In a televised interview Tuesday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg emphasized the City of San Antonio’s commitment to changing the current arbitration process used by the San Antonio police union when reviewing disciplinary action.

“I’ve made my thoughts very clear: We have clear objectives for negotiation, and anything that falls short, we won’t support [it],” Nirenberg said.

Nirenberg joined the San Antonio Report’s founder and editor Robert Rivard and KSAT 12 anchor Steve Spriester for a forum Tuesday evening where he discussed policing and the importance of public health in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The event was the first of three mayoral candidate forums co-hosted by KSAT, Bexar Facts, and the San Antonio Report; former San Antonio City Councilman Greg Brockhouse will answer questions Wednesday, and Denise Gutierrez-Homer – who narrowly missed the San Antonio City Council, District 2, runoff in 2019 – will participate on Thursday.

The City wants to change the role an arbitrator plays in police department disciplinary cases. An arbitrator can review cases and sometimes reverse decisions that the police chief has made. The City wants an arbitrator to decide if a conduct violation happened and not what punishment would be appropriate, leaving that decision to the police chief and city manager.

The May ballot also features Proposition B, which would halt current negotiations between the City and the San Antonio Police Officers Association and repeal a Texas law that allows the police union to collectively bargain for its members. Without that collective bargaining process, activists say labor talks can switch to meet-and-confer negotiations, a process the cities of Dallas and Austin use to reach labor agreements with police officers. The union argues that there is no guarantee that the City will adopt that, which would leave it without negotiating power. 

Nirenberg refused to offer his stance on Proposition B, put on the ballot by police reform activists.

“The City Council is the one that directs the negotiating team on the priorities that are articulated by the public,” Nirenberg said. “The City Council will ultimately have to vote for or against this contract. So if we’re going to engage the negotiating table in good faith, we have to make sure that we are doing that without also undercutting the ability for that process to unfold fairly.”

Nirenberg said he would continue to ask people to hold him accountable with requested reform in the police department.

“Accountability is a process, and it doesn’t always happen quickly,” he said, acknowledging that achieving disciplinary reform can be frustrating. “It may not be easy, may not be quick, but I want to be held accountable to it.”

In a period marked by discussions around policing, Nirenberg’s past year was also defined by the coronavirus pandemic and the city’s response to it. One of the most obvious lessons learned, he said, was the importance of investing in public health.

“This country and cities like San Antonio were not prepared and did not fully resource public health infrastructure,” he said. “And I believe, especially on the topic of equity, that it’s health outcomes that we can best see whether or not we’re achieving the mark, that we’re having success with the policies that we’re undertaking.”

Nirenberg faces a slate of 13 challengers, though he holds a sizable lead in the latest Bexar Facts poll. However, less than a week before early voting begins, his campaign has parted ways with campaign director Ryan Garcia, said Nirenberg’s campaign manager and chair Gilberto Ocañas.

The second mayoral forum, featuring mayoral candidate Brockhouse, will be streamed live on Facebook and at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Early voting begins April 19.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.