Final Count: Voters Approve Props B and C, Reject Prop A

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Mayor Ron Nirenberg watches poll results with Go Vote No campaign manager Christian Archer.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg watches poll results with Go Vote No campaign manager Christian Archer.

With all precincts reporting at 1:30 a.m., voters sent unique messages for each of the City's three highly disputed ballot propositions Tuesday evening. They supported Proposition B, with slightly more than 59 percent voting in favor of capping tenure and compensation for future San Antonio city managers.

Proposition C, the measure about arbitration for the firefighters union labor contract, also passed, though with a narrower margin just less than 51 percent. Earlier in the evening, Prop C appeared to be headed for defeat, but it ultimately passed with a 5,623-vote margin.

Voters were firmly against Proposition A, which would have redefined referenda rules, with slightly more than 54 percent.

"Obviously there are great differences of opinion," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. "This will impair our ability to recruit the best executive talent for our city. But the voters have spoken loudly and clearly.

"You can’t argue with the long track record of professionalism in our city," he added. "But I, as a mayor, have committed to continue our forward progress, which again voters have emphatically affirmed. And sometimes progress is not in a straight line."

Steele and other union officials did not respond to requests for comment. Neither the union nor supporters of the propositions held an official election watch party Tuesday night.

The city's firefighters union led a petition drive to place the proposed charter amendments on the ballot. Proposition B will limit the tenure of future city managers to eight years and cap their compensation to 10 times the amount of the lowest paid, full-time city employee, and Proposition C will allow the firefighters union to unilaterally call for an impasse in its stalled contract negotiations with the City and enter binding arbitration.

Proposition A, the only failed measure, would have expanded the scope of City Council decisions that could be challenged with a public vote and make it easier to get such issues on the ballot.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), a supporter of the props who has worked for the police and fire unions, said the early vote total sent a clear message: Voters are "okay with City Hall making decisions because [they] can vote [Council members] out every two years ... [but] not okay with the city manager's power." 

"I think what should happen is we start to right-size who has the power here," Brockhouse said. "I think we should move away [from] a council-manager form of government towards a mayor-council one."

Sheryl Sculley has been city manager of San Antonio since 2005 and received a $450,000 salary for her work last year in addition to a $75,000 bonus. Under Proposition B, the next city manager would be able to make roughly $300,000 per year in compensation.

"I always have faith in the electorate and I am grateful they recognized the good work of our City Government over the past decade," Sculley stated in a text. "We’ve worked hard to deliver high-quality services at the lowest cost to the taxpayers. The credit for that success goes to the strong local elected leadership and the City staff who work every day to deliver services to the community."

Sculley became a union target in part because of her role in trying to negotiate health care costs in the City's labor agreements with the police and fire unions. While the police union came to a compromise with the city, the fire union refused to come to the table to negotiate with Sculley, which created hard feelings on both sides. However, Prop B would apply only to future city managers, officials have said, because Sculley's existing contract does not have an expiration date.

Sculley said, "I am certain the Council will operate within the adopted constraints and do their best in selecting the next City Manager."

The propositions have divided San Antonio for months as each side desperately tried to make their case to voters. Both sides used aggressive rhetoric and smear campaigns to discredit the other.

"I voted against every last one of them," said longtime Eastside resident Ada Williams after voting Tuesday afternoon at Martin Luther King Academy.  "[The propositions] represent a special interest, and I think propositions should benefit the majority and not a selected union."

Williams said the leaked recordings of firefighters union President Chris Steele outlining his tactics to scare voters and place firefighter-friendly people in city government solidified her vote.

However, Robert Derner, a student attending St. Mary's University's School of Law, said he voted in favor of propositions A and C because he felt proposition A could help citizens leading grassroots efforts to change city ordinances and policies.

"Making it easier to bring an issue before voters … would be a good thing not just for [firefighters] but for grassroots groups down the line," Derner said after voting at the San Antonio Housing Authority's facility near Southtown. "Doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed or fail but getting it on the desk [of voters] is a good thing."

