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The San Antonio Fire Union Won on Election Day, and Here's Why 

click to enlarge JEREMIAH TEUTSCH
  • Jeremiah Teutsch
More San Antonians voted "yes" than "no" on the three city charter amendments on the November 6 ballot, and the fire union won the day.

If anyone from the Go Vote No campaign tells you otherwise, give them a stern look and slowly shake your head.

Voters soundly rejected Proposition A, which would have lowered the threshold for putting new city ordinances – including SAWS or CPS Energy rate increases – to a public vote. But they also OK'd Prop C, which requires disputes over the fire union's contract to go to binding arbitration, not the courthouse, and they went wild for Prop B, which caps the city manager's salary and imposes an eight-year term limit.

Support for Prop B nearly reached 60 percent. For the sake of comparison, 54 percent of voters sided against Prop A.

Yes, Prop A would have been the biggest threat to city government by making it easy for special-interest groups to try to overrule elected officials at the ballot box. But don't read the proposition's defeat as voters' endorsement of the status quo at City Hall.

Prop B was a referendum on City Manager Sheryl Sculley, her compensation – which, all in, exceeds $500,000 – and the power she's amassed in her 13 years on the job, even though the charter change would affect her successors, not her. (For background on Sculley, read this and this.) In other words, the status quo was on the ballot, and it lost.

The grassroots Texas Organizing Project took no position on Prop C but worked to defeat Props A & B. Yet TOP's executive director, Michelle Tremillo,  had a warning for establishment opponents of the measures.

“On Proposition B, TOP members acknowledged that they share frustrations and concerns with the city manager’s salary and power, but couldn’t support the combination of solutions as bundled in this proposition," Tremillo said in September. "The mayor and city council should take these concerns and frustrations seriously, and move to address them with input from the community. This proposition will pass unless they find a way to inspire voters and invite them in to craft a different way to run our city."

Tremillo was right. The business-backed Go Vote No campaign didn't bother to seriously address voters' concerns about Sculley, and lost as a result.

And for all the noise about leaked audio recordings of fire union President Chris Steele, voters approved – albeit by a slim, 51-percent margin – Prop C, the one charter amendment that directly benefitted the union.

Based on last night's outcome, I'd feel comfortable betting that Councilman Greg Brockhouse, a fire union ally and one of its former political consultants, challenges Mayor Ron Nirenberg in the 2019 city election – but he'll spend as much time railing against Sculley as he does Nirenberg.

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