together.”
Far and away, he said, the most important element to San Antonio’s future is workforce development.
“If we don’t produce a workforce that’s skilled, has the ability to tackle these tougher jobs – particularly in tech – we’re just not going to prosper,” Wolff said.
Technological innovation also is a big line item in the City’s proposed 2017 budget. The $13 million slated for “Smart Cities” initiatives represents a substantial investment in efficiency aimed at increasing quality of life for citizens. Taylor hopes to create “a Smart Cities sandbox for innovation.”
Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor gives the keynote address during the event hosted by the San Antonio North Chamber. Photo by Scott Ball.