SAN ANTONIO – When San Antonians head to the polls for the Nov. 6 election, they will have the opportunity to vote on three changes to the City Charter.
The controversial propositions were brought about as a result of a petition drive conducted by the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association. If adopted, they would make it easier to get referendum votes onto the ballot, allow the fire union to call for binding arbitration in contract negotiations and limit the city manager's pay and term of service.
"All three of them are designed to create gridlock in city management, in city government so that special interests can force themselves into the decision making and it's wrong," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in September at an opposition rally. "It's going to cost money. It's going to raise taxes, and it will lower the services that citizens need and expect."
Reached by phone in September, fire union president Chris Steele said he thinks it's up to the voters to decide for themselves.
"What we know, and what we have seen is that the vast majority of the community wants the people to decide," Steele said.
KSAT 12 invited Nirenberg and Steele to debate the charter amendments in a live, hour-long broadcast, but Steele failed to respond by the stated deadline.
On Thursday, Steele refused to answer reporters' questions at a press conference organized by the union, including questions about why he did not respond to KSAT's invitation to debate Nirenberg over the amendments.
So what are the propositions?
You can also read them below:
CITY OF SAN ANTONIO PROPOSITION A
Shall the City Charter be amended to expand the types of ordinances that may be subject to referendum including appropriation of money, levying a tax, granting a franchise, fixing public utility rates, zoning and rezoning of property; increase the number of days within which a petition may be filed seeking a referendum on an ordinance passed by council from forty to one hundred eighty days after passage of the ordinance; and to provide that no more than twenty thousand signatures of registered voters are required for a referendum petition instead of ten percent of those electors qualified to vote at the last regular municipal election?
CITY OF SAN ANTONIO PROPOSITION B
Shall the City Charter be amended to limit the term the City Manager may serve to no longer than eight years, limit the compensation of the City Manager to no more than ten times the annual salary furnished to the lowest paid full-time city employee, and to require a supermajority vote to appoint the City Manager?
CITY OF SAN ANTONIO PROPOSITION C
Shall the City Charter be amended to provide the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 624 with unilateral authority to require the City to participate in binding arbitration of all issues in dispute with the Association within forty-five days of the City’s receipt of the Association’s written arbitration request?
If Proposition A is approved
Proposition A: Expanding the Referendum Process. This measure would:
- Expand the City Council actions subject to referendum to include appropriating money, levying taxes, setting public utility rates, and zoning or rezoning property (all areas currently excluded by Charter);
- Decrease the number of signatures needed from 10 percent of qualified voters in the last municipal election (approximately 70,000 signatures) to 20,000 signatures; and
- Lengthen the timeframe for obtaining the needed signatures from 40 days to 180 days.
This measure subjects fiscal actions, such as tax rates, utility rates and bond issues, to the referendum process limiting the ability of the City Council to consider and implement policy and to manage the budget. The uncertainty created by potential changes to revenues and expenditures would certainly negatively impact the City’s ‘AAA’ bond rating. The amendment creates uncertainty resulting in cost to the City of San Antonio between $382.3 million and $4.2 billion over the next twenty years. In addition, it would create uncertainty in the area of economic development because companies looking to relocate to San Antonio and expand their operations through the use of economic development incentives may want not to face the potential uncertainty of referendums and will decide to go to another city. Based on the average size of the corporate relocation or expansion in San Antonio, this could result in a loss of 202 jobs per project.
If Proposition B is approved
Proposition B: Term Limits and Salary Cap for City Manager.
This measure requires a supermajority vote (8 votes out of 11) to select the City Manager, limits the City Manager’s term to 8 years and limits pay to 10 times the amount of the lowest paid City employee.
Currently, the City Charter gives City Council the power to determine compensation on the basis of his/her executive and administrative qualifications. The City Manager is hired by and serves at the pleasure of the City Council. Arbitrarily limiting tenure and salary restricts the ability of the City Council to recruit and retain the best talent for the position. This measure could limit the City's ability to attract the top-level talent necessary to efficiently and effectively run a city of this size. This may lead to a reduction in the quality and quantity of public services that, combined with the uncertainty created by the other two amendments, could slow economic growth. For example, firms looking to relocate to San Antonio or expand their operations within the city may decide not to do so out of concern that the infrastructure, quality of life and other public services may not meet their needs. This measure would not impact the current contract of the City Manager.
If Proposition C is approved
Proposition C: Binding Arbitration. This measure allows the firefighters union to unilaterally declare impasse at any time and force binding arbitration on the City in labor contract negotiations.
Currently, the Fire contract follows state law on impasse processes requiring action by both parties to negotiate in good faith first. The current process allows for a mediation option before binding arbitration by mutual agreement. Under the proposed measure, the Union could call for binding arbitration before participating in any good faith labor negotiations with the City which could have substantial negative impacts on the City’s budget. While the City Council always considers collective bargaining agreements within the context of overall budget planning and priorities, this amendment would vest a third-party arbitrator with authority to impose contract terms notwithstanding budget consideration. The arbitrator is not accountable for long term budget ramifications. Public safety already consumes about two-thirds of the budget of the City of San Antonio, and going to binding arbitration has the potential to increase this cost substantially. This will force the City of San Antonio to find other revenue sources and/or reduce public services.