Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) speaks with a guest. Photo by Scott Ball.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) speaks with a guest. Photo by Scott Ball.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) renewed a call on Wednesday morning for the City Council to drop the City’s lawsuit that challenges the evergreen clause in police and firefighter union contracts.

“It is time for us to return to the business of running a city while respecting all its employees. We need to stand strong with our first responders and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Gonzales stated in a news release on Wednesday.

Gonzales joined Council members Cris Medina (D7), Ray Lopez (D6), Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Alan Warrick (D2) in early January 2015 in submitting a council consideration request (CCR) to revoke the lawsuit. Later in the month, Mayor Taylor, chairing the Council’s Governance Committee, tabled discussion about the CCR.

“I invite my colleagues to join me and those of us who signed the original CCR to discuss this issue in an open City Council meeting, to be fully transparent and to let the negotiations continue without further appeals on the Evergreen lawsuit,” she added.

The City faces “rejection of our legal arguments from a fair and impartial judge,” stated Medina on Tuesday.

State District Judge Martha Tanner on Monday denied the City’s request for summary judgment in the lawsuit that argues the 10-year clause contained in its collective bargaining agreements with the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) and the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association (SAPFA) is unconstitutional.

The City, SAPOA, and SAPFA will likely appeal the case all the way up to the state Supreme Court. City Manager Sheryl Sculley has already indicated that the City will appeal Judge Tanner’s ruling.

The evergreen clause, which maintains contractual terms for 10 years after contract expiration or until a new agreement is reached, could lead to serious public debt and force the City to consider reducing basic services in order to meet its contractual obligations, according to City officials. Union officials reject that assertion.

Sculley, Mayor Ivy Taylor, and Councilman Joe Krier (D9) have expressed disappointment with the ruling, and said issues existing among the City and the unions could best be settled at the negotiating table if the clause did not give union negotiators a reason to stay away.

Warrick issued his own statement after the ruling Tuesday, saying there is a greater likelihood of the unions and the City achieving new collective bargaining contracts without a looming lawsuit. The decision of an appeal, he added, should be made by elected officials rather than staff. Akeem Brown, policy and communications director in Warrick’s office, said the councilman has not indicated whether he will support bringing the matter to the full council for consideration.

Laura Calo, communications director for Viagran, said the councilwoman has not yet issued an official reaction to the ruling and that one would not be expected from her office on Wednesday.

Later on Wednesday, Councilman Lopez’s office issued a statement, asking the City to delay an appeal of Tanner’s ruling in favor of another Council discussion.

“I have always felt and taken the position publicly and consistently that a lawsuit against our public safety personnel is not the best path forward in agreeing on a new CBA. Judge Tanner’s decision reinforced that position,” Lopez said.

“We must identify a fair and financially responsible CBA at the bargaining table, not with legal threats or public smear campaigns.”

SAPOA President Mike Helle told a reporter on Wednesday that the City’s lawsuit has destroyed trust between the police union and the City, and inflamed the negotiation process. He also thanked the five Council members who felt, at the least, that a public debate about the lawsuit was warranted.

“We all have to remember that the city manager works for the City Council, not the other way around. Let’s see where each Council member stands on appealing this lawsuit and spending millions more tax dollars on suing police officers and their families,” Helle said. “Then they can direct (City Manager) Sheryl Sculley what to do. It’s important that the spending of millions of dollars in legal fees and this failed legal strategy be decided by those who were elected to represent the community.”

The City’s five-year contract with the police and firefighter unions expired Sept. 30, 2014. The City filed its lawsuit nearly two months later. On-again, off-again negotiations continued between the City and SAPOA for more than a year and a half until the police union called off talks in September, citing the lawsuit as cause. The two sides had all but come to an agreement on most of the major contract issues, but union officials decided to break of talks unless the lawsuit was withdrawn. The City, meanwhile, offered to drop the lawsuit in return for concessions on the length of the evergreen clause in any new contract, an offer the police union rejected.

The firefighters union has yet to meet with the City at the bargaining table.

*Top image: Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) speaks with a guest at a recent event. Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

Judge Rules Against City in Lawsuit, City to Appeal

City, Police Union Meet Again, This Time in a Courtroom

Police Union: Drop Lawsuit or Negotiations are Dead

City, Police Union Stall Over Evergreen Clause

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.