The police union emailed two statements to members of local media and others this week that strongly criticized Councilman Rey Saldaña’s (D4) call to reexamine elements of the proposed contract between the San Antonio Police Officers Association and the City of San Antonio that deal with officer disciplinary procedures. The first states that Saldaña “needs a reality check” and the second accuses him of “saying one thing and doing another.”

Saldaña has since responded to the first statements from SAPOA with his own mass email, stating that SAPOA President Mike Helle “obscures the truth and proves that you cannot defend the indefensible.”

Meanwhile, citizens and City Council are reviewing the proposed $2.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2017 that is balanced only if the fiscal aspects of the new contract are approved as is on Thursday, Sept. 1. San Antonio Police and Fire department chiefs delivered presentations to Council members on Wednesday. The firefighters union has yet to come to the bargaining table, and therefore, the City budget assumes it will operate in evergreen with escalating health care costs to the City in place and without officer wage increases.

Police Chief William McManus was able to report to Council that his force will be adding 32 officers through City and federal funding, but Fire Chief Charles Hood said a badly needed EMS unit, a total of 12 positions, is not included in the budget because of budget constraints and will be made up for with overtime adjustments.

Sculley said the health care cost of operating in evergreen for the Fire Department is $6 million and that an additional EMS unit would cost about $1.8 million.

SAPOA sent out the second statement just before the meeting began. I asked Saldaña if any of the controversial politics surrounding his request for further negotiation has changed his mind.

“Nothing has changed on my end because at the end of the day, what’s right is right, and the language in there is wrong for our community. It’s wrong for accountability,” he said.

Black Lives Matter activists have backed Saldaña’s plea for reform, hosting weekly rallies at City Hall to call for these and more severe adjustments in the contract.

Former civil rights attorney James Myart yells out demands for the city to meet involving the San Antonio Police Officers Association. Photo by Scott Ball.
Former civil rights attorney James Myart yells out demands for the San Antonio Police Officers Association’s contract with the City after a protest in City Hall on Aug. 17, 2016.  Photo by Scott Ball.

The contract in its current form curbs the chief’s ability to use officers’ records, typically no more than two years back, against them in certain circumstances. Another provision reduces short suspensions to written reprimands if the officer doesn’t commit the same offense in two years. The proposed five-year contract keeps these rules in place.

Nothing has changed on SAPOA’s end either.

Helle argued that the chief has access to an officer’s entire record of service and discipline when deliberating repercussions and, “if a case moves to arbitration, the arbitrator has access to all available reports and recommendations.”

Saldaña had ample opportunities, Helle said, to bring up these questions during meetings throughout the more than two-year process leading up to the proposed contract that SAPOA members approved earlier this month.

“During those meetings, he never once mentioned police accountability or discipline changes,” Helle stated. “Fact is, Rey Saldaña is trying to make a name for himself to run for higher office.”

Click here to download the revised contract and here for the settlement agreement, which gives an overview of the new terms. Article 28, section 19 is the language in question.

“When they say that a chief has access to the entire disciplinary history, that’s only half true. The question is not about what he can know, it’s about what he can use,” Saldaña said. “He can’t use anything outside of the contract parameters in the discipline process.”

Mayor Ivy Taylor has strongly advocated for the Council’s approval of the contract and called for the creation of a “community-based” committee to address five areas of improvement in community collaboration, communication, officer recruitment, officer training, and goal setting.

“During the past few weeks critics have focused on a few isolated points within the collective bargaining agreement and characterized them as ‘police reform.’ However, the members of this committee already know – we all know – that reform and improvement are much more comprehensive than just a few specific disciplinary issues,” Taylor told members of the Council’s Criminal Justice, Public Safety and Services Committee on Tuesday. “And in fact, we have already accomplished quite a bit through our body cams rollout, specialized police response teams for homelessness and mental health, involvement in 21st century policing, and training reforms.”

Click here to download a full copy of her statement to the Committee.

The Police Department’s proposed $443 million budget reflects certain efforts to reinforce so-called community policing measures that better connect citizens to police officers outside of emergency situations to build mutual trust and respect.

The Fire Department’s proposed $308 million budget provides for critical upgrades to facilities, including the purchase of 46 engine exhaust renewal systems that will prevent carcinogenic exhaust from seeping into firefighters’ living spaces. Ballistic or tactical gear will also be distributed citywide as the department strengthens its active-shooter response training.

(Read More: Fire Chief Talks Active-Shooter Response, High-Rise Fire Preparedness)

That is, if the budget is ratified with the same financial assumptions by City Council on Sept. 15.

In a perfect world, Saldaña said, “we don’t need to go back to square one, we don’t need to restart negotiations. My suggestion to the Mayor, and I think she should step up to lead on this, is to ask the union for a second vote.”

They would have three weeks to go back and consider the changes made only to disciplinary procedures, he said. The City is legally required to have a balanced budget, so having such a major piece of it up in the air before the budget vote is tricky yet possible, he added, and up to the mayor. While Taylor is confident she has enough votes to get the contract approved as is, Saldaña said it would be unlikely that SAPOA membership would vote against accountability.

“The language in Section 19 is indefensible,” Saldaña said. “You can ask for higher wages when this is a deal cut in the back room. But now that the public is very aware of Section 19 and understands the language, you can’t ask for payment to do the right thing, and I think the union understands that.

“Because we’re talking about this publicly, we’ve allowed the mayor an opportunity to go back and get that changed without an exchange for payment (higher wages).”

Top image: Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4)  questions San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley about the proposed budget.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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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...