The QueQue 

Contractual ’cuffs

The more things change ... the more they stay the same in the imminent collective-bargaining agreement between the San Antonio Police Officers Association and the City. The previous contract expired last October, but its 10-year evergreen clause went into effect as the City and SAPOA negotiated over sticky wickets like health benefits and complaint procedures. SAPOA President Mike Helle said members of his association were voting on the contract as we spoke Monday afternoon. SAPOA votes will be tallied Wednesday, but Helle told the QueQue his members would “most definitely” approve the deal. If so, the contract goes before City Council Thursday. Unlike the hastily approved City Manager contract extension that a prior Council signed off on in December ’08 based on representations from then Mayor Hardberger (District 7 nitpicker Justin Rodriguez excepted), we trust our elected reps will read this one in detail first. …

The projected cost of the five-year contract, which would go into effect October 1 and end September 30, 2014, is $62.9 million. Among the major changes: An extra shift, from 5 p.m.-3 a.m., has been added to complement outgoing B-shifts (1:30-9:30 p.m.) and incoming C-shifts (10:30 p.m.-6:30 a.m.), for 226 positions. Perhaps due to the lengthy contract-renegotiation process, officers received no across-the-board wage increases in 2009, but the contract does provide a 2-percent increase this coming October, with 3-percent increases each additional year the contract covers. That’s consistent with wage increases under the previous contract.

To the envy of teens everywhere, a departmental clothing allowance is set to rise exponentially over the next four years. Under the old contract it was a mere $480 annually; this year it’s set for $720, and effective October 1, 2013, it will be $1,440. Maybe they know something we don’t about the textile industry. Vacation time is slightly sweeter than in the past, too, amounting to one extra day off for officers with more than one year of service. Hiring guidelines for police cadets are encapsulated in the new contract, and we can all breathe a little easier now: The new agreement institutionalizes a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use while on duty and/or operating a police vehicle.

Of note to followers of 2008’s Police Executive Research Forum report, which made several recommendations regarding both the complaint procedure against SAPD officers and the makeup of the Citizen Action Advisory Board, is the board’s new composition. The panel, which hears citizen complaints against officers and recommends disciplinary action to the chief, will now contain seven appointees selected from a pool of 14 — a significant increase over four sitting members drawn from a pool of eight under the previous contract.

Moreover, the so-called “veto” power the SAPOA had over members is now at least contractually absent, and the CAAB selection process will now go through the City Manager’s office, where it previously was hashed out between the City Council and SAPOA. The old contract guaranteed SAPOA the opportunity to remove half of the list’s candidates before appointments were made. Now they can provide input on candidates but hold no official entitlement to strike candidates from the list. Also, when complainants go before the CAAB they will be allowed to bring in an “observer” for support. Get the scoop yourself, and weigh in, at Thursday’s Council meeting: epay.sanantonio.gov/agendabuilder/eagendalist.aspx

Next week, the Current delves more deeply into what the contract and the department does and doesn’t do to address SAPD’s recent (or should we say “ongoing”?) history with creeps, car wrecks, and fatal shootings.

Smokescreed

Only a week ago, Councilman Justin Rodriguez’s proposed expansion of the City’s smoking ordinance — to include pretty much all interior spaces where bonhomie is practiced — seemed a foreordained success: At a press conference designed to put the lead in the remaining council members’ pencils, the Mayor endorsed the idea, and the Smoke-Free San Antonio Coalition rolled out a poll that showed five out of eight respondents would be more likely to vote for a city council member who supported a broader band.

Among those not cheering in the background: Jim Hasslocher of locally beloved chain Jim’s, three locations of which still allow smoking, along with the bar at the Hasslocher-owned Magic Time Machine.

“Sometimes government is too intrusive into people’s lives,” said Hasslocher, a former city councilman. What’s next? he asked. “Let’s not sell liquor in bars, and put everybody out of business?”

Proponents of the expanded ban point to the health of employees who work in smoky watering holes and eateries, but lobbyist Ken Brown of Brown & Ortiz, which represents R.J. Reynolds and the San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association, claims: “If they pass the ordinance, they won’t have to worry, because there won’t be as many employees.” Brown questions the Mayor and Rodriguez’s assertion that because the last ordinance, enacted in 2003, didn’t demonstrably hurt small-business owners, this one won’t have a negative impact, either. That law, says Brown, left proprietors options, from segregated smoking sections to filtering systems, and exempted venues that are irretrievably stained with nicotine in our collective imagination: bowling alleys, pool halls … and VFW clubs. “Really, they can fight for our country, but they can’t get together and smoke?” Brown asks.

