Robin Black (left) speaks with retired fire department Lt. Bert Kuykendall about charters petitions in February 2018.
Robin Black speaks with retired fire Lt. Bert Kuykendall about the fire union's charter petition drive in February 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The political action committee formed to defeat the local firefighters union’s controversial ballot measures lost its case in the 4th Court of Appeals Wednesday evening.

Secure San Antonio’s Future (SSAF) will appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court this week, the PAC’s campaign manager Christian Archer said. That effort faces a tight deadline as the ballots for the November election will be printed on Sept. 5.

“The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association is pleased that yet another court has ruled on the side of the taxpayers,” union officials wrote in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately this is a repeating pattern with the city manager: file frivolous lawsuits and try to tie things up in court instead of doing the right thing.”

SSAF’s lawsuit alleges that the manner in which the fire union paid a consultant to collect signatures for its ballot petitions was illegal – using member dues instead of a unique political action committee.

Judge Cathleen Stryker of the 224th Civil District Court earlier this month denied a request for a temporary restraining order that could have prevented the firefighters union’s charter amendments from getting onto the November ballot. The PAC appealed Stryker’s decision to the 4th Court.

The signatures gathered for the amendments were verified by the City Clerk’s office in May, but a San Antonio Express-News investigation in July revealed the union failed to disclose and properly categorize a $510,000 payment to Buda-based petition consultant Texas Petition Strategies.

The ballot proposals would make it easier to change ordinances, utility rates, and other rules typically left to City Council; limit the tenure and salary of future city managers; and force binding arbitration on a new labor agreement between the City and fire union.

“City Hall is out of control and the taxpayers aren’t being listened to anymore. A YES vote in November will put the taxpayers back in charge where they belong,” the union statement reads.

In mid-July, the union filed a lawsuit alleging the City violated petition gatherers’ First Amendment rights earlier in the year by threatening them with arrest as they sought signatures in designated “free speech areas” at libraries and other locations.

Secure San Antonio’s Future plans to raise more than $1 million will officially kick off on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 9:15 a.m. at La Villita.

City and business leaders have called the ballot items “dangerous” to the City’s operations and financial health.

“I have been focused on the campaign to defeat these destructive charter amendments at the polls in November and will continue with that effort,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the Rivard Report via text. “We will not let San Antonio’s forward progress be blocked by anyone’s selfish agenda.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org