Supporters claimed Prop A would give voters a more powerful voice at City Hall by requiring 20,000 petition signatures in 180 days rather than roughly 70,000 in 40 days to trigger a referendum. City tax rates, budget decisions, and more could be subject to a public vote if Prop A were to pass. Props B and C are more closely related to the union's fight with the City over its labor contract, but all three, according to Steele's recordings, are part of his plans to amass more power at City Hall.

Brockhouse said the close numbers on Prop C likely were due to a misunderstanding with the term "arbitration," he said. "I don't think [voters were] comfortable with it."

A win on just B is a political "wash," he said. But early Wednesday, he added, "I think winning two out of three [props] and only 54 percent win on A for Ron, after spending almost $3 million, is a clear message. Things need to change and City Hall and the people have said so in a public vote. It will be interesting to see how the Council responds."

Nirenberg and most City Council members, including several former mayors, held a joint news conference against the propositions last week, saying they could limit the City of San Antonio's ability to function efficiently, end up costing millions in increased interest rates, inhibit its ability to hire top city manager talent, and result in a more expensive labor agreement with firefighters. Several prominent business leaders, including chambers of commerce around the city, joined the Go Vote No camp.

However, several firefighters believe an imbalance of power led to this moment.

"The power structure is skewed a little bit in the wrong direction," said Manuel Barajas, a union member who has been a firefighter for two years. “It was never meant to be this way where the city manager has complete and absolute power – and that’s definitely the way it seems."

Find more of our local and statewide election coverage here.

Reporter Roseanna Garza contributed to this article.

28 thoughts on “Final Count: Voters Approve Props B and C, Reject Prop A

  1. Bleh – Prop C is BY FAR the most ludicrous one. I guarantee you could read 1000 labor contracts and not find a single one that gives one side this much power to force arbitration. Terrible, terrible proposition.

  2. I voted yes on all 3 props. I still support Ron and the council. Yes, support can be that nuanced. I will keep voting for a progressive future for San Antonio. Glad Prop B passed. Prop A to me was because I wanted the chance to vote on public transit initiatives. Prop C is because I am pro labor unions. Great night overall.

  3. The only benefit to arbitration is forcing the parties to work together. Otherwise you’re giving up your right to any transparent and objective process.

    Arbitration is generally private; there’s little to no transparency. It’s subjective; the arbitrator is usually picked from a pool list that is –lo-and-behold– comprised of favorites chosen by the party that wants arbitration. If the decision is impractical or lop-sided, good luck ’cause you’re stuck with it. It may be faster than litigation, but it can get as expensive between administrative/proceedural costs & arbitrator fees.

    We the people, won’t know what’s going, who’s doing/claiming what, or be able to object. Congratulations.

  4. I ended up voting Yes for Propositions A and C, and No for Proposition B.

    The argument that San Antonio will turn into a California referendum free-for-all or that the city’s Triple A bond was in jeopardy did not convince me. Proposition A mirrors the state charter on the number of signatures required to get a referendum on the ballot (20,000), and Austin has a Triple A municipal bond rating even with a similar Proposition A in place there. Voters in San Antonio felt differently, perhaps believing that the voters can vote the bums out of City Council in two years or maybe they were swayed by the chaos argument that the multi-million ad Vote No campaign pounded incessantly.

    I did not like the term limits attached to Proposition B, so that is why I voted No there. The argument that the city cannot find a successor to Sculley because the pay of just $300,000 seems silly to me. For decades now, CEO pay, from city managers to Fortune 500 executives to college football coaches, has become obscenely out-of-whack, out of proportion to what the rank-and-file members in these organizations earn.

    How many more times will the City turn to the courts for its mistake of agreeing to the fire union’s Evergreen clause? Cut the losses, work on a cost-effective health care plan that the city has already signed off on (free coverage for the dependents of workers), and then move on. The firefighters would rather go without a pay increase for years on end rather than pay expensive monthly premiums for health care for their dependents. More law suits won’t make that fact go away. The impasse here illustrates how desperately we need to find a way to provide a universal, preexisting conditions coverage plan for all Americans. Yes, it’s a national and local issue.

