Low turnout expected in voting today
By William Pack
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 11/06/2001 12:00 AM

Although turnout is expected to be low in today's election to decide the fate of 19 state constitutional amendments and three proposed City Charter revisions, Mayor Ed Garza urged San Antonio voters to demonstrate their dedication to democratic values by going to the polls.

"It is a civic duty," Garza said Monday at a news conference held in support of the three City Charter proposals. "None of the changes should be taken lightly."

Today's forecast in San Antonio calls for sunny skies, but elections officials still think turnout will be dismal.

Only 5 percent to 7 percent of Bexar County's registered voters are expected to cast ballots.

However, interest in the City Charter election increased some last week when several labor groups and sister activist organizations, Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance, announced their opposition to the city's Proposition 3.

That proposition would strip civil service system protections from assistant department directors, lawyers, doctors, engineers and other licensed professionals working for the city.

City officials also included seasonal, temporary and part-time employees in the proposition to make language in the charter consistent with civil service rules, which City Attorney Frank Garza said has exempted temporary employees from civil service protection for decades.

But labor officials, COPS and Metro Alliance, which have been battling the city over its treatment of temporary and part-time workers, called the inclusion of low-paid temporary workers unnecessary, unfair and even underhanded.

Labor officials argued that Proposition 3 would take job rights away from temporary and seasonal employees and would open the city's employment practices to cronyism.

The president of the San Antonio AFL-CIO said the Central Labor Council has asked its 40,000 local members to oppose the proposition. .

The mayor, the driving force behind the changes, told critics he has instructed city officials to correct classification problems that have kept temporary and seasonal employees from receiving higher pay and benefits.

Job protection needs for those employees will be among the issues presented to a special city commission that will examine the City Charter more thoroughly and recommend changes for voters to consider in 2003, Garza said.

That committee has yet to be formed.

Additionally, a working group will be formed to make recommendations on the needs of seasonal and part-time workers to the charter committee.

Father Jimmy Drennan, representing COPS and Metro Alliance, said Monday that the mayor's decision to include those organizations in that working group persuaded COPS and Metro to drop their opposition to Proposition 3.

Garza said all of the city's proposals deserve the public's support, because they will make city government more responsive and accountable.

The other city proposals are Proposition 1, which calls for the creation of an internal auditor's office that reports to and is managed by the City Council rather than the city manager, and Proposition 2, which calls for changes in the way the city attorney is hired and fired.

Through Proposition 2, the City Council would receive the authority to confirm the city manager's appointment of a city attorney and, for the first time, to advise the manager on removal of the city attorney.

The state constitutional amendments cover a variety of issues.

Some, like Proposition 15, which would create a fund to improve transportation financing, have statewide impact. Others, like Proposition 3, which authorizes tax breaks for warehousing coffee and cocoa beans in Harris County, have only local impact.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.