City Charter Amendments Expose Major Rift Between City Leaders and Electorate

San Antonio Charter Amendment Rift

What is going on with the local city propositions on the Bexar County ballot for the midterm, non-Presidential elections on November 6, 2018? This commentary could be subtitled “Lies, Deception, Distortions, Smoke & Mirrors” to describe the frenzied drama going on in San Antonio between the power brokers who run the city and citizen-led groups to clamor for reforms to increase voter/resident representation in city governance.

The featured photo represents the main antagonists in the fight for votes at the heart of the charter amendment resolutions on the November ballot. Christian Archer is a political strategist who specializes in Democrat candidate campaigns. He is a skilled, tough, and expensive political gun for hire.  He was hired to work with Sheryl Sculley and the city council as the muni bond campaign manager to pass the $850 million+ municipal bond in 2017. This bond is the largest public debt obligation ever guaranteed by the city of San Antonio and its taxpayers for public projects. Former Mayor Phil Hardberger’s land bridge for animal crossings was one of the propositions funded by the new public debt. Archer is the campaign manager for the VOTENO campaign spearheaded by the Secure San Antonio’s Future PAC, a political action committee, organized to defeat the charter amendments.

Reinette King is a former government price analyst with a degree in Business and a minor in Economics.  She leads the VOTE YES campaign to pass the charter amendments, representing a broad independent grassroots coalition,, which includes the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association (SAPFA), the League of Independent Voters, and other citizen-led watchdog organizations in San Antonio.

This intense battle has pitted Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, and members of the City Council against Chris Steel, President of the SAPFA and his members and grassroots allies including local leaders in the Republican and Democratic Parties. Nirenberg and Sculley have weighed in heavily, campaigning against the charter amendment propositions.

What are the charter  amendments about?

Charter Amendment A would lower the number of required signatures for an ordinance change from 10% of registered voters (about 70,000-75,000 signatures) to 20,000 signatures.  The petitioners will have more time to collect signatures currently set at 40 days, now increased to a  reasonable 180 days. I am told by San Antonio old timers that during the time of the Applewhite Reservoir battles in the 90s, voters clashed with City officials which precipitated the city ordinance change raising a very high bar for grassroots organizers to challenge city council decisions.

Charter Amendment B will require 8 votes to appoint a city manager who will be subject to the same term limit as council members. The City Manager’s annual compensation will be limited to ten times the annual salary of the lowest paid city employee.

Charter Amendment C will trigger independent binding arbitration between the city and the firefighters when city management and the SAPFA first responders fail to reach contract terms.

The three charter amendments proposed to voters are reasonable and, many would agree, necessary in the current political  environment in the city of San Antonio where a powerful city manager dominates decisions of the city council whose members  go through a two year revolving door election to win and keep their jobs.

The Mayor, City Manager Sculley, and Council members have not attempted at all to keep at arm’s length the political firefight between the grassroots coalition fighting to gain a seat at the table when critical decisions are made by city leaders and city officials – think about the streetcar construction project or the $3.4 billion plus Vista Ridge pipeline project and the Mayor and City Council’s influential allies in the business community who are power players, beneficiaries of huge municipal contracts. Wasn’t this the purpose of the Secure San Antonio’s Future PAC which has raised millions to defeat the charter amendment propositions? To ensure their power and privileges with elected city officials?

However, while many believe the Mayor, City Manager, and City Council members should remain impartial, their actions have presented a direct conflict of interest. Why are these elected officials obstructing and fighting the right of citizen-led organizations to propose changes to city decisions that affect all San Antonians? Let the voters decide the merits and deficiencies of their decisions through proposals presented by the citizenry whenever necessary. Elected city officials and their business community partners who stand to gain financially from a close-knit good old boys’ relationship with city council members should not be allowed to continue unchecked. We live in a democratic republic where our forefathers predicted all kinds of political mischief, collusion, and corruption hidden from the public eye.

This is where the lies and distortions come in. The City’s AAA bond rating is not jeopardized by any of the charter amendments. Honestly, the city’s excellent bond rating preceded the hiring of City Manager Sculley. There will be no new taxes from the passage of these proposed charter changes which is falsely claimed by the VOTENO political action committee. Actually the Governor is prioritizing the capping of municipal property tax increases which are aggressively being fought by Nirenberg and other Mayors. Do ask the Mayor and City Manager about the property tax increases challenged by San Antonio residents every year at the appraisal office from hidden tax increases from climbing real estate values.

The city’s bond rating is stellar because of a number of factors beyond the City Council and City Manager’s accomplishments. The City’s attractive climate, substantial population growth, diverse business community, ability to raise revenues and pay the city’s debts, management of pension liabilities are the key factors in bond ratings. In fact the Firefighters and Police Associations not the city,  have managed their own pensions, considered a model in the state.

Regarding Amendment B, capping the City Manager’s compensation and term of employment – With an annual compensation package over $575K, she is one of the highest paid city managers in the nation. Austin’s city manager who also manages the city’s utilities is paid  $330,000  Dallas’s city manager is paid $475,000 to manage twice the number of employees of San Antonio. San Antonio pays over  $2 million a year  for Sheryl Sculley and her staff.

Regarding Charter Amendment C, it is unconscionable that the city’s firefighters have been working without a new contract for five years. firefighters are exposed to asbestos and that asbestos causes cancer.  For over six years, City Manager  Sculley has repeatedly denied the firefighters their right to use their workers compensation.  According to Ms. Reinette King, “She forced them to use their own insurance, causing it to skyrocket.  Instead of negotiating, she sued the Firefighters Association repeatedly, costing San Antonio taxpayers over two million dollars in attorney fees.  All these lawsuits were thrown out of court.  Replacing lawsuits with arbitration in case of disagreement will provide firefighters sufficient healthcare required and save San Antonians lots of tax dollars!”

I strongly recommend that eligible registered voters in San Antonio VOTE YES FOR CHARTER AMENDMENTS – PROPOSITIONS A, B, and C.

For a conservative list of endorsements for the November 6 2018 election – Go to:  TLIPA.ORG