City taking heat on seeking legal judgment on police, fire contracts

SAN ANTONIO – The city of San Antonio is taking some heat for seeking legal judgment on the contracts they have with firefighters and police officers.

Those contracts expired in September and city officials said without a new agreement, continuing to honor those contracts could cost the city millions of dollars.

On Friday, city leaders announced they're challenging a clause in the contract with police and firefighters that allows them to work up to 10 years without a new contract.

The city wants a judge to decide if that time period is legal.

At a Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas meeting in San Antonio on Friday, there was a show of solidarity as the San Antonio Police Officers Association prepared to fight the city in court.

"Twenty-five years on this Police Department and I have never heard or seen such action taken by our current leadership," said Detective Michael Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officer's Association. "I blame it squarely on the shoulders of our city manager."

With no new deal, city officials said it would cut more than $14 million from the current budget to make room for increased public safety health care costs, something uniformed personnel have not had to pay until now.

Both union officials said Friday that the city is adding to the cost by taking them to court.

"I want a sidewalk in front of my house so my kids can walk to school," said Christopher Steele, with the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association. "I don't want a million dollars spent on lawyers."

However, Michael Bernard, the attorney for the city on this matter, said this is not a lawsuit and that the way the contract stands now would create debt.

"We didn't sue the unions on any particular conduct," said Bernard. "We're just asking the court to look at one provision of the collective bargaining agreement."

Both the police and the firefighters union were also upset about the city discussing the matter behind closed doors.

However, in response, Di Galvan, communications and public affairs director, released this statement on behalf of the city:

"The city attorney has the right to discuss legal matters in executive session. No vote was taken in yesterday's executive session by the San Antonio City Council regarding today's legal action nor is any vote required to bring on legal action." 

Bernard said while this process could take several months, they hope to continue negotiations with the police union.

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