Curious whether our vets are really on fire about the topic, the QueQue stopped for a beer last week at historic Post 76, where ashtrays are readily available in the smoking-permitted bar and front room. Only one gentleman was actually taking advantage of the liberty, but he said he’d be inclined to just drink at home if he couldn’t light up with his longneck. A Vietnam vet disagreed: He’d quit long ago because of the impact it could have on others’ health, he said. The fact that he’d fought for his country “doesn’t give me the right to hurt you,” he added.

At the other end of the bar, a mountain of a man in a Harley vest said his grandmother long ago told him he’d pay for his own sins. “I’ll do it till they put me out,” he said. The bartender likes to smoke in the evening, and was similarly unenthused and worried that it would cost her business and tips. But Post manager Luis Gomez doesn’t believe the expanded ban would affect the VFW, because last year they invested in air purifiers.

That’s unlikely to be the case, and it’s exactly that sort of investment District 10 Councilman John Clamp says the proposed new law would penalize. Like most of the ban opponents the QueQue spoke with, Clamp would rather see a statewide law, which the Texas Restaurant Association voted to support in 2009. Along with the specter of vets forced to smoke in isolation, opponents’ dreams are haunted by the image of an Alamo Heights bar and restaurant district enriched by fugitives from SA’s smoke-free hospitality industry.

Clamp predicts that more Council dissent will materialize in the upcoming weeks. “There’s a strong sentiment that we’re moving too fast,” he said. “And there’s also strong dissension that we should not be doing this.”

Rodriguez, who was just leaving a meeting at Club Humidor with cigar entrepreneurs when he spoke with the QueQue Monday afternoon, says the opposition is “getting a little ahead of themselves, because we don’t even have a proposed ordinance yet.”

San Antonio’s hottest new hotelier is at peace with the pending ordinance. She’s now proprietrix of the smoke-free bar at the Havana, one of the city’s former favorite places to light up (per a poll you can take to the bank: the Current’s annual Best of San Antonio readers’ choice awards). “Before we made the decision, we did a lot of polling of people who loved the bar,” said Liz Lambert, who also operates properties in Marfa and smoke-free Austin. The people who no longer went to the basement club because of the smoke “pretty much outweighed” those who said it was key to their patronage. Another key factor in her decision to cut the indoor smoking: the $40,000 it would take to replace the nonfunctioning filtration system and word on the street that SA was likely to go smoke-free in the near future, anyway. Because cigars are so much a part of the Havana’s history and identity, Lambert plans to continue selling stogies onsite, which can be smoked in the designated areas outside.

“When Austin was going smoke-free, I had mixed feelings about it, especially little dives like the Continental Club,” Lambert said. “But honestly, I don’t think anyone has missed it.”

Give a damn? Drop in on Wednesday’s Governance Committee meeting, 1 p.m. in the City Hall Media Briefing Room.

Helter shelter

Last Thursday, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance approving funding for Animal Care Services to lease pre-existing kennel space at Brooks City-Base. The item was pulled from the agenda last month amid mixed messages from ACS `see the QueQue, April 14`. This time it appeared with the hearty support of Assistant City Manager T.C. Broadnax and four present (of nine total) ACS advisory board members. “This will change the future of Animal Care Services,” ACS Advisory Board Vice Chairman Randy Murdock told the Council.

The Brooks City-Base deal will provide 150 additional kennels, which means space for 10,000-12,000 more stray animals annually. With the new digs came the authorization to hire nine additional ACS staff members, a shot in the arm to ACS’ anemic staff of 28. Costs to upgrade the kennels will run ACS only $125,000, allowing them to reallocate funds from the $500,000 originally provided in the FY 2010 budget to build a mere 50 kennels from scratch on ACS’ existing property. The remaining $470,494 will be added to $900,000 in reallocated funds plus an existing balance of $427,000 for a total of $1.8 million to fund a new adoption and education center at 201 Tuleta, near Brackenridge Park.

That locale may sound familiar. It’s the address of the old ACS building, subject of 2004’s Express-News pound exposé that led to the No Kill 2012 initiative. Broadnax said the City tore down the old facility a year and a half ago to “erase bad memories.” In its place, ACS hopes to erect a shiny, new, prominently “no-kill” adoption facility on the more than four acres. He also expressed hope that the City will defend the parcel from Brackenridge Park and the San Antonio Zoo, which are eyeing the prime real estate for more park space or parking spaces, respectively.

