What happened leading up to San Antonio City Council members calling for the city attorney’s ousting?

On May 15, leaders will meet in private to discuss the city attorney’s job performance.

SAN ANTONIO — Five City Council members are expected to have their request fulfilled after asking to meet with leaders regarding the job performance of City Attorney Andy Segovia. 

It started when the five representatives signed a memo asking for an executive session Wednesday to discuss ongoing negotiations with the the local firefighters union. By Thursday, that same cohort called for a meeting with the city manager to discuss the “suitability” of Andy Segovia, who has headed up the city’s legal office since 2016. 

How we got here

At the end of February, the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association began negotiations with the City of San Antonio regarding a collective bargaining agreement set to expire Dec. 31. 

Over two months later, those negotiations have not been settled. 

“So the difference between us right now, as we’re planning towards our proposed budget, is about $363 million,” said City Manager Erik Walsh during Wednesday’s council meeting. “If we were going to fund the fire union’s proposal right now, we would need to cut approximately $50 million (from next year’s city budget).”

The firefighters association’s current proposal includes increases in pay and the addition of a fourth shift. That means adding 404 firefighters within the next five years, if the proposal were approved.

Already City Council was looking at cutting around $5 million.

Council members have been briefed individually with Segovia and Walsh regarding ongoing fire negotiations. However, Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, the council member for District 2, explained his briefing had not happened prior to Wednesday’s meeting. Councilman Marc Whyte, who represents District 10, stated his meeting was scheduled for Thursday, during the time the council members called for a press conference.

“It’s very difficult for us because I want the benefit of my colleagues’ input,” said Melissa Cabello Havrda, the councilwoman for District 6. “I want to hear what this community is saying. It really puts us at a disadvantage not to hear what our colleagues are saying, because we have all different perspectives. We all come together as a council in these executive sessions. It’s damaging to the process, in my opinion, to do them separately.”

Whyte, Havrda and McKee-Rodriguez pushed for an executive session at Wednesday’s council meeting. That request was denied. 

“We’re not going to have an executive session,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the council members. “We’re doing the updates or Andy and Eric are doing the updates one-on-one.”

By Wednesday evening, Havrda, McKee-Rodriguez and Whyte, along with fellow council members Marina Alderete-Gavito and Teri Castillo, had filed a memo asking for an executive session to discuss the ongoing negotiations.

On Thursday, the council members claimed Segovia had blocked the meeting from happening.

“If we allow the city attorney to block this request, then we’re violating our city charter and denying our residents their voice with our city budget,” Castillo said.

Possible leaks

Asked by KENS 5 why he didn’t allow for the executive session, Segovia said in a statement that he has “an ethical duty to maintain the confidentiality of our executive sessions.” 

“Based on information that was relayed to me, I have no confidence that what is said there with respect to the collective bargaining agreement – the city’s second-largest contract – will remain confidential,” his statement went on to say. 

When pressed for more context on Friday, Segovia’s office responded he had made the statement regarding confidentiality based on private conversations.

McKee-Rodriguez, however, believes this isn’t the first time that the city attorney brought up concerns of confidentiality.

“Here’s the thing that’s interesting to me is that we’ve had conversations about leaks before, and specific council members,” he said. “No one can point to us who is the leak. The issue is there has been speculation that there is a leak. And I think that’s the problem: They’re not changing the practice or the procedure because of something they can prove.” 

Who can dismiss the city attorney?

At Thursday’s press conference, Cabello Havrda was the only council member who publicly stated she wanted Segovia out as city attorney, citing multiple examples of alleged inconsistent legal advice. Whyte also is at that point, but isn’t sure if Segovia could say something to change his mind.

According to the city charter, City Council appoints the city manager, and the City Manager hires all other personnel. That includes the city attorney.

That means it’s up to Walsh to decide, with the advice of City Council, whether or not to remove Segovia. 

If removed by the city manager, he or she may demand written charges and the right to be heard thereon at a public meeting of the council prior to the date on which his or her final removal shall take effect,” the city charter states on the matter. “But pending such hearing, the city manager may suspend him or her from office. The action of the city manager in suspending or removing the city attorney shall be final.” 

Walsh said in a statement to KENS 5 that he has “complete confidence in Andy Segovia and the entire city attorney’s office.”

What’s next? 

On Wednesday, May 15, an executive session is on City Council’s agenda to discuss personnel matters regarding the city attorney. 

On Thursday, May 16, a public briefing is scheduled to discuss ongoing negotiations with the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighter’s Association. That will happen during the council’s A-session, which starts at 9 a.m. 

As of Friday, negotiations with the firefighters association appeared headed towards possible mediation. 

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