SAN ANTONIO - Ongoing collective bargaining negotiations between the city and police union have cost taxpayers nearly $750,000.
According to the most recent information available on the city's finance department website, the city has paid at least $746,729.79 in legal fees to three outside law firms.
The city has paid Houston-based firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., where chief negotiator Jeff Londa is employed, more than $330,000.
Bracewell & Giuliani has received approximately $168,000. Former city attorney Michael Bernard, who works for the firm, joined negotiations last August.
Fort Worth-based law firm Lynn, Ross & Gannaway, LLP, where city negotiator Bettye Lynn is a partner, has received nearly $220,000.
|Lynn, Ross & Gannaway, LLP
|Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
|Bracewell & Giuliani
City Manager Sheryl Sculley said it's her responsibility to get the best deal for public safety employees and taxpayers, and doing so means hiring the brightest legal minds the city can find.
"Our responsibility is to the best we job we can for the taxpayers of San Antonio," said Sculley. "I have a financial responsibility to the city council and also to the community to spend our dollars wisely. We want to make sure that what we're doing is fair and equitable for our employees and also affordable to the tax payers."
Negotiations stalled in November when the city filed a lawsuit against the unions asking a judge to determine whether the 10-year evergreen clause in the contracts is constitutional. Sculley said the city has spent about $50,000 on the lawsuit so far.
This week, PublicSafetyFacts.com (a website created by the police and fire unions) published an audio recordingfrom a neighborhood meeting with District 9 Councilman Joe Krier. Krier, an attorney, predicted the city would lose that lawsuit.
"Krier: There is a less than 5 percent, listen I am a lawyer, there is a 5 percent chance that the city can win that declaratory judgment action. Less than 5 percent."
Unidentified man: "And you're hoping to go to appeal after that."
Krier: "Absolutely, go all the way to the Supreme Court."
District 7 Councilman Cris Medina said the council should be concerned about how much money the city is spending on negotiations, which are set to resume later this month.
"We're stewards of the taxpayer's dollar," he said. "I think it is concerning to know that we've spent this amount of money and we really haven't had much progress."
The two sides have been unable to agree on how much the city should contribute to the cost of health care for it's police officers and firefighters, who currently pay no health care premiums.
Despite the growing costs District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg said spending the money now could save taxpayer dollars in the future.
"Over the life of these two contracts that we're trying to collectively bargain its going to cost the city of San Antonio and taxpayers almost half a billion dollars so its important that we get a good deal done," he said.