Mayor Ron Nirenberg told reporters Tuesday that, in hindsight, he would have preferred to call a special City Council session before the City entered into an agreement that delayed implementation of San Antonio’s paid sick leave ordinance.
His comments came after Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said on a local podcast released Tuesday that Nirenberg and all but one Council member, Roberto Treviño (D1), agreed to delay the law’s implementation.
Pelaez’s claim raised questions about whether Nirenberg supported the delay, exactly how he reacted when briefed by the City Attorney’s office and City Manager Erik Walsh, and who made the decision to move ahead with the agreement to delay the ordinance, which was due to take effect Aug. 1.
On July 19, the City and a law firm representing business groups and temporary staffing agencies suing it submitted an agreement to a Bexar County court to delay implementation of the ordinance. Five days later, a Bexar County district judge approved the agreement, putting the ordinance on hold until Dec. 1.
Asked by reporters about Pelaez’s comments, Nirenberg said he stood by his tweets of July 21 when he said, “Citizens have a sacred right to petition their government. More than 140,000 did so, lawfully, for an ordinance to provide earned paid sick leave for San Antonio workers starting August 1st. I stand by their rights and I stand with them.”
Nirenberg said he talked July 12 with City attorneys about a delay, voiced his disagreement with the process, and asked them to brief Council members, who were on recess at the time, as well as members of the Paid Sick Leave Commission.
“[I told the attorneys] I was committed to an ordinance that would be enacted and in effect on August 1st and that’s what I intended to do,” Nirenberg said. “I disagreed with the legal strategy before, I disagreed with it throughout, and I still disagree with the process.”
Nirenberg added that he also asked how the various advocacy groups that had petitioned for the ordinance felt about a potential delay, saying he wanted to be sure the City was defending the intent of the petitioners and ensuring all workers in San Antonio could earn paid sick time.
A representative from the mayor’s office said members of the commission – comprising hourly-wage workers, business owners, and advocates tasked with refining the language of the ordinance and planning its rollout – were briefed on July 17.
At the time, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger told the Rivard Report she saw some benefit to having more time to implement paid sick leave, giving City officials the opportunity to iron out confusion over the ordinance language.
Council members also were briefed individually, as several were on vacation in July. “No special session was called because we were in recess,” Nirenberg said.
“The weekend before the hearing, I did ask for this [delay agreement] to be reconsidered, to pull back on the motion, and at that time was informed there wasn’t a legal option,” Nirenberg said. “Once the motion was made, there was no legal option to pull back.”
But some supporters of the ordinance have questioned who authorized City Attorney Andy Segovia to pursue the legal strategy that resulted in the delay. Asked whether the City Attorney or City Manager’s offices acted without approval from the mayor or Council, Nirenberg said they were dealing with a divided Council.
The suggestion that Segovia pursued a legal strategy on his own is false, Pelaez said, and “shifts the uncomfortable political heat away from my colleagues and me.”
The Council was faced with a tough decision, he said via text, “and we all agreed with the strategy. … All of City Council knew that our attorney had negotiated an agreement and we all knew that he was going to present that agreement to the court.”
Pelaez said the entire Council was briefed and knew about the legal strategy, though they might not have liked or preferred to make the choice to delay.
“But we all made the right decision – to delay the implementation date while the volunteers on the commission completed their work,” he said. “The alternative was to walk into court and watch the judge implement an indefinite injunction. Two unpalatable options, but those were the choices before us and we made the only choice that gives this ordinance a hope of surviving.”