San Antonio First: Let Voters Decide

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San Antonio Professional Firefighter Association President Chris Steele speaks with then-Councilman Cris Medina (D7) during an event at City Hall.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Professional Firefighter Association President Chris Steele (center) launched the "San Antonio First" effort to change the city charter.

The “circling of the wagons” has now begun. When we at the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association launched our San Antonio First campaign to promote accountability, consistency, and fairness at City Hall, we knew we were going to start a discussion that would make City Hall and the power structure uncomfortable. Just like with the streetcar campaign, San Antonio’s politicians and the power elites will likely “disrespect” the electorate again.

First, City leaders tried to defend the city manager’s projected 2018 compensation of $566,000, which is more than what we pay the president and governor combined. They argued that paying one City employee a salary of more than 10 times the lowest paid full-time City employee’s salary, or $300,000 a year, is not enough. We think the voters should weigh in on this issue of accountability at City Hall.

Then City Leaders attacked San Antonio’s first responders for saying we are tired of being sued in court, over a contract the City signed. They lose in court, twice, and now want to continue the lawsuit to the Texas Supreme Court. We think that wasting more than 1 million dollars of tax payer money losing legal challenges is not being responsible. Instead of asking the voters to pay your failed legal challenges, we think that if an agreement cannot be reached during negotiations, let an arbitrator or neutral third party decide. We think the voters should weigh in on this issue of fairness at City Hall.

Finally, they are now claiming that voters having more say in City issues could hurt the City’s bond ratings – Just another scare tactic. Cities and states all over the country that give their citizens a greater voice at the ballot box share San Antonio’s credit rating. The fact is that City leaders were tone-deaf to the voters last year and raised utility rates. Voters didn’t have a voice and were not allowed to weigh in on the issue.

Your firefighters are simply saying if it takes 20,000 signatures on a petition to allow voters to voice their opinion at the ballot box and change the city charter, why not be consistent and make the same rules apply to changing a city ordinance. Giving voters a voice should never be used as a threat like claiming it will hurt credit ratings. We think the voters should weigh in on this issue of consistency, especially giving them a voice at City Hall.

We live in a time where citizen participation in their government is at an all-time low. City leaders should be encouraging more citizen participation, not less. San Antonio’s citizens need to be able to hold City Hall accountable, and petitioning city leaders is a right that should be respected and not interfered with by politicians. San Antonio First comes down to this: Let the voters decide.

15 thoughts on “San Antonio First: Let Voters Decide

  1. Chris,
    You come off as a do-nothing freeloader masquerading as a union boss. Your latest pitch/stunt reeks of the same ignorance and narcissism you’re known for.

    • Mexican – There’s only one narcisst who’s masquerading as a boss and pitching ignorant ideas at the expense of the citizens and it certainly isn’t Chris. Educate yourself and get your facts straight instead of trolling the internet, making statements about people who you clearly have no real knowledge about.

  2. Will the firefighter’s union also support a petition that lets the voters decide whether or not to repeal the right for collective bargaining for fire fighters under section Texas Code 174.053? That would be direct and clear voter involvement in the specific matter at hand. That is what you want, right?

    Sec. 174.053. REPEAL ELECTION. (a) The governing body of a political subdivision in which the collective bargaining provisions of this chapter have been in effect for at least one year shall order an election for the repeal of the adoption of this chapter on receiving a petition signed by qualified voters of the political subdivision in a number equal to or greater than the lesser of:

    (1) 20,000; or

    (2) five percent of the number of qualified voters voting in the political subdivision in the preceding general election for state and county officers.

    (b) The ballot in the election shall be printed to provide for voting for or against the proposition: “Repeal of the adoption of the state law applicable to (fire fighters, police officers, or both, as applicable) that establishes collective bargaining if a majority of the affected employees favor representation by an employees association, preserves the prohibition against strikes and lockouts, and provides penalties for strikes and lockouts.”

