Fire contract controversy fizzles out with closed-door discussion

Council members received an 8-minute public briefing before talking privately for 2.5 hours

SAN ANTONIO – In the end, there was no fiery debate over the fire contract — at least, none the public could see.

Following a week of back-and-forth discussions over transparency, leaks, and the fitness of the city attorney, San Antonio City Council members ended up discussing the stalled contract negotiations behind closed doors, just as nearly half of them had already asked.

Immediately following an eight-minute briefing on the status of the negotiations, council members retired to a private conference room for a two-and-a-half executive session.

It was a surprise twist, given that City Attorney Andy Segovia had reportedly tried to block the conversation from happening behind closed doors due to a concern about information leaks. However, City Manager Erik Walsh indicated afterward that it had been his doing — not Segovia’s — to send the discussion into executive session.

“Based on my conversation with the council, my confidence was that we needed to have an executive session. And really, it goes back to yesterday’s conversation with the council,” he said, referring to another closed-door meeting in which council members privately aired their concerns about Segovia.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg had also previously resisted discussing the contract in executive session, telling KSAT in a statement on May 8 “if Council wishes to debate the merits of the contract, we should do so publicly.”

However, after Thursday’s meeting, a spokesman texted a statement from Nirenberg that seemed to contradict that sentiment:

“Today was a reset. Typically, the council’s collective bargaining discussions are held in executive sessions and that is appropriate, but budget impacts will be discussed in public sessions.

“Last week, the issue of what to cut from the city budget surfaced, and I opposed going into executive session for that purpose. Going forward any budget impacts will be discussed in public. “

Mayor Ron Nirenberg

After KSAT pointed out the mayor’s previous statement had clearly been about the negotiations, not the budget, Nirenberg’s spokesman texted an “addendum.”

“There was a change in view, and a reset with council was needed to enable us to keep moving forward so we could be accountable to the public and our firefighters.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg


A self-named “Bloc of Five” forced Thursday’s discussion: Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), Marina Alderete Gavito (D7), Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), Teri Castillo (D5), and Marc Whyte (D10).

After Mayor Ron Nirenberg refused a request on May 8 to go to executive session and discuss the negotiations with the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, the five council members signed onto a member to force it to happen.

The group said they were fine with a public discussion. But they said Segovia had told council members that talks about the negotiations would have to be in executive discussion.

Despite that, the group said Segovia blocked their request for a private discussion, which the city attorney later indicated was due to his concerns about information leaking out of the confidential meetings.

Segovia has not said what evidence he had for that claim, and city communications staff have not made him available for an interview despite repeated requests from KSAT.

His refusal, though, set off a mini-revolt by the same five council members, who then demanded a meeting on his fitness as attorney. That meeting was held Wednesday behind closed doors. City Manager Erik Walsh said afterward he would have a “conversation” with Segovia about the issues raised but did not view it as discipline.

Whyte and Alderete Gavito, at least, appeared satisfied with Thursday’s discussion, which city staff said was the fourth executive session on the contract.

“I think a lot has transpired day over day. And so what we saw yesterday is a willingness for all of us to move forward in a productive manner. And now we just needed to have a conversation about our firefighters,” Alderete Gavito said.

“This was great. I appreciate the city manager really taking our concerns to heart. And today, we really went over things in detail, so I was happy we did it,” Whyte said.


After eight bargaining sessions, the negotiations between the city and San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association have stalled.

There are no new bargaining sessions on the calendar, and it’s not clear yet if the two sides will escalate to non-binding mediation.

Pay raises have been the biggest issue, with the union looking to make up for the ground it lost during the previous contract fight. Between years of flat wages and underwhelming raises they received after forcing negotiations into arbitration, firefighters have seen inflation grow at roughly three times the rate of their base pay over the past decade.

The city and union exchanged straightforward, opening salvos using across-the-board raises: 21.7% over five years from the city and 37.5% over three years from the union. Their counter proposals, though, have become increasingly convoluted.

Attempts to reallocate some incentive pay into firefighters’ base wages and the use of flat rate raises mean the newer proposals contain a range of raise percentages, depending on the rank and seniority of the firefighter.

Generally, though, the union is still asking for much steeper hikes than what the city is offering.


  • Five-year contract with the final raise in October 2028
  • Newest firefighter base pay: $57,576 to $74,149 (28.8% raise)
  • Longest-tenured district chief base pay: $106,872 to $135,094 (26.4% raise)


  • Three-year contract with the final raise in October 2026
  • Newest firefighter base pay: $57,576 to $80,124 (39.2% raise)
  • Longest-tenured district chief base pay: $106,872 to $135,576 (26.9% raise)

All combined, the city says the fire union’s requests are too expensive. By the city’s calculations, the union’s proposals would cost $520 million over five years, compared to $158 million under the city’s latest offer.

Meanwhile, the union has said the city isn’t making any concessions or listening to firefighters’ concerns. It also questions the validity of the city’s numbers.

The uncertainty of the contract’s future has put a large question mark over the upcoming city budget process. Depending on where contract negotiations land, the city expects to face a budget deficit next year of somewhere between $5 million and $50 million.

City staff ended the last negotiation session on May 3 by suggesting the two sides bring in a mediator. Though the union has seemed to resist the idea, SAPFFA President Joe Jones did not rule it out when talking to reporters Thursday.

However, he said what happens next depends on the city.

“I mean, they can pick up the phone anytime and call us and say, ‘Hey, let’s go back to the table. Let’s see if we can work this out.’ You know, I think that would be fantastic,” he said.

Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez, the city’s lead negotiator, said the city team would communicate with the union and be happy to go back to open negotiations.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.

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