City Council members (from left) Ana Sandoval, Manny Pelaez and Shirley Gonzalez address comments from Fire Union President Chris Steele.
City Council members (from left) Ana Sandoval, Manny Pelaez and Shirley Gonzalez address comments from Fire Union President Chris Steele. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio firefighters union President Chris Steele told firefighters he had “five solid votes” on City Council that would support the union, according to a second leaked recording released on Tuesday.

In the recording, Steele names five City Council members he believes would be in support of dropping a lawsuit the City filed against the 10-year evergreen clause in the union’s current contract or a labor contract between the City and the union that favors firefighters.

“We got five solid votes now. Five solid: Greg Brockhouse in [district] 6 — he’s heading that up; Ana Sandoval in 7, Manny Pelaez in 8, Clayton Perry in 10 and Shirley Gonzales in 5. We’re solid,” Steele said in the recording. “[City Manager Sheryl] Sculley can’t even make a dent in them at this point. So we’re in a better position than we have been in many years. But we don’t have six, though.”

There are 11 members of City Council, including the mayor. Six votes would have given the fire union the majority.

Steele did not respond for a request for comment.

This is the second leaked recording created by an unidentified firefighter and given to the Go Vote No Campaign, an advocacy group against the fire union’s three proposed charter amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Steele also declined to comment on the first recording, which outlined the union’s political plans.

Three of those five City Council members – Sandoval, Gonzales, and Pelaez – attended a press conference Tuesday to clarify that they are not beholden to the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association. Brockhouse and Perry did not attend.

“Nobody owns my vote,” Pelaez said at the Go Vote No campaign headquarters. “You know who owns my vote? The people who elected me.”

Sandoval and Gonzales echoed Palaez’s comments and reiterated that they do not support the proposed city charter changes.

Pelaez and Gonzales have received campaign endorsements from the fire union.

The recording, according to Christian Archer, who is managing the Secure San Antonio’s Future/Go Vote No campaign, was captured in a firehouse in November or December of last year – before Steele launched the San Antonio First campaign, which now also goes by Approved By Citizens. Around this time, the City’s appeal of its loss at a lower court was awaiting a hearing by the Texas Supreme Court. The court asked for briefs regarding the case in December 2017.

“The city is probably not gonna agree and I hoped they wouldn’t … is not going to agree to an arbitrator because everything they have said has been a lie and the arbitrator is gonna see that the city has money and the city had no business filing the lawsuit, that the insurance is great the way it is.  They’re going to see it all,” Steele said. “So the city for their advantage they don’t want uh… arbitration but we gonna have Council on our side.”

Archer said he does not have access to the full recording of the meeting. “The clips that you have are the same sent to me,” he told reporters, and he has not edited them.

Pelaez, Gonzales, and Sandoval said they support firefighters and contract negotiations, but that these city charter changes to A) relax and broaden rules for referendum, B) limit the compensation and tenure of future city managers, and C) allow the union to force the city into binding arbitration for contract negotiations are bad for the city.

“I’ve been on record calling for the City to drop the lawsuit … this isn’t new,” Brockhouse told the Rivard Report in a phone interview Tuesday. As for the other Council members listed, he added, “the union misread who was with them and who wasn’t. … Nobody is saying [the union] ‘owned’ anything. What’s in there is: them assuming these [Council members] are with us. Turns out they weren’t. That’s okay.”

That kind of assumption and vote-counting happens every day, said Brockhouse, who worked for the police and fire unions before he was elected to represent District 6 and plans to run for the mayor’s seat.

David Van Os, a spokesman for the San Antonio First campaign, noted firefighters have a right to participate in the political process.

“Doesn’t he have the same right as the lobbyists who swarm City Hall every day,” he said, to speculate about Council’s support on an issue?

“People try to estimate how City Council members are going to vote all the time,” Van Os said. “I think somebody ought to go around and record Christian Archer … see how many deals and estimates he makes.”

But Pelaez said this is an example of Steele spreading falsehoods. “What else are we not being told the truth on?”

“The assumptions made by Chief Steele on recent audio recordings released are just that,” Perry said in a statement. “While it is not my intention to campaign for or against Propositions A, B and C, I’ll personally be voting no. This has nothing to do with choosing sides, this is about what I believe is the best way to move San Antonio forward.

“These propositions are a direct result of the failure to move forward with the contract between the City and Fire Union — both are to blame,” Perry added. “There is no excuse to go over four years without a contract or to enter into multiple expensive lawsuits —some of which are still ongoing.”

Gonzales has previously called for the City to drop the lawsuit against the evergreen clause. The city ultimately lost its appeal to the Supreme Court in August.

“I have seen the firefighters work to save people’s lives. I’ve seen the incredible effort that they put in every day of the job,” Gonzales said. “I look forward to the day that we can have a contract that supports our firefighters, but this idea that somehow our votes are locked [in] is just not the case.”

“I as a Council member have spent a lot of my time talking with my constituents about why these propositions are so bad for us as a city,” Gonzales said.

The Approved By Citizens (ABC) campaign has created a “false binary choice” between the firefighters and the City, Pelaez said. “The choice is … [if] you vote for these initiatives that means you support firefighters – if you don’t support these initiatives that means you don’t support firefighters. That is an intellectual dishonest way of presenting the choice in front of voters in November.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...