Police union won’t rule out pre-election contract; few straight answers from council members if they’d vote on it

Finalizing a contract before May 1 election would lock in terms for 5 years, regardless of Prop B results

San Antonio – While the city and police union continue to butt heads over a key discipline issue, the union’s negotiating team won’t rule out the possibility of a finalized police contract before the May 1 election.

Ratifying a contract ahead of the vote would lock in its terms for five years, no matter what voters decide on with Proposition B -- a ballot measure that would strip the union of its collective bargaining power and stop any ongoing contract talks in their tracks. And it appears possible that, depending on the terms, there could be enough council members willing to vote on such a deal ahead of the election.

It may end up being a moot point, though. With discipline and other big issues like wages and health care still unresolved, a deal making it to the council for ratification ahead of the election in the first place seems increasingly unlikely.

Though they have discussed their possible common ground, the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Police Officers Association’s negotiation teams have not yet found a compromise on the city’s top priority -- the scope of the appeals process for fired officers.

Hoping to avoid the chief’s discipline being overturned by an arbitrator, the city has proposed changing the appeal process to only allow the arbitrator to consider the facts of the case. The union, however, has been wary of cutting into their members’ ability to challenge what they consider unjustified firings.

The two sides agreed on Tuesday to send discipline issues to a subcommittee for consideration before bringing them back up at the negotiating table at the next scheduled negotiation session on March 30.

The union’s lead negotiator, attorney Ron DeLord, indicated last week that Tuesday would likely be the deadline to crank out a deal to get finalized. However, even with no deal in hand following Tuesday’s negotiation session, the chairman of SAPOA’s negotiation committee, Sgt. Christopher Lutton, wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a contract could come together before the May election.

“I don’t ever put solid lines in the ground because I’ve seen things change,” Lutton said, though he acknowledged “it’ll be tight” if a deal does end up coming together before the election.

Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez, the city’s lead negotiator, said, “From the city perspective, since day one -- since we started these conversations -- we scheduled meetings ‘til Apr. 19. So we will continue to bargain consistent with those dates.”

While the election is on May 1, the true deadline to ratify a contract without being affected by the results of the Prop B vote is May 12. That’s when the city council is scheduled to canvas the election results and make them official.


The police union has indicated that political will would be one of the big constraints in getting a deal passed before the election. The final negotiating session is tentatively scheduled for Apr. 19, the same day early voting starts for the May 1 election. The union has expressed doubt that council members would be willing to vote on a deal while the election is happening.

It’s true that considering a pre-election police contract would put council members in a tight spot. Voting on a new contract before voters have their say on the union’s power to negotiate one in the first place, could be seen as preempting the will of the voters. On the other hand, if voters pass Prop B and no replacement contract is in place, the city may end up stuck with some of the same disciplinary issues it was trying to negotiate away.

KSAT contacted each council member’s office to ask about their willingness to vote on a contract before voters make their decision on Proposition B. Very few gave straight “yes” or “no” answers, but the trend of their responses seemed to leave the door open for a pre-election vote, depending on the terms of the contract.


A spokesman for the mayor emailed KSAT the following statement on Monday:

“The work on a new contract should be done as quickly as reasonably possible, but we will not rush at the expense of getting a fair agreement. My focus is on reaching a sound agreement – not the timing of the vote.”

Nirenberg’s office provided that same quote on Tuesday regarding the mayor’s meeting with SAPOA President John “Danny” Diaz, during which Diaz said the mayor “reiterated his support for collective bargaining.” The rest of the mayor’s Tuesday statement was as follows:

“I am staying out of the fray on the ballot proposal because the city must negotiate the contract in good faith under the rules that exist today.

“Our main goal is to give Chief McManus the disciplinary powers he needs to weed out bad cops.”


In a Monday phone conversation with KSAT, Trevino said he “absolutely” believes any contract vote should wait until after the election.

“I would be very hesitant to undermine something that is already set up to be on the ballot. And we should respect that process,” Trevino said.


The councilwoman’s chief of staff texted KSAT the following message on Monday:

“It’s the Councilwoman’s personal opinion that we let the people vote but we do the work to ensure we have a strong, unified CBA!”


In a Tuesday phone call, Viagran said her willingness to vote on a pre-election contract would depend “on what comes up before us,” though she also expressed doubt that a deal would make it to the council before the election anyways.

I think if there is a deal that meets all of the criteria of transparency and accountability that we need, and that the city council has put forward, I think that has to have some serious consideration and at least talked about it on the dais,” Viagran said.


Rocha Garcia also indicated the terms of any proposed deal would affect whether she’d be open to voting on it before the city votes on Prop B.

I might change my mind if it’s completed and I see something that I think is comparable to what the city and the voters are choosing. I might change my mind. But right now, I think that it’s -- I think it should just go to the voters,” she told KSAT in a Tuesday phone call.


Speaking with KSAT by phone on Monday, Gonzales said a pre-election deal “would have to have everything that we were requesting” for her to vote on it.

And while Gonzales said she doesn’t see that happening -- nor a deal coming together before the election -- the councilwoman also said, “I believe that we could address the concerns of the petition within the collective bargaining agreement.”


A spokeswoman for Cabello Havrda, who is also the chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, told KSAT on Tuesday, “She doesn’t have a comment at this time.”


A Sandoval spokesman texted KSAT the following statement from the councilwoman on Tuesday:

“I would not support a rushed contract. The challenges we face with today’s CBA are too complex and pressing for us to try to solve them on an abbreviated timeline.”


Pelaez has been critical of Prop B and, when reached by phone on Monday, had no hesitation in saying he would be comfortable voting on a contract whenever it came up.

I was elected to handle the work that comes before us, whether an election is imminent or not,” Pelaez said. “And so, in this instance, should the both parties successfully agree and reach an agreement, I don’t see anything other than the mandate that’s already been given to me when I was originally elected -- to take important votes on important matters.”


Framing it as part of the city’s contractual obligation to negotiate in “good faith,” Courage told KSAT in a Monday phone conversation that he’d also be willing to vote on a police contract before the election.

“And if in good faith, our team and their team put together what both sides agreed was a good plan. I think it’s incumbent upon us as a council to take a look at it and give a consideration -- whether it’s this week or next week or the week after,” Courage said.


A spokeswoman for Perry said they would need to see if a deal would even be put on the council agenda before they could speak about it. She said the councilman would also want to read the details first.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.