Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) spoke Wednesday with Senior Reporter Brendan Gibbons of the San Antonio Report for a conversation that covered the City’s recent $2.9 billion budget and how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting San Antonio.

The discussion was the fourth in the San Antonio Report’s Conversations with the Council series, following a Sept. 17 live interview with Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) and Reporter Jackie Wang.

Pelaez is a labor attorney first elected to San Antonio City Council in 2017. He won reelection in 2019 and has developed a reputation for his candid remarks and sense of humor on the dais, or, more recently, in videoconference meetings.

“I’m also probably the only city councilperson out there with no filter, and I approach stuff sometimes like I’m actually having a knock-down, drag-out fight,” Pelaez said. “I call the balls and strikes the way they are.”

During the hour-long conversation, Gibbons questioned Pelaez on the City Council’s 2021 budget, which included a $7 million increase to the San Antonio Police Department. The unanimous budget vote came after a summer of protests and engagement from activists as part of the Black Lives Matter movement pushing for police reform and reduced funding.

“I do think that that group was asking for something that in San Antonio is an impossibility,” Pelaez said. “There is no way any of us city council members will get reelected if we go back to our neighborhoods and say, ‘Hey, guess what I did this summer, I defunded your police officers.'”

However, Pelaez, who often works as an arbitrator in labor disputes, mentioned one reform that could make it more difficult for fired officers to be reinstated during arbitration proceedings. He said he would support a change to the police contract that would require proceedings before three arbitrators instead of one, as the contract currently allows.

“What I’ve found is that you arrive at the fairest decision when you’ve got more than one arbitrator in the room making decisions,” Pelaez said. “I believe in the power of three-arbitrator panels.”

Pelaez also discussed his work combating domestic violence. He’s the general counsel of the Bexar County Battered Women and Children’s Shelter, where his mother Marta Pelaez serves as CEO. He cites his greatest accomplishment on City Council as his work with Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) on a plan to reduce abuse among partners and family members.

Since the pandemic, the number of people seeking help at the shelter “has not decreased,” Pelaez said.

“In fact, they’ve increased, with all these shutdowns sending everybody home,” Pelaez said. “What it’s created is a situation where the abuser and the victims of the abuse are just locked up in their apartments.”

Pelaez said that as the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus continues, the City will likely continue to see depressed sales tax revenue, especially driven by a decline in tourism.

“How are you going to feel this in 2021? I hope you feel like all of your basic services are being delivered, but you are going to see some projects kicked back until years in the future,” Pelaez said.

The next Conversations With the Council event, 1 p.m. on Oct. 29, will feature Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) with Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He serves as the assistant manager of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.