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Appeals court sides with fire union

August 30, 2018

The 4th Court of Appeals late Wednesday denied a request from a political action committee to block three controversial charter amendments from appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot, paving the way for the election to take place.

Despite the denial, the Secure San Antonio’s Future PAC doesn’t plan to drop its case. Lead attorney Mikal Watts said Wednesday that he plans to appeal.

“We will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court (on Thursday),” he said by text message.

The court case hinges on whether the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association broke state law by using union dues to pay for political activity, which officials had failed to disclose until the San Antonio Express-News reported on the matter.

Earlier this month, the PAC sued in district court, seeking a temporary restraining order blocking the City Council from calling the Nov. 6 election. Judge Cathleen Stryker rejected the request. Watts appealed the decision days later, seeking a ruling before Sept. 5 — when printing begins for the November ballot.

Houston attorney Cris Feldman, who represents the fire union, its PAC and the firm that ran its petition campaign, said their opponents should back off.

“The San Antonio Court of Appeals got it right, and denied the 11th-hour gambit against the charter amendments,” he said. “It’s time for the legal games to stop, and to let the people of San Antonio vote on the amendments and allow their voice to be heard.”

Earlier this year, the union submitted petitions calling for the three amendments, which would make it easier to use referendums to challenge council ordinances; cap the pay for future city managers; and give the fire union unilateral power to take contract negotiations to binding arbitration.

The campaign, dubbed “San Antonio First,” was run by Texas Petition Strategies, a Central Texas firm hired to collect signatures.

Though the legal battle appears poised to continue, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he’s prepared to continue campaigning against the amendments that he and others say are detrimental to municipal government.

“I have been focused on the campaign to defeat these destructive charter amendments at the polls in November and will continue with that effort,” he said. “We will not let San Antonio’s forward progress be blocked by anyone’s selfish agenda.”

The firefighters union portrays the three amendments as a populist movement aiming to bring power back to the people — the ultimate form of democracy. Others disagree and say if they pass, the amendments will push San Antonio into economic decay. Taxpayers here will end up spending more money on fewer projects and services, they say.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse, a fire union ally, also suggested that the lawsuit should end.

“It’s time to let the people vote. I am sure all those donors to the PAC appreciate their hard-earned money going to lawsuit defeats,” he said. “The only winners are the attorneys. Let’s get the facts on the table, engage the debate and let the people decide.”

Josh Baugh is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | jbaugh@express-news.net | Twitter: @jbaugh

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