San Antonio Professional Firefighter Association President Chris Steele speaks with then-Councilman Cris Medina (D7) during an event at City Hall.
San Antonio Professional Firefighter Association President Chris Steele (center) launched the "San Antonio First" effort to change the city charter. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The “circling of the wagons” has now begun. When we at the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association launched our San Antonio First campaign to promote accountability, consistency, and fairness at City Hall, we knew we were going to start a discussion that would make City Hall and the power structure uncomfortable. Just like with the streetcar campaign, San Antonio’s politicians and the power elites will likely “disrespect” the electorate again.

First, City leaders tried to defend the city manager’s projected 2018 compensation of $566,000, which is more than what we pay the president and governor combined. They argued that paying one City employee a salary of more than 10 times the lowest paid full-time City employee’s salary, or $300,000 a year, is not enough. We think the voters should weigh in on this issue of accountability at City Hall.

Then City Leaders attacked San Antonio’s first responders for saying we are tired of being sued in court, over a contract the City signed. They lose in court, twice, and now want to continue the lawsuit to the Texas Supreme Court. We think that wasting more than 1 million dollars of tax payer money losing legal challenges is not being responsible. Instead of asking the voters to pay your failed legal challenges, we think that if an agreement cannot be reached during negotiations, let an arbitrator or neutral third party decide. We think the voters should weigh in on this issue of fairness at City Hall.

Finally, they are now claiming that voters having more say in City issues could hurt the City’s bond ratings – Just another scare tactic. Cities and states all over the country that give their citizens a greater voice at the ballot box share San Antonio’s credit rating. The fact is that City leaders were tone-deaf to the voters last year and raised utility rates. Voters didn’t have a voice and were not allowed to weigh in on the issue.

Your firefighters are simply saying if it takes 20,000 signatures on a petition to allow voters to voice their opinion at the ballot box and change the city charter, why not be consistent and make the same rules apply to changing a city ordinance. Giving voters a voice should never be used as a threat like claiming it will hurt credit ratings. We think the voters should weigh in on this issue of consistency, especially giving them a voice at City Hall.

We live in a time where citizen participation in their government is at an all-time low. City leaders should be encouraging more citizen participation, not less. San Antonio’s citizens need to be able to hold City Hall accountable, and petitioning city leaders is a right that should be respected and not interfered with by politicians. San Antonio First comes down to this: Let the voters decide.

Chris Steele is president of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.