Casey: Part-time, temporary pols goof on part-time, temp workers
By Rick Casey
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 11/02/2001 12:00 AM


What should have been a noncontroversial change in San Antonio's City Charter has suddenly flared in controversy.

What could be easier than convincing voters to remove the provision that makes San Antonio the only city in Texas that gives civil service protection to staff lawyers, doctors, engineers and other licensed professionals?

Especially when the performance of the City Attorney's Office has come under repeated criticism for a succession of fumbles?

But now we learn that the measure — whose fine print few read — has added to the list of those not covered by civil service the city's lowest-paid workers, those who are classified as temporary, seasonal or part time.

Local unions and Communities Organized for Public Service and the Metro Alliance, who for months have been making an issue of what they see as exploitation of these workers, have called for a "no" vote on the amendment because of the addition.

As a result, an easy victory early in Mayor Ed Garza's term is in doubt.
The decision to include temporary and part-time workers was, plain and simple, a blunder.

A blunder on the part of the mayor and the council, and on the part of the city manager.

Garza and his committee members say they agreed to add the language during a committee meeting at which City Manager Terry Brechtel made the case that it would not change much (temporary workers of less than 90 days and part-time
workers don't have civil service coverage now), but that it would clarify a matter with which the charter does not now deal.

Brechtel told them, they say, that the change would merely clarify what is already the case — that civil service does not cover part-time and temporary workers.

It was the kind of error you expect from part-time, temporary politicians. Had they been better schooled or more sophisticated, the elected officials would have understood the possibility of controversy. They had heard from management, but they hadn't heard from the workers or their representatives.

Brechtel erred because she should have alerted her bosses to the heat they might take, even as she made her case for her proposal. In Austin, if legislative lobbyists don't let legislators know who is likely to oppose their proposals, those lobbyists lose credibility. If lobbyists carry that responsibility, shouldn't staffers?

Had the elected officials invited, for example, the Service Workers International Local 100, which represents some city workers, to appear before the committee, they would have heard a story vastly different from Brechtel's.

They would have heard fears that the charter measure could let management classify workers as "temporary" for years, improperly depriving them of benefits and protections. They would have heard estimates that more than 30 percent of the city's workers would be affected.

Who's right, Brechtel or the union?

I have no idea. The issue hasn't been publicly debated and explored because it wasn't on anyone's radar screen.

The provision regarding the seasonal and part-time workers is not mentioned in any of the literature or advertising in the $100,000 campaign on behalf of the amendments.

As a result, while the thousands of voters who have already cast their ballots in advance of next Tuesday's election understood the provision regarding attorneys and other professionals, they had no inkling of its impact on the city's lowest-paid workers.

This is no way to do politics.

Correction: In a column two months ago, I reported on the trial in West Virginia of Fred Zain, a former serologist in the Bexar County medical examiner's office. He was accused there, as he was here, of falsifying data in criminal cases. Based on news reports out of West Virginia, I wrote that a West Virginia state trooper testified he had investigated Zain's work in 1992, but was told by Charleston lawyer Steve McGowan to keep his findings to himself because then-State Police Superintendent Jack Buckalew did not want to know the details.

A lawyer for McGowan recently wrote to say that transcripts show that the trooper's testimony had been mischaracterized. In addition, the trooper says in an affidavit that McGowan did not give him any such instructions. The Charleston Gazette recently corrected the record, saying it had relied on the Associated Press. I regret the error.

To leave a message for Rick Casey, call (210) 250-3544 or e-mail rcasey@express-news.net. His columns run Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
11/02/2001