On April 11th, San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association (SAPFFA) officials and supporters stood on the steps of City Hall to announce that the association was officially filing three petitions with the City to place charter amendments in a special November election. At a May city council meeting, the city clerk verified that each charter change petition had sufficient registered voter signatures (at least 20,000 each) collected and submitted within the required time frame.
The SAPFFA has christened their city charter amendment initiative the “San Antonio First” Campaign. It took the firefighters and their supporters close to two months to raise the required signatures starting last February.
According to Chris Steele, President of the SAPFFA, the city’s firefighters are widely supported by the voters of San Antonio and the association’s members are leading the charge to influence the city’s elected leaders to provide more transparency, accountability, and voter involvement in city governance.
The first charter amendment being proposed to the city’s voters in November is about the selection requirements, term, and salary of the city manager. The changes would include:
- Selection of the city manager as approved by a supermajority of the city council members
- An employment contract of no more than eight years
- A cap on total compensation not to exceed 10 times the annual salary of the lowest paid city employee
Kevin Lopez, campaign manager for the SAPFFA charter change initiative, provided data comparing the salaries of Texas City Managers. The current San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley is paid an annual salary plus bonus of $550,000. San Antonio’s population is 1.5M. The city’s employee headcount is 12,000. Houston’s city manager and chief operating officer is Mayor Sylvester Turner. Houston has almost a million more residents than San Antonio and 11,000 more employees. His salary is $236,000. Dallas’ City Manager, TC Boroadnax, Jr., earns a salary of $375,000. The city has a population of 1.4M and employees totaling 12,900. Austin’s City Manager, Spencer Cronk, earns $325,000 and serves a population of 1M, and an employee base of 15,000. (All figures rounded)
According to Association President Steele, “San Antonians have expressed (that) our city managers pay is out of touch with our working population. When you have a City Manager that makes the same money per year as the President of the United States and the Governor of Texas—combined, we think that is out of touch. We think voters should have the choice to continue the status quo or set realistic limits.”
The second charter amendment being proposed is referred to as the “Firefighter Contract Fairness Act”. This charter change will require arbitration, in lieu of litigation between the Firefighters Union and the City in the event of an impasse in collective bargaining between the city and firefighters. According to the campaign spokesmen, the current City Manager has initiated expensive lawsuits with losses piling up in court costing taxpayers $2 million in legal fees.
The third charter amendment addresses the onerous requirements for citizen groups before they are allowed to place a referendum on the ballot for a vote by the electorate. The current charter requires over 75,000 petition signatures submitted within 40 days, a Herculean task for any advocacy group. To bring the city’s ordinance in line with state law, this amendment will reduce the required number of petitions to 20,000 and petition gathering period expanded to 180 days.
George Rodriguez, former President of the San Antonio Tea Party, noted that the “deck is stacked against citizens who want to change city ordinances. Why should voters be forced to gather nearly four times as many signatures in a fourth of the time, than what state law requires to change the Charter? City ordinance or Charter, the rules should be the same.”
The Firefighters’ San Antonio First Campaign has brought together a growing list of supporting organizations from different sides of the political spectrum. At the Firefighters’ meeting on July 10th, local committee members of the Bexar County Republican Party were present along with Democratic Party leaders, LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) was represented, an independent voters organization, the San Antonio Tea Party, among others.
For more information about the SAN ANTONIO FIRST campaign, visit website.