San Antonio Professional Firefighter Union President Chris Steele delivers petitions to City Hall.
San Antonio Professional Firefighter Union President Chris Steele holds a press conference in April outside City Hall before delivering petitions to the City Clerk. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a political action committee’s request to remove three charter amendments from local ballots for November, according to court documents.

The appeal to the high court was seen as the last chance for Secure San Antonio’s Future (SAAF) to avoid a long and likely ugly fight with the firefighters union to sway voters to  vote against the proposed charter amendments.

“Secure San Antonio’s Future and their corporate special interests went 0 for 3, and whiffed,” said Cris Feldman, a Houston attorney representing the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association in the case. “They struck out. We will hold them fully accountable for this incredible waste of time and money, and will seek every penny of our attorney’s fees.”

Judge Cathleen Stryker of the 224th Civil District Court denied a temporary restraining order earlier this month to keep the items off the ballot until the resolution of an underlying lawsuit over how the union paid to obtain the signatures needed to put the amendments on the ballot. SAAF then lost its appeal in the 4th Court of Appeals last week.

San Antonio Express-News investigation in July revealed the union failed to disclose and properly categorize a $510,000 payment to Buda-based petition consultant Texas Petition Strategies.

“We really wanted them in the court room and wanted to see [union President] Chris Steele take the stand,” Christian Archer, campaign manager for SSAF, told the Rivard Report. Ballots for the Nov. 6 election will start to be printed on Wednesday. “If we had another month, it’d be a different outcome [in court].”

SSAF will still pursue the case, but will shift its focus, Archer said. “Now it’s time that we get focused on beating them at the ballot box.”

The ballot proposals would make it easier to change ordinances, utility rates, and other rules typically left to City Council; limit the tenure and salary of future city managers; and force binding arbitration on a new labor agreement between the City and fire union. The union has yet to come to the table to negotiate a new contract.

Steele has said the initiatives give citizens a stronger voice in City Hall, while City leaders have pointed to “devastating” financial consequences that a weakened, unpredictable municipal system would bring to the city.

The City commissioned a report that found the amendments, if approved, could cost the City between $382.3 million and $4.2 billion over 20 years.

“It’s not a maybe … we’ll pay more for less,” Archer said. “We’ve got to make sure that the people understand that and why.”

The PAC, which plans to raise more than $1 million and has gained support from business and community leaders, is officially launching its campaign Saturday, Sept. 8, at 9:15 a.m. at La Villita.

Meanwhile, the union filed a lawsuit in July alleging the City violated petition gatherers’ First Amendment rights by threatening them and consultants with arrest as they sought signatures in designated “free speech areas” at public locations.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org