Now for the bad news. Everyone — Broadnax, Murdock, even Dr. Laura McKieran, committee chair of the No Kill initiative’s consortium — understands that an increased intake in animals will lead to increased kill rates in the short term. Even with the extra space and extra ACS staff, “We don’t have the time or resources to take these animals and turn them into good animals,” said Murdock. Animals that aren’t picked up by their owners or can’t find homes through ACS’ adoption programs, private rescue groups, or foster facilities within 72 hours will still likely be euthanized.

With just two and a half years left to go on the No Kill 2012 deadline, it seems unlikely 2009’s 70-percent euthanasia rate will drop that dramatically. For one, the rehabilitated Brooks City-Base kennels will open much more quickly than the adoption center. For another, Brooks City-Base provides 100 more kennels than the 50 adoption-site kennels, and so the math, as long as ACS remains full and rescue groups overextended, still reveals a grim deficit.

“It’s a step backwards,” said John Bachman, member of local animal-rights group Voice for Animals, after the Council vote. “I’m not sure extra kennels will do anything to solve stray `overpopulation`.” Bachman wholeheartedly supports the new adoption center, he told Council, but would prefer the money dedicated to Brooks City-Base kennels (about $1.2 million for two years of operation) go to spay and neuter programs.

To become more involved in ACS and the City’s No Kill initiative, check out the website (sanantonio.gov/animalcare/) and attend Wednesday’s advisory-board meeting, 6:30 p.m. at 4710 State Hwy. 151, annex training rooms 1 and 2, where ACS will present recommendations for revisions to the Chapter 5 ordinances that govern the city’s approach to animals.

AGE(d) refinery

Now that we know the fire at AGE Refining’s Southside plant wasn’t the work of rabid environmentalists out to localize the message of our dying Gulf of Mexico (but thanks Rush for that from-the-hip ungrounded speculation; we’ve come to expect no less) and was an official “accident,” according to our Fire Chief, all of San Antonio waits anxiously to find out why a good chunk of us were very nearly fried to a crisp on May 5 when a tanker truck exploded at the half-century-old in-town refinery.

One thing is clear: We’ve burned this way before. Back in 2004, a leak from a “pinhole” 5 feet below of the top of a crude-oil tower coated the exterior insulation and tower’s base, leading to a morning blaze. It was extinguished by the San Antonio Fire Department within 15 minutes after they arrived.

Four years later, on August 20, 2008, a power outage diverted explosive chemicals to the flare. Unfortunately, under high pressure, vapors also began venting out of a “knockout pot” at the base of the flare. Then they ignited, burning for about six minutes before employees doused the flames.

As an older facility, AGE is prone to act up during stressful situations. Perhaps that’s why one former neighbor complained to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about truckers idling in his yard smoking cigarettes as they waited their turn to fill up with jet fuel. Not only could the TCEQ not take action against trucks parking where they oughtn’t, responded now Executive Director Glenn Shankle, but they weren’t about to encroach on matters of personal liberty. “Personal smoking is not within the regulatory jurisdiction of the TCEQ,” Shankle wrote.

Our would-be whistleblower wasn’t sure he wanted to go on the record either when I tracked him down on Tuesday, commiserating instead with AGE’s management: “They’ve got enough to deal with these days.”

TCEQ inspectors wrote in 2002: “As a result of our investigation, it was determined that AGE has had multiple events in the truck loading racks. Events occurred on January 15, 2002, January 29, 2002, January 30, 2002, February 21, and February 28 that could have been prevented by good operations. In each of the events, the operator overfilled trucks.”

Speaking of overfill: In a quick check of regional TCEQ records we found spills galore (all since cleaned up, we’re told). There were 1,200 gallons of solvent and 8,600 gallons of crude oil spilled onsite in 2004, and 1,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled onsite in 2008. Last year, about 400 gallons of naptha were spilled at the refinery. A week after receiving the news, one TCEQ employee wrote: “The incident appears to have been properly addressed. No further action by the TCEQ is warranted at this time.”

On top of OSHA’s jackboot of an investigation and TCEQ’s years of softshoe, now AGE officials have growing public scrutiny to deal with for all those years of playing cat-and-mouse with the TCEQ over missing records and emissions data. Word is spreading about public demonstrations gathering for next week. Every time the QueQue finds itself feeling sorry for AGE owner Glen Gonzalez, we just remember how close we came to a massive fireball on the South Side. We then pretend we were a resident at the nearby San Antonio State Hospital. Being charcoal isn’t any kind of ambition, no matter how crazy you are. •


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