    If the Union doesn’t want to negotiate but wants to focus on petitions instead, just draft up a Repeal Petition, work on getting 20,000 signatures and then “let the voters decide.”

    • Excellent point Joe. Surely Mr. Steele wouldn’t have a problem letting voters vote on the specific aspects of the firefighters’ agreement with the city such as their salaries, benefits, and so on. Voters should select arbitrary metrics that decide firefighter salaries and benefits such as they cannot be greater than 110% of the average city employee’s salary and benefits. That’s fair, isn’t it Mr. Steele? We’ll let the voters decide, right?

  3. Get it through your thick noggin. Carrying the weight of firefighter healthcare costs is not feasible. Start there please. You can get rid of 10 Sculley’s and it wouldnt cover the costs over the life of the next contract.

  4. I support Chris. Why can’t the voters decide what happens to their
    tax dollars. Why do we have to pay to have a statue removed, higher water rates, and higher executive pay. Even the city council members are on the payroll doing what? Making decisions against the very citizens that elected them. Let the voter’s decide.
    Quit the attack on the fire union official. He speaks for more of the citizens than you can imagine. It’s hard to imagine a city manager making more money that the president of the United States.

    • Quit the attack? Chris is the one attacking our public officials, and doing so in a disgraceful way I might add. Let’s also have a city vote on his union and firefighters pay/benefits and see what the city has to say about it.

      • It saddens me to see you folks jump out and make remarks about first responder pay and benefits. You probably do the same about our men and women in our military. It’s ok, enjoy the blanket of freedom your provided by our military.
        Enjoy the fact that our police will come and stop that burglar from breaking into your place. Sleep well knowing that if one of your family members goes into cardiac arrest a firefighter will be there to help.

  5. Do members of the military have to pay for their insurance benefits? I’m not sure. We appreciate them both, as they put their lives on the line for us.

    This is complicated.

    • I’ve looked at both during the police negotiations (note: SAPOA actually negotiated, unlike the fire fighters) and think the Police pay and benefits is significantly better than military. I presume fire is the same although I haven’t looked as closely.

      Starting pay Fire Cadet: $3,381, 18 mos later – $4,825 per month

      Starting pay military E-1: $1,541 – it takes 16 years plus promotion to the second-highest enlisted rank (E-8) to exceed $4,828

      Additional pay and allowances apply to both, so it’s not a one-for-one comparison, but it is eye opening, don’t you think?

      Some military Tricare plans have costs even for dependents of active duty, some don’t.

      Fire department retirement pay is significantly better, particularly based on recent changes to military retirement.

      And in case you wondered:

      In my opinion, it’s not very complicated: fire fighters are very well paid and have good benefits. Sit down and negotiate and knock off the theatrics, it’s been nearly 4 years on an expired contract with no negotiations – but somehow the Union has time and money for petitions on the City Manager and street cars.

  6. Firefighters gave up a few years of raises to leave benefits alone. City officials a few years later put attack on there benefits after they gave up raises with no offers of a future raise to catch up with inflation or the super high premiums. Then when asked what plans are offered the city put three plan rules in front of them… a crappy one a super crappy one and one I wouldn’t offer a dying person.. what would you do? Then when asked what they figured a reasonable amount was to cover premiums the firefighters were given a dollar amount. The union said give that dollar amount to us as a carve out and we will make it work for us and this would free up all these overages and extra cost the city says are happening…. they said no. Why do you suppose? Does it he public talk to their first responders first hand? Ask them directly what they would rather have .. good insurance or Pay raise.. pretty certain it will be insurance first. What good is money when your dead from ailments due to job exposures shortly after you retire? Firefighters aren’t money hungry they’ve gone without a raise during the stalemate and the years of zero pay raises. Don’t be afraid to ask a firefighter which they’d like to have. Be healthy and be there for our families to take care of and enjoy when we retire from protecting yours.

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