A town hall about the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association's proposed city charter amendments was abruptly canceled Thursday night after fire union president Chris Steele announced he would not attend.
The event's organizers, University of Texas-San Antonio and the San Antonio Express-News, said Steele canceled his appearance first and suggested a surrogate speak for the union instead.
“With regrets, we are canceling tonight’s town hall. ... This is necessary because Chris Steele, who heads the San Antonio Firefighters Association, which has pushed the amendments, withdrew hours before the event," said O. Ricardo Pimentel, editorial page editor at the Express-News, in a statement. "In reaction, Mayor Ron Nirenberg then withdrew. The Firefighters Association offered to send a substitute, District 10 City Council candidate Reinette King. However, the sponsors decided the event deserved the panelists who originally agreed to appear."
Nirenberg and the fire union then held separate news conferences after the cancellations.
In a social media post, the fire union said it never committed to having Steele be the union’s sole representative at the forum. King, a spokeswoman for the Vote Yes campaign, was present at UTSA after the cancellation. “Our side was ready,” King said. “We had our people lined up to speak, and the other side didn’t show up.”
Shortly after the cancellation, a union statement on Facebook read, “From the start, the San Antonio Professional Firefighters have been forthright in saying this is not our campaign, IT IS THE PEOPLE’S. She along with many others planned to be in attendance tonight to debate the mayor on behalf of the people. The mayor chose to cancel the event instead of being engaged with the constituents he serves.”
At the Go Vote No campaign headquarters, Nirenberg says the blame for the forum's cancellation solely lies on Steele.
“The fact that he won’t face facts about these items and come to have an honest debate should concern everyone,” he said. “We’re here, we’re ready to talk about facts, and when Chris Steele wants to face the public, I hope he will.”
Nirenberg added he was ready to debate. “It does say something, by the way, that the union leader, the head of the fire association, Chris Steele, who has perpetrated his mess in the community, won’t show up to answer those questions."
The union’s three charter amendments are on the November ballot. They include proposed changes to petition signature requirements and limiting the city manager's pay and tenure.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules