Accountability, budget reasons council members to vote against police union contract

Saldana, Nirenberg say they will not support deal struck between city, SAPOA

SAN ANTONIO – The city is two weeks away from a vote that's been more than two years in the making. The City Council will vote whether to approve a contract with the San Antonio Police Officers Association, and at least two nays are expected.

“It’s missing two big elements, which is transparency and accountability,” said District 4 City Councilman Rey Saldana.

Saldana feels the contract between the city and the San Antonio Police Officers Association does not allow the disciplinary records of officers to be accurately reflected. 

The contract states that if an officer is accused of “intentional violence,” the police chief and city can only bring past similar offenses to the attention of an arbitrator or the Police Officers Civil Service Commission if they occurred within the past five years.

If an officer is accused of a violation involving drugs or alcohol, past similar offenses can only be considered if they happened within the last 10 years.

The contract also states that certain three-day suspensions of officers will be reduced to written reprimands after two years have passed.

“The question for me is: What is there to hide when we're trying to scrub records or seal records after two years? Who are we trying to protect?” Saldana said.

District 9 City Councilman Joe Krier, agrees that officers need to be held accountable for their actions, but feels contract negotiations are not the time and place.

“The time to negotiate changes in how we do that, and how the police chief exercises his authority, is not at the time we’re trying to settle a long-standing dispute over pay and benefits,” Krier said.

Krier plans to vote in support of the contract on Sept. 1.

Meanwhile, District 9 City Councilman Ron Nirenberg said he will vote against the deal because he feels it did not reach the city’s main fiscal objectives to keep public safety spending within 66 percent of the city’s general fund.

“It’s not just about this year,” Nirenberg said. “It’s about what happens in three years, in five years. By year four of this contract, we have exceeded our budget. The question that will be on my mind forever: Why did it take so long to achieve so little?”

Mayor Ivy Taylor disagreed. She feels the city did achieve its fiscal goals and checked a big box when it comes to benefits.

“In relation to sharing the cost of health care, that’s been something the city has wanted for a long time, and, yes, we are achieving that through this contract,” Taylor said.

When asked about Saldana’s concerns, Taylor agreed that downgrading three-day suspensions after two years is not an accurate reflection of an officer’s disciplinary history.

“These are things that have been in the contract for some time,” Taylor said. “So rather than focusing on discipline with the bad apples, I think we need to be proactive in training for the vast majority of officers who work really hard and have the best intentions.”

The majority of council members who responded to KSAT 12’s request for comment Wednesday said they plan to support the contract. You can see their responses here.

District 1 City Councilman Roberto Trevino said he had not had enough time to review the document before sharing his opinions. 

“We have to understand that if we vote on this on Sept. 1, we will knowingly vote on a contract that is loosening accountability and not being transparent,” Saldana said.

“We will continue to provide the highest benefits of any big city in Texas. We will be providing excellent salary,” Krier said. “The mark of a good compromise is that both sides aren’t entirely happy with it.”

San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle said he was unable to provide a comment Wednesday.

About the Author: