Council Members Blast Fire Union's Chris Steele Over Tape Where He Claims to Have Their "Solid Votes"

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With a vote for the fire union's three controversial changes to the city charter less than a month away, the avalanche of embarrassments continues for union president Chris Steele.

Three city council members held a news conference Tuesday to decry an audio recording where Steele appears to claim he had their support for forcing stalled contract talks into arbitration. The brief clip is the second recording of Steele leaked to the media in as many weeks by the Go Vote No campaign, which opposes the ballot measures.

"For (the city's) advantage, they don't want arbitration," Steele says on the latest recording. "But we're gonna have council on our side. We've got five solid votes now. Five solid. Greg Brockhouse in (District) 6 is heading that up. Ana Sandoval in 7, Manny Pelaez in 8, Clayton Perry in 10 and Shirley Gonzales in 5. They're solid. (City Manager Sheryl) Sculley can't even make a dent in them at this point. So we're in a better position than we've been in many years."

At the press conference, Sandoval, Pelaez and Gonzales forcefully denied any such agreement with Steele. All three said they can only recall meeting him once — and each briefly.



"I've spoken to Mr. Steele once in my life and it was months before I took office," Sandoval said. "We did not discuss this issue. For him to say that he has my vote locked up is baseless."

"If he's willing to tell a mistruth to a small group of people behind closes doors, what else aren't we getting the truth about?" Pelaez asked.

Pelaez and Gonazales have both received campaign endorsements from the union, but both said they'd never pledged unwavering support to win them.

"Endorsements aren't suicide pacts," Pelaez said. "They don't mean I agree to be someone's obsequious servant."

Steele was unavailable for comment following the news conference.

In last week's leaked recording, Steele appears to tell firefighters that the union's ballot proposals are intended to force the city into giving the union and new contract and to help Brockhouse, a one-time consultant to the union, win the next mayor's race.

The union's three charter amendments — largely viewed as retribution over stalled contract talks — would make it easier for citizens to force a public vote on a wide array of city spending decisions, push the union’s negotiations into arbitration and limit future city managers’ salaries and tenure.

Contacted after Tuesday's press conference, Brockhouse accused the Go Vote No campaign of dribbling out secret recordings of Steele to maximize negative coverage. The recording, he said, isn't even a discussion of the amendments voters will decide on November 6.

"There's nothing that's new in there other than the firefighters didn't have the support they thought they had," he said.

In a written statement, Perry said Steele's audio recording made "assumptions" about his support. The councilman has remained neutral on the propositions, adding that he personally will vote against them.

"I am a proponent of data driven decisions that improve governance, and I have not seen proof that these charter amendments will benefit our City," Perry said.

The latest leaked recording arrives as longstanding social justice group COPS/Metro voiced opposition to the union proposition that would make it easier for petitioners to force public votes on city policies.

In an op-ed published at MySA.com, COPS/Metro warned the amendment would "open a Pandora’s box of never-ending referendums" driven by monied interests.

"Politics in San Antonio may not be perfect, but it is far superior to what we see at the national level," the op-ed says. "In the end, the real winners will be those paid to collect the signatures and run the campaigns. This is not the city we want."