  5. San Antonio is going backward, along with the rest of the country. I have been proud of San Antonio for electing increasingly progressive leadership; now I see that the city is headed the wrong direction. If Brockhouse gets elected mayor, we will lose all momentum.

  6. The people have indeed spoken.
    Despite the lies, the misconceptions and personal attacks on union president Chris Steele, we won two thirds of the proposed amendments.
    As we said back in the 60’s:
    ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

  7. I thank the Firefighter’s Union (association) for spending their hard earned money for benefits that included all of San Antonio and not just their benefits.

    Perhaps the passing of proposition B indicates that the City manager is doing a good job for certain supporters but not for the public.

    Let’s find a better way to better evaluate the City Manager, or, find a way to replace the City Manager form of government with a Mayor/Council form of government.

  8. Any government official, local or national, should aspire to office to serve and help the citizens or constituents within the realm of that office. Only those with a “servant heart” need apply. If you’re looking to make a “CEO” salary off of the hard working backs of the people you serve, you should not hold a government position.

      • Great question stella artois – it is painfully obvious that Laura Hopkins-Day is absolutely clueless what a city manager does, as are all the other misguided, ill-informed people who voted in favor of this proposition.
        Laura, the city manager IS the CEO of this City – a corporation with a $2.8Billion budget and 14,000 employees to lead.
        And you expect that person to make what?
        But I guess ignorance is bliss. Good luck with all this.

        • I actually expect the city manager pay and compensation package to be more in line with other cities. 7th largest city in the US but the largest pay for city manager? Sorry, but her neogtiation skills on anything but her pay leaves a lot to be desired.

  9. “While the police union came to a compromise with the city, the fire union refused to come to the table to negotiate with Sculley”

    Nice work to leave out the part where Sculley and the City *sued* the Firefighters to invalidate the agreement the city made on the evergreen clause. It’s much easier to make Sculley a victim if you leave out the frivolous lawsuit part of the story.

  10. Do all city employees receive no cost dependent health care? If not,why do the firefighters want the city to pay the premium for their dependents? Are their families more deserving than the much lower paid city employees? It is time for the gravy train to come to a halt!

    • Other city employees don’t have collective bargaining rights thanks to a Democratic majority of the state legislature that prohibited such in the late 1940’s. Read your history.

  11. The greatest joy in the world would be for Sculley to stay on another 10 years and continue to get raises and bonuses for the OUTSTANDING work she has done in managing this City.

  12. I think that it is ludicrous that Scully gets to stay in office indefinitely. The passage of B should have included the current CM.

    I voted “NO” on all three for basically the same reasons mentioned. I actually almost got into a verbal argument with the firefighter at Igo on Friday because he felt like pushing the issue. I’m sorry….firefighters and all public service employees INCLUDING TEACHERS (KOFF KOFF) should get raises that are regular and meaningful. Because Steele decided top take San Antonio voters hostage for his own gain says a lot about his character.

  13. Very disappointed C was passed. I don’t believe any organization should receive benefits better than another city organization. Why should we pay 100% of healthcare for family members? It just doesn’t make fiscal sense.

  14. Unless City Council members shrug off their alliance to big business, proposition A WILL BE BACK IN 2 YEARS! Cut the connections w big money and listen to the people. The primary reason Prop A failed was that the wording for it on the ballot was nebulous, AND $$3 million paid to Archer and his croonies to scare people.. YA NO!! And the MAYORS’ commercials…PLEASE!! Work w the people, no more tax and utility hikes cause WE WILL VOTE OTHERS IN, AND PROP A!

  15. Since Sculley is in charge of everything at City Hall. give her a raise and get the money come from the Council who should be paid $20.00 a meeting as they were two years ago. And the City Attorney is quoted as saying that we can get around the charter amendments by giving Sculley a “bonus” . What about the spirit of the law? Bring back Sculley’s two top assistants: Centro’s DeGiovanni and 300 Benavides to be in charge-I would not be surprised.LOL

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