Ivy Taylor speaks with Robert Rivard at Main Plaza. Photo by Scott Ball.
Ivy Taylor speaks with Robert Rivard at Main Plaza on June 12, 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

The tense standoff between the City of San Antonio and its estranged police union escalated in an exchange of letters Monday and Tuesday as a July 31 deadline set by Mayor Ivy Taylor drew closer with little indication a new deal will be reached before City Council prepares to approve a new budget in August.

The City’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Time is quickly running out to factor in a new deal with the police union that would include a new contract, a signing bonus and a built-in first year wage increase as part of the City’s proposed four-year deal. The police union has proposed a five-year deal.

On Tuesday, Mayor Ivy Taylor sent a letter to Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, urging him to end his continuing campaign of personal attacks on City Manager Sheryl Sculley. Her letter came one day after Helle wrote Mayor Taylor and City Council, stating, “we believe it will be next to impossible to negotiate a fair deal with Sheryl Sculley, but we will keep trying.”

Click here to download Mayor Taylor’s letter and here to download Helle’s.

Mayor Taylor wrote: “We have made some progress in the collective bargaining process, though I admit that I believed we would be farther along at this point in time.

“As I have repeatedly stated since assuming the role of Mayor one year ago, these negotiations are not and have never been about the City Manager. This process is focused on the goal of arriving at an agreement to provide our excellent public safety force with the best compensation and benefits package that the City of San Antonio can afford and continuing safeguard our financial stability for the future.”

How hard the police union will try to negotiate in good faith is questionable given its 18-month campaign targeting the city manager and Helle’s inflammatory claims in the letter denouncing the city manager as a liar. The police union and its national backers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to some estimates, on its public campaign targeting Sculley and City negotiators since negotiations began in April 2014.

Police Union negotiations. Photo by Hagen Meyer
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle. Photo by Hagen Meyer

“In doing so, she (City Manager Sculley) lied to you and the public,” Helle asserts twice in his letter to Mayor Taylor and City Council, recounting recent events as interpreted by the police union. City Council is in recess for its traditional July summer break, but Helle’s Monday letter drew a quick response from Mayor Taylor on Tuesday.

The mayor’s more measured letter dismissed the personal accusations, and urged Helle to bargain in good faith on a tight deadline. She urged the police union president to abandon his fruitless campaign against Sculley, reminding him that Sculley and her negotiating team represent the City with Council’s full support to secure a new collective bargaining agreement with the department’s 2,400 police officers.

“The San Antonio City Council has entrusted the City Manager, her staff and the City collective bargaining team with negotiating in the best interest of the city,” Mayor Taylor wrote. “They are operating based on the principles and goals that we outlined from the beginning and that we reaffirmed in our recent budget work session.  I urge you to reassess your position that it will be ‘next to impossible to negotiate a fair deal’ with the City Manager because there are no changes foreseen with our management or bargaining team.  If your goal is to negotiate a fair deal, then focus on the discussions at the bargaining table, and not the personalities.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley receives praise from City Council in recognition of her 40 years of continuous service of city management in three cities. Photo by Fred Gonzales, courtesy of the City of San Antonio.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley. File photo by Fred Gonzales, courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

“The City Council will reconvene the first week of August and our first order of business will be the 2016 budget.  The July 31st goal for completion of negotiations was not arbitrary. In order to give the City Council maximum flexibility in addressing wages for officers for the coming year, an agreement on key points is still desired this month. If completing negotiations is a priority, I believe it is reasonable to assume that your negotiating team will be available.  The City negotiating team is available.”

Mayor Taylor and Sculley also met with the Express-News Editorial Board on Tuesday and said City Council will consider administrative action to reduce the cost of union health care as part of the budget planning process if a new deal is not reached. Helle told the newspaper that the police union would seek a court injunction against the City if tries to alter benefits won in the collective bargaining process. The two sides already are awaiting legal action in a lawsuit filed by the City that takes aim at the union’s 10-year evergreen clause, which keeps all contractual terms in place for up to 10 years after a contract expires. The last five-year contrcat expired on Sept. 30, 2014.

Helle’s continuing campaign against Sculley seems nothing short of delusional on the part of the police union leadership if it believes elected officials can be pressured to withdraw support for one of the nation’s most respected city managers. Sculley’s decade-long tenure as the city’s top executive has made San Antonio the only city in the nation with a population of more than one million people with a AAA credit and bond rating.

In angry postings here and on social media, police union members have generally ignored the fiscal issues standing in the way of a new collective bargaining agreement, and accused me of serving as a puppet of the city manager, misrepresenting union member contributions to health care costs, or being anti-law enforcement.

It is, however, her record of fiscal management that led Sculley as early as a decade ago to start sounding the alarm over spiraling health care costs for uniformed personnel, who receive a far richer benefits package than their 9,000 civilian counterparts who work for the City. The existing contract, which expired Sept. 30, required the City to provide premium-free coverage to union members and their dependents and was leading to double figure increases in costs each year.

The City’s police and firefighter union management made no efforts to rein in costs or better manage their plans in that time frame, even as private and public sector organizations nationwide grappled with the same health care funding crisis. In most instances, entities negotiated better deals where they could be had and shifted some of the coverage costs from employers to employees. New alternative plans were devised that offered reduced benefits at lower monthly costs.

“In conclusion,” Mayor Taylor wrote Helle, “I will reiterate that we will not spend time debating this in the media, making accusations of personal attacks, or focusing on staff personalities or motivations.  The only motivation from City Council, City staff and the City bargaining team is to arrive at a deal that is fair for all and protects our financial viability for the future. Based on the outcome of recent elections, I am confident that this is the outcome desired by the citizens of our city. Given the dedication of you and the entire San Antonio Police Department team to serving this community, I am sure that you also share the desire to protect our sustainability for the future.”

*Featured/top image: Ivy Taylor speaks with Robert Rivard at Main Plaza on June 12, 2015.  Photo by Scott Ball.   


Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.

Commentary: Why the Police Union Should Take the Deal

Police Union Rejects Mayor’s Deadline: ‘See You in August’

Tensions High as Mayor’s Deadline For Police Contract Looms

City ‘Disappointed’ With Police Union’s Latest Offer

Mayor Taylor Calls Police Union Back to the Table

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.