Mayor talks Sanctuary Cities, Firefighter Contract at Friendly Spot's Pub Theology
April 3, 2019 - Friendly Spot Ice House (Southtown SA)
By: Jonathan Guajardo - Editor, San Antonio Sentinel
Within the confines of a converted garage, among the many beer signs and blue flickering neon lights reminiscent of the imagery of so many honky-tonks and dive bars around the Lone Star State, a community of faith-centric citizens gathered for their weekly conversation known as Pub Theology. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the guest speaker for their April 3rd meet-up, sat upon a rusty metal lawn chair in front of the assembly next to Pastor Gavin Rogers, leader of San Antonio’s chapter of Pub Theology and Associate Pastor at Travis Park UMC.
The guest musician for the night’s session, Dave Madden, kicked the discussion off with a rousing rendition of “The River Jordan” followed by his original composition, “Muscadine Wine.” The crowd clapped their hands and joined in the chorus while the sound of Madden’s guitar strings reverberated among the metal rafters of the Friendly Spot’s back building.
As the tunes concluded, Pastor Rogers took the reigns of the meeting and turned his attention to the evening’s guest, Mayor Nirenberg. The crowd came to a hush and leaned in to hear what the city’s foremost leader would say in response to the charismatic Pastor’s questions. The conversation began fairly routinely with Rogers questioning Nirenberg about how he became involved in city politics initially. He answered that his involvement in city issues began when he came across a flyer urging citizens to run for public office. “I took a flyer on it, I worked hard and, long story short, I was elected to the city council in District 8,” stated Nirenberg. He then wrapped up by stating that he was elected and served two city council terms before he ran for the office of mayor, a position he was elected to two years ago, and that he is still trying to give San Antonio “the city you deserve,” as his campaign slogan asserts.
Pastor Rogers, who led the inaugural prayer for Mayor Ivy Taylor’s inauguration in 2015, then launched an all-too-familiar query at Nirenberg, addressing the Chick-Fil-A airport contract vote and referring to an article written by the San Antonio Sentinel the previous day as well as numerous other news pieces which have covered the council’s controversial 6-4 vote. He asked the Mayor to describe the situation and how it led to all the attention after the vote and what’s taking place currently in regards to fallout.
The mayor began by retorting, “Anybody that knows me, knows that I am a man of faith. I am a man of interfaith in term in terms of my family as well. It drives the way I make decisions.” Citing how it disturbs him how “faith gets pre-empted by political things,” the mayor then went on to say that he has no problem with Chick-Fil-A’s faith-based business model, but that his emphasis was once again on bringing local companies and restaurants to the forefront of the vendor approval process for the San Antonio International Airport contract.
Pastor Rogers then gave his opinion on the issue and summed up his thoughts by urging that he hopes that San Antonio, as a community, can accept that this vote took place and move on from the topic. Stating that he didn’t think the city “should be ashamed or embarrassed because it’s happened and hopefully we can move from this and really find common ground with the people of faith and realize that there are bigger issues than chicken dumplings.”
The conversation then shifted when the meeting opened up for audience questions. The first audience concern of the evening addressed the SA firefighter union’s healthcare contract and their proposal for an independent healthcare trust that would give each employee $19,000 from the city every year for the next five years. The city has previously stated that they would like to lower the per firefighter costs to bring them to around $16,000 per firefighter. The new proposal by the city would also ask, for the first time, firefighters to contribute to their own health care coverage.
Mayor Nirenberg began by stating that “the four-year requests are simply a diversion and that the four-year requests that are outstanding have no relevance to compiling an actual proposal for a healthcare plan, which they have still yet to do.” As with the Chick-Fil-A situation, the mayor once again resorted to attributing much of the trouble with the negotiations to “political football,” and rounded off his answer by referring to the Public Safety Department’s operating costs taking up the majority ($794 million) of the city’s $1.1 billion budget. Adding it up to fiscal responsibility, he stated that “the healthcare trust, if we want some level of fiscal responsibility and moral obligation, it’s off the table and there has been no legitimate reason I’ve seen to not have a traditional healthcare plan…just one that we can afford.”
The topic then switched over with an inquiry from Rogers into the issue of sanctuary cities and where San Antonio currently stands on the issue. “San Antonio, I’m very proud, is a leader in terms of making sure it’s seen as a welcoming community that first and foremost is compassionate,” began Nirenberg’s foray into an answer to the pastor’s question. He later launched into the definition of the term by explaining that a true sanctuary city, “is a city that refuses cooperation with federal authorities on matters of immigration” and that, “…under that definition, we are not a sanctuary city, because we do cooperate with federal authorities.”
The mayor then addressed the city’s seemingly pro-sanctuary leanings in regards to a lawsuit filed by the State of Texas against the city in late 2018 that the mayor says would have prevented San Antonio from caring for illegal immigrants, noting that, “we were the first out of 2 to sue the state government for what would be an anti-sanctuary law as before that would’ve prevented us from providing that kind of compassionate care. We don’t stand for that.” The bill referred to by Nirenberg, Senate Bill 4, decreed that departments cannot stop police officers from questioning immigration statuses of suspects arrested or detained and punishes officials who don’t cooperate with detainers to turn over immigrants for deportation.
After a brief intermission with more music by Madden, Nirenberg then guided the discussion towards one of the evening’s final topics, the “Alamo Promise” Program, after fielding a question on how the city will transition from compassion to equity. “Imagine a day that in Bexar County, we can say to any student that grows up here and is educated in a Bexar County high school, that they will have the opportunity to go to college to get advanced skills training for a great career no matter their circumstances. We are two years away from doing that,” proclaimed the mayor.
To fund the program, Alamo College District costs would increase after the 2020-21 school year to about $12.9 million per year in the fourth year of operation. Students from families of all income levels would be eligible for the plan and would only have to maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete 18 credit hours per academic year to maintain their qualifications for the program. The district is still seeking funding from a variety of sectors around the city to support the program.