One day after a Texas Supreme Court ruling allowed their proposed charter amendments to remain on the Nov. 6 ballot, leaders of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association were back on the offensive Wednesday, raising questions about who is funding a political action committee opposing the measures.
The PAC, Secure San Antonio’s Future (SSAF), sought last month to keep the charter amendments off the ballot following media reports that revealed the firefighters union failed to disclose a $510,000 payment to Buda-based petition consultant Texas Petition Strategies. The union paid the company to help it gather petition signatures to get the amendments on the ballot.
The union amended and re-amended campaign finance statements documenting how it paid the company, and union leaders ultimately acknowledged that the money came from union dues and filed a direct expenditure report. SSAF’s lawsuit alleged that the union illegally used member dues instead of a unique political action committee to pay Texas Petition Strategies.
The state’s high court ruled Tuesday against SSAF’s request for a temporary restraining order to keep the measures off the ballot. It remains to be seen whether SSAF continues the separate district court case against the union.
“This certainly is not settled,” said Christian Archer, SSAF’s campaign manager. “They want to pretend it is settled, but I can assure you it is not settled.”
The union has since formed its own political action committee, San Antonio First, and leaders said they will continue to self-fund the campaign in support of the charter amendments. Fire union attorney Cris Feldman said the union hasn’t raised any outside money for its campaign.
Feldman tried to turn the tables on SSAF on Wednesday, calling on the PAC to disclose its complete list of donors. While not accusing it of any illegality, Feldman noted that the PAC had raised nearly $700,000 in a five-week stretch earlier this summer. It hasn’t had to disclose where that money came from yet because the next deadline for doing so isn’t until early October.
“Where is this other $700,000 coming from? Disclose it,” he said at a press conference Wednesday at the union’s headquarters. “I challenge them to do that today.
“If they can take the time to run to the Texas Supreme Court and pound their chests about transparency when we have been clear from Day One that the firefighters are the ones behind the three charter amendments and paid for it, they should come forward and list out every contributor on their website now.”
Archer said SSAF has until Monday to decide whether to proceed with the court case against the union, which wouldn’t conclude until well after the election, or to simply proceed with campaign efforts to defeat the amendments at the ballot box. Archer also said SSAF would disclose its funding when it is required to do so in October and again eight days before the election.
“What we have done is go about it the legal way,” Archer said. “So when we file our contributions and expenditures report, we actually tell the truth. So on the next contributions and expenditures report, when that’s due, we will fully disclose all the money. That’s what we are required to do by law and more importantly, that is what they’re required to do by law. They’re the ones that have failed, and they’ve admitted to failing.”
The three proposed charter amendments would limit future city managers’ salaries to no more than 10 times the lowest-paid, full-time municipal employee, give the firefighters union sole discretion to decide when contract negotiations with the city are not progressing and require the City to go to binding arbitration, and decrease the required number of signatures for a ballot referendum and extend the amount of time groups have to gather them.
Union President Christopher Steele was asked about opponents’ contention that the amendments would cause the City to lose its AAA bond rating and trigger tax increases.
“So my response is, and everyone can identify with this, our taxes go up every year now,” Steele said. “What is the difference? So what this does, though, is it allows the people a voice to stop that from happening.”
Steele pointed to occasional rate increases by San Antonio Water System and CPS Energy as examples of actions he believes voters could potentially seek to undo if the amendments pass. He said opponents’ claims about falling bond ratings and tax hikes are scare tactics.
Archer said that amendments that would potentially allow voters to micromanage every decision City leaders make would throw the municipal government into chaos.
“That pretty much describes how cavalier they are with three propositions that [could] have a devastating effect on our city,” he said.