Editorial: City makes mistake in lack of openness
San Antonio Express-News

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

City officials may have damaged one of their accountability measures by not being forthcoming about it.

The proposed City Charter reform in question is City Proposition 3, not to be confused with the state constitutional amendment also known as Proposition 3. (The city proposals are at the bottom of the ballot.)

City Proposition 3 is widely advertised as a measure designed to take civil protection away from licensed professionals who work for the city. That is worthwhile.

The justification can be found in reports during last couple of years about city lawyers who failed to do their job but were safe because of civil service protection.

But now the proposition has become controversial because of the publicly unmentioned line in the proposal stating that "part-time, temporary and seasonal employees" are not covered by civil service.

Frankly, this provision makes sense. City Attorney Frank Garza told Express-News reporter William Pack that these employees have not been covered under the civil service rules in effect since 1977. They are supposed to be on the payroll only 90 days anyway.

Proposition 3 makes the rule part of the charter. But the charter reform proposal is controversial because the city has kept a large number of temporary employees on the payroll for years.

The Service Employees International Union claims more than 3,000 of the city's employees are officially part-time or temporary workers. The city says that number is too high, but they have not released their own count.

Permanent full-time workers should not be falsely classified as part-time or temporary. That is an unfair way of reducing salaries and benefits for low-wage workers.

The city's temporary worker problem surfaced in a debate over paying all city workers a living wage of $8.25 per hour.

Abusing temporary worker categories is abhorrent, and the city should not engage in the practice. But that is not what Proposition 3 is about.

The silence of Mayor Ed Garza and supporters of the City Charter during public discussion and campaigning on the propositions has angered members of Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance.

The charter reform campaign orchestrated by Garza should have been more upfront about the full content of Proposition 3. If it had been more open, this late-hour controversy would have been avoided.