In San Antonio, the local police union has launched attack ads against the city manager over stalled contract negotiations: the city can't keep up with pay and benefits without raising taxes and/or cutting other, essential city services and, predictably, the union won't budge an inch. Mayoral candidate and current state Rep. Mike Villareal wrote the other day that, "The San Antonio Police Officers Association paid for ads that stirred public anger over City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s compensation package — a red herring. Questioning the city manager’s salary is legitimate; pretending that it’s relevant to negotiating a new contract for first responders is not."
Remarkably, "Currently, the city estimates 67 percent of the city’s general fund goes to support public safety," wrote Villareal, which is "crowding out all other services, such as street repair, parks and libraries."
Former mayor Henry Cisneros recently ascended to head the local Chamber of Commerce. In response to the attack ads, that group began running (by comparison, mild) response ads defending the city manager and calling for fiscal restraint on police pay and benefits. Reported the Express-News (Jan. 5):
Cisneros also said the chamber is sponsoring 30- and 60-second radio advertisements and publishing an ad in the Thursday edition of the San Antonio Express-News that calls on both sides to rekindle talks. The radio ads say there is “deep respect” here for public safety personnel and that San Antonio has one of the best city managers in the country. Though the ads don’t mention her by name, they say City Manager Sheryl Sculley has put the city on a prudent fiscal course.Officers currently are working without a contract and the city has sued to invalidate an "evergreen" clause that keeps the old terms in place for ten years if they can't come to a new agreement. The union says they won't rejoin negotiations unless the city drops the suit.
Through the ads, the chamber says public safety personnel need to share in the rising costs of health care, that the city needs to maintain the cost of public safety at “fiscally responsible levels” and that extraneous benefits for sworn personnel — from tuition reimbursements to a legal fund — that are outside “the norm” need to be curtailed.
While some council members have suggested cratering on the suit (politicians fear campaign ads the way two year olds fear monsters under the bed), quite frankly I'd like to see the lawsuit go forward just to find out an answer to the question. If a politically powerful police union convinces a city council to approve an irresponsible contract that causes the city's budget to balloon (Austin is in the same boat), that sort of evergreen clause means future councils can't change it even when the contract expires. And ten years is far longer than city council terms so, in essence, it prevents city councils from governing if they cannot influence 2/3 of the city budget for their entire terms! Even if the suit were dropped, the city should insist there's no such provision in any future contract, ever.
OTOH, while it's fine to call for a return to the negotiating table, if the city wins the lawsuit there's also just the option of setting salaries and benefits without one, as happens routinely in the overwhelming majority of Texas police departments.
In recent years there's been a major effort to confront bullying in schools. But bullies don't stop when you just hand over your lunch money, they come back the next day for more. Most of us learn those lessons on the playground and the city council in SA would do well to remember them today.