Fire union says it has enough signatures for vote on city charter changes

Changes include limiting city manager pay, forced arbitration

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SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association announced Wednesday that it has enough signatures to put three proposed city charter changes in front of San Antonio voters. 

Backed by firefighters and other organizations on the back steps of City Hall, union President Christopher Steele said each of the three petitions in the organization's "San Antonio First" campaign had received at least 31,000 signatures, which would allow them to call for a charter amendment election in November. 

The petitions, opposed by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, include limiting the city manager's pay, forced arbitration for contract impasses and an easier path to put ordinance referendums on the ballot.

Steele said the union had "independently verified" 22,000 signatures on each of the petitions, which surpasses the 20,000 signature requirement. However, the city clerk's office will need to do its own official verification process, which includes working with the Bexar County Elections Department to confirm that signers of the petition are registered and qualified voters in San Antonio.

"We're sending this message to the mayor," Steele said. "Get this done."

The campaign comes against the backdrop of an ongoing contract negotiation dispute between the union and the city. The fire union's contract expired Sep. 30, 2014, and the two sides have remained at an impasse as the union refuses to come to the table while the city is suing it over the evergreen clause of the old contract.

Steele said that in the case of these petitions, "this is the people coming and asking the firefighters for help."

The changes include placing restrictions on the position of city manager, including a salary cap and term limits and requiring third-party arbitration when the union and the city cannot come to an agreement.

The arbitration requirement would prohibit the city from suing the union, which the city did to challenge a portion of the now-expired contract between the union and the city.

The third proposed charter change would make it easier for voters to change city ordinances. Instead of requiring the collection of 75,000 signatures within 40 days on a petition, Steele said the requirement should be 20,000 signatures within 180 days, which is what's required to change city charter. 

Nirenberg said the three proposed city charter changes could be costly to the city and its residents, and vowed to fight them at the ballot box if they pass muster.

"We will not be bullied into mortgaging our future, or our children's future in San Antonio, for the interest of Chris Steele and his cohort. It's something I refuse to do," Nirenberg said.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.