This article has been updated.
San Antonio City Clerk Tina Flores confirmed Thursday that police reform activists collected enough valid signatures, at least 19,337, to get a measure on the May ballot asking voters if they want to repeal a state law that gives police officers collective bargaining rights.
City Council will vote to finalize the election’s ballot on Feb. 11.
Fix SAPD, a group seeking policing reform that formed in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police last summer, launched a petition drive in September to collect signatures to place the repeal measure on the ballot.
“This is a major accomplishment for all our volunteers, and the tens of thousands of San Antonians who demanded change,” stated Fix SAPD member EJ Pinnock in a news release. “Now we, as a city, have a chance to send a clear message: Accountability is non-negotiable.”
The repeal concerns Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code that allows police officers and firefighters to collectively bargain for their labor contract with the city. Activists say that the collective bargaining process is flawed and the resulting contract provisions allow bad cops ousted for wrongdoing to get back on the force.
Fix SAPD also attempted to get a repeal of Chapter 143 on the ballot, but failed to collect the more than 78,400 required signatures. That law details stipulations in hiring, firing, and disciplining police officers as well as the collective bargaining rights that empower police unions. Not all cities have adopted these state rules, but both can be repealed by a local vote.
If Chapter 174 is repealed, the City can’t negotiate a contract that includes rules – or possible police reforms – that violates stipulations in Chapter 143.
Chapter 143 includes several disciplinary rules that the activists have deemed problematic, such as the appeals process through arbitration and the inability of the police chief to punish officers for conduct violations after 180 days.
Fix SAPD co-founder Ojiyoma Martin has said Fix SAPD will try to get repeal of Chapter 143 on the ballot in a future election.
“We all know there is an issue with police accountability, but we are also grateful for
those officers that are on the force to ensure our safety,” said Marie Naranjo, a resident that helped collect signatures for the petition. “This vote is not us versus them. This is about all of us focusing on safety and accountability for our officers, but also for our community and the best possible future for San Antonio.“
Police Chief William McManus and San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) leaders have said that changes to disciplinary rules can be made through collective bargaining at the negotiating table and that there’s no need to repeal Chapter 174.
“SAPOA plans on working hard between now and election day to inform voters about how important collective bargaining (Chapter 174) is to recruiting top-notch police officers who will keep our neighborhoods safe and to ensuring the police chief and the City continue to have flexibility in hiring, promotions, discipline, and boosting diversity within the department,” union President Danny Diaz said in a prepared statement.
Instituting changes through collective bargaining on contracts that typically run for several years makes the process too slow, Fix SAPD board member James Dykman said last month.
“If you’re only getting two or three [changes] done every six years, we’re going to have this problem for the next 30 years,” Dykman said. “And we can’t have that. This needs to change. We can have a different system other than … collective bargaining.”