Courtesy / Jon Alonzo for the North San Antonio Chamber
There were no new initiatives launched or task forces created Friday when Mayor Ron Nirenberg delivered his second “Vision for San Antonio” speech at the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Instead, the mayor reiterated his call to the more than 450 business and community leaders in attendance, as well as voters, to oppose the firefighter union’s “destructive” ballot proposals aimed at “bringing divisive politics and bad policy to our local government.”
The three so-called “San Antonio First” charter amendments have been verified by the City clerk to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot – one to cap future city managers’ pay, one to force binding arbitration between the City and fire union, and another that would make it easier to get measures on ballots – are the subject of lawsuits filed by both sides.
Another batch of signatures verified by the clerk this summer would place a measure on the ballot that would require all employers to provide paid sick leave for any employee working at least 80 hours per year. However, Council has the option to approve a paid sick-leave ordinance rather than leave it to voters.
“The Legislature has already promised to address this issue early in the 2019 session and as a local ordinance it would not start to go into effect until August of 2019,” Nirenberg said. “Let me be clear: I believe that paid sick leave is good for business and good for families, but it would be better addressed at the state level.”
Nirenberg noted the same right to petition the government that paid sick-leave advocates used is “the same right that the fire union is trying to manipulate for their own self-interest.”
The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association announced last month it is suing the City over alleged First Amendment violations while paid, out-of-town consultants collected signatures in so-called “free speech zones” for its petitions.
Secure San Antonio’s Future (SSAF), a political action committee of local business and community leaders, filed a lawsuit this week claiming the union paid that out-of-town consultant illegally with $510,000 in union dues. It also asked District Attorney Nico LaHood and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to open criminal investigations into the transaction. The lawsuit also asks for a temporary restraining order preventing the City from placing the amendments on the ballot. Council is expected to vote to place items on the ballot next week.
The fire union’s initiatives could, if placed on the ballot and approved by voters, “drag our city backward,” Nirenberg said.
“Capping the salary of the city manager may be a cute populist sound bite to get your name in the paper and exploit people’s economic challenges, but it’s shortsighted economics and a sad road to ruin of our long-term success,” Nirenberg said as the room erupted into applause.
But if the paid sick-leave initiative makes it onto the ballot, that could create some confusion in voting booths.
Much of the discussion on Thursday as City Council considers setting the ballot will depend on the outcome of SSAF’s request for a temporary restraining order. That could potentially remove those items from the ballot. The deadline to place items on the ballot is Aug. 20.
“This is not a fight we have chosen, but we have chosen to fight,” Nirenberg said. “And it’s a challenge we can only win if everyone inside and outside this room sets aside their personal, professional, and political differences, and reaffirms that there is only one team we fight for, and that’s a resilient San Antonio.”
Despite some heavy subject matter, not all of Nirenberg’s speech was doom and gloom.
He highlighted the work of his housing policy task force; the budget recommendations that put housing, transportation, public safety at the top of the list; business attraction and retention; and more.
Work also continues on the Mayor’s Blue Chip Jobs Council, which Nirenberg launched earlier this year.
“They are leveraging their contacts and opening doors on a quest to add 70,000 jobs to the San Antonio area economy by 2020,” Nirenberg said.
Click here to download a copy of the mayor’s prepared remarks.