Nirenberg: If Fire Union Charter Changes Make Ballot, No Others Will

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San Antonio Professional Firefighter Union President Chris Steele delivers petitions to City Hall.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Professional Firefighter Union President Chris Steele delivers petitions to City Hall on April 11, 2018.

San Antonio City Clerk Leticia Vacek is expected to verify next Thursday that there are at least 20,000 valid signatures for each of the three petitions the fire union submitted one month ago.

That means, barring any legal challenges, voters could decide in November if the City’s charter, or constitution, should include language that limits future city managers’ salaries and tenure, forces arbitration between the union and the City for a new contract, and makes it easier for citizens to put proposed ordinances to a public vote – ultimately overriding City Council decisions.

The union’s so-called “San Antonio First” campaign says it’s all about giving voters a stronger voice. City officials and other leaders have called the measures “terrible” and said it could turn the City into a “referendum state” unable to attract and retain talented city managers.

In response to the clerk’s announcement, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said other, separate charter changes that the Charter Review Commission was considering – including new term limits for Council, an independent Ethics Review Board, and others –  would not appear on the same ballot.

“Opposition to the fire union propositions is absolutely paramount,” he said in an email the Rivard Report. “Because of that, it doesn’t make sense to confuse voters with additional ballot propositions. That means that any important revisions to the Charter would need to wait until the fire union propositions are dispatched.

“We will not proactively put citizen-directed charter reform proposals on the same ballot that is sullied by the deception and self-interests of Chris Steele.”

Steele could not immediately be reached for comment.

“As expected, the petitions are certified. The public spoke on each,” said Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who has worked as a consultant for the fire and police unions and has criticized City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Nirenberg regarding police and fire department contract negotiations, City spending, and transparency.

“Regardless of how you feel about [the petitions], over 100,000 signatures is a huge voice. This however just puts them on the ballot,” Brockhouse said. “I’ve always said, at the end of the day, the citizens will decide, not the politicians at City Hall and frankly, not the fire union. The public will decide, and I believe in them.”

Vacek will present a full report on the signatures to City Council on Thursday, May 17, during its regular meeting, which starts at 9 a.m.

The City is embroiled in a lawsuit that challenges the so-called “evergreen clause” in the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association’s contract that allows it to keep terms in place for 10 years after it expires.

Both sides participated in court-ordered mediation sessions, but talks broke down and no formal, public negotiation sessions have been held despite almost a dozen invitations from the City. Fire union President Chris Steele has repeatedly said the the union won’t come to the table until the lawsuit, which the City appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, is dropped.

City officials have said the San Antonio First initiative is an attempt to bully the City into a union-friendly contract or dropping the lawsuit – a claim Steele denies. However, one of the petitions is directly related to ensuring the union gets a more favorable contract.


Nirenberg and others are expected to launch an aggressive “vote no” counter-campaign against the ballot items.

“If the petitions are certified and the fire union proposals are on the ballot, we will make sure San Antonians know that all three of the measures are bad ideas,” he said.

The City has a state-mandated deadline of Aug. 20 to call for a charter amendment election for Nov. 6.

“This is just another step in the process,” Vacek wrote in a press release. “I want to thank my staff for their hard work and diligence and Bexar County staff for their equipment and assistance during this process.”

12 thoughts on “Nirenberg: If Fire Union Charter Changes Make Ballot, No Others Will

  1. Hmm, the Mayor is mad the people of San Antonio have spoken and will speak louder in Nov, but he wanted to change the charter so he could be Mayor longer with out having to campaign for his job. Time for changes in SATX.

  2. Will the citizens then be able to vote out the Fireman’s Union, the Evergreen clause, and the free medical care for their families? Let’s hope so.

    • State Code does permit voters to petition and then vote to remove collective bargaining privileges from firefighters. Collective bargaining for police and fire fighters is not a “right” in Texas, it’s a privilege voted on by residents.

      Since they haven’t been to a negotiation session in 4 years, it seems like the union doesn’t value or understand the concept of “collective bargaining” anyway.

      If there are already likely to be 3 items on the ballot, what’s one more? Let’s do exactly what the firefighter’s union wants: put it to a vote and let the people decide.

  3. Why is nirenberg playing fear to the citizens, which we ALL know is a lie? Why is Nirenberg such a shady mayor he prefers his political agenda over the interest of us citizens? Why does nirenberg waste our tax dollars? Why is nirenberg such a liar? Fire his arse! Why isn’t nirenberg submitting to boss for our local economy? Why did nirenberg run a campaign of transparency which he lied about to be voted in? Why is nirenberg Sculley’s puppet? Has he no brains?

    • You are ignorant and painfully ill-informed. This is all about Chris Steele and his dangerous, self-serving agenda. He is a dangerous man, not to mention a thug, and his so-called people’s voice petitions would set this city back decades.

  4. Good…? The electoral reform propositions are ridiculous and unnecessary — more credit-claiming attempts by Mayor Do-Nothing. And that’s not to say that I even remotely support Steele’s cause.

  5. I would like to state that I signed one of the 3 petitions and the circumstances in which it happened. I was asked to sign the petition and was told by the petition holder that I was signing to petition the city to drop the lawsuit against the Fire union so that fair negotiations could begin again. I am completely for that so I signed. Then I was asked to sign twice more and I questioned why I needed to have my petition signature in triplicate. So I began to actually read what the petition said and realized that each form was a different petition and that what was on the petition I did sign was not what I was asked to sign for. So I didn’t sign the others and wasn’t allowed to read the petition I did sign to decide if I should leave my signature or remove it.

    Every one I know who signed has told me they were also told the petition was to tell the city to finalize negotiations with the Fire union. None were informed that they were signing 3 separate petitions and that none of the 3 petitions specifically talked about negotiations between the city and union.

    So yes, it should be the responsibility of petition signers to know exactly what they are signing for but this clearly shows that the city has not spoken. Most people signed thinking they were supporting negotiation efforts and not the actual 3 proposals of the petitions. The Fire union should stand prepared for a potential loss because media outlets have since informed those signers of what they actually signed for and those signers don’t necessarily agree with the proposals. I can tell you, that’s the case with everyone I know who signed, thinking they were supporting something else.

  6. A;; you have to do is look at California. California is a referendum state. Referendums after Referendum has led to higher taxes and a broken system. No thanks.

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