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San Antonio City Council Approves May Election To Include Housing Bond Amendment And Bargaining Recall With Police Union

San Antonio City Hall
Ryan Loyd
TPR News
San Antonio City Hall

In addition to the regular election for the San Antonio City Council and mayor on the May 1 ballot, council members approved two propositions for voters to decide.

The first is a housing bond amendment to the city charter. It would allow the city to use bond money for housing projects which it currently cannot do; the bond money can only be used for public works projects like street maintenance. The second is a signature-driven petition that would recall collective bargaining privileges for the San Antonio Police Officers Association.

Housing Charter Amendment

A housing charter amendment would give the city leeway to use bond money for housing purposes such as redeveloping blighted properties.

Currently, the city can only use bond money for public works projects like street maintenance, drainage and parks. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said a flexible bond is a prudent step forward.

“I think most would agree that housing infrastructure is no less essential than energy, water or transportation,” Nirenberg said.

The city is nearing the last year of its 2017-2022 $850 million bond program which voters approved in 2017. It had more than 180 projects. The city is already in the process of designing the 2022-2027 bond program which could reach more than $900 million based on pre-pandemic estimates but the amount is unclear. Voters in San Antonio have overwhelmingly approved previous bond issues.

The council passed the ballot initiative by a vote of 10-1 with District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry being the only ‘nay’ vote. Perry said he believed the amendment would take away from the city’s responsibility to its core services like repairing badly damaged roads.

“I look at this as if it’s going to siphon money away… from those requirements we should be taking care of here in the city,” Perry said.

The new language of the proposed amendments indicates the bond money could also be used for economic development projects. Some examples the city used included grants and improvements to buildings and site prep.

Police Union Negotiations

The council’s hands were tied in approving the repeal ballot measure for collective bargaining between the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Police Officers Association. It was a must-approve issue as it was citizen-driven. Council’s vote was a ministerial act.

The group Fix SAPD collected the required 20,000 signatures needed to repeal the city’s use of a state statute known as Chapter 174 which allows the city and union to enter into collective bargaining negotiations. Without collective bargaining, the city and union would have to use other means to negotiate such as meet-and-confer.

The city clerk’s office noted that 28,000 signatures were submitted but several were rejected for issues like not being a registered voter or not living in the City of San Antonio.

City officials are barred from commenting on the petition as they cannot take a stance on whether it should pass or fail. However, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said he wanted to congratulate the petition organizers who gathered the signatures.

“Today we are experiencing a trust crisis — a manufactured trust crisis — in our elections and the institutions of government and I think it’s our job to identify when the system works and the system is working when you submit petitions and your city council votes whether they agree with the merits or not and they put it on the ballot, that’s the way it’s supposed to work,” Pelaez said.

Although the item will be on the May 1 ballot, negotiations for the next five-year contract begin this Friday as the city and union begin to discuss healthcare, wages and potential disciplinary reform.

What Didn’t Make The Ballot

Petition drives to reform both the San Antonio Water System and CPS Energy failed to gather necessary signatures in time for the deadline for certification which is Friday.

Reinette King, a petition organizer for the SAWS Act PAC, said the group had not amassed the signatures due to COVID-19. She drew issue with the council passing its own charter amendment initiative without signatures — the council can send ballot initiatives to voters on its own.

The SAWS petition would have limited the pay of the SAWS CEO and also required third-party audits of large scale projects like the Vista Ridge Pipeline.

The Recall CPS petition ended its drive last month when it was falling short about 6,000 signatures.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules