San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 26th, 2009
Police, fire fighters step up political presence

San Marcos fire fighters and city officials during a meet and confer negotiating session last week. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

Amid their meet and confer negotiations to forge collectively bargained agreements with the city, San Marcos police and fire fighters have increasingly promoted their interests during this election season.

Taking their cues from their colleagues in larger cities, the police and fire fighters are forming political action committees (PACs), block walking for candidates and providing them with funds, in addition to making endorsements.

The San Marcos Police Officers’ Association (SMPOA) and San Marcos Professional Fire Fighters Association (SMPFFA) have endorsed beauty consultant Monica Garcia for City Council Place 6 and homebuilder Ryan Thomason in Place 5 for the Nov. 3 election.

The SMPFFA has paid for at least one mail out to announce their endorsement, and the SMPOA endorsement, to city voters. Members of the police association have walked blocks for Garcia during this cycle.

Asked about their endorsements for the Nov. 3 election, officials for the police and firefighters associations said they made their decisions after interviews with all the candidates.

SMPOA President Danny Arredondo said candidates usually receive endorsements from SMPOA after a vote of the association’s members, though occasionally the group’s executive board will choose who to endorse. SMPFFA President Howie Minor said his organization endorses candidates based on input from the group’s PAC director, that director’s assistant, the group’s executive board and the members who attend the organization’s meetings.

“We made that decision and we stick by it,” Arrendondo said. “You know, it may not always be the right one. Sometimes that’s what you find out, but we stand by it because that is the choice we made, because we believe in responsibility and accountability.”

Said Minor, “After interviewing all the candidates … we go with a candidate that we feel is going to serve our best interests as far as being the front fore-leader of public safety. Nothing against … any incumbents or anybody else. We just gotta go with who we think is going to be the one carrying the torch for us. Not saying the that the other guys don’t, but, you know, you got a decision to make — it’s not an easy decision to make sometimes, I’ll be honest with you — but you got to make your decision and you got to stick with your decision. No disrespect to anybody, I’ll tell you that right now. Because you never know what’s going to happen. You may be turning around in a year or two and be working for the candidate you didn’t endorse. That’s the way I see things … We got to do what we think is best for us at the time.”

Minor said his organization formed a PAC after fire fighters from other parts of Texas made contact with their San Marcos colleagues through joint training exercises and biennial conventions, where PACs were a topic of conversation. Minor said SMPFFA members voted to form a PAC about two and a half years ago.

Minor said the PAC did not support candidates in its first year of existence because the Texas Ethics Commission was still processing some of the organization’s paperwork.

Arrendondo said SMPOA has plans to form a PAC in the near future.

PACs are allowed to raise money and make contributions to candidates. However, the law prohibits coordination between PACs and political campaigns.

“Political (activity) in the fire department started way back years ago, with … the Bostick Brothers out of Fort Worth,” Minor said. “That’s where, really, the PAC tradition started for the fire fighters throughout the country, was in Fort Worth Texas. And it’s just something that’s grown on a local level through Fort Worth and through all the other departments … on a state level and on a national level. It’s just something to kind of help us obtain some of the needs that we need to perform our job and support what fire fighters need throughout their careers.”

SMPOA and SMPFFA have been in meet and confer negotiations with the city for several weeks. Issues being negotiated by fire fighters include pay and longevity, vacation, professional association business leave and grievance procedures. Issues for police include longevity pay and on-call pay. There are two city police detectives on-call, each for a period of seven days at a time.

“In reality, if we provided that service any other way, we’d have to hire four more officers or detectives and having them work at night,” Arredondo told councilmembers during the council’s Oct. 5 meeting. “But these men and women have pretty much done that. We’re just asking that if their life is being placed on hold for seven days, that they be compensated fairly for that seven-day period, for being limited to what they can do.”

SMPFFA’s PAC filed its first campaign finance report on Jan. 12, 2008. In its report eight days before the November 2008 mayoral election, the PAC reported expenditures of $500 to Mayor Susan Narvaiz’s campaign and $188 to MAC Promotions for Narvaiz campaign T-shirts.

SMPFFA’s PAC reported $3,111.01 in maintained contributions as of its last report, filed July 8 2009. Minor said “probably half” of SMPFFA’s members contribute to the PAC’s fund. As all contributions to the PAC were $50 or less, the PAC did not have to disclose any specific contributors.

The SMPFFA PAC is legally-obligated to file a campaign finance report by the eighth day before the Nov. 3 election. If the PAC engaged in election-related activity by 30 days before the election, it would have to file a 30-day-before-election report.

“You learn a lot about the PAC and you see what benefit it does for other people, and it just makes you want to form that and get involved politically,” Minor said. “Because if you don’t get involved politically, then you’re pretty much not going to get your issues heard, really. So that’s kind of how that formed, is we saw the benefit of it from what other associations did with it.”

It is illegal for labor organizations to raise money for their PACs, such as in the form of member dues. PACs must be funded by individual contributions. Minor said SMPFFA is not using member dues to fund its PAC.

“Separate account, separate everything,” Minor said. “We haven’t filed (a 2009 election-related campaign report) yet — we’ll be filing our 30-day notice here pretty quick. We don’t do a whole lot as far as expenditures … We’re kind of building that nest egg … There are some associations that have a very healthy PAC fund. And a lot of other PAC funds donate to PAC funds (that are) … starting (up). I haven’t really hit anybody up for it yet, but I’ve known a PAC fund to give $15,000 to other associations just to get started. It’s pretty amazing, the help that — it’s just a big brotherhood on some things.”

Arredondo said his organization has never funded any candidate’s political campaign, but has volunteered, for example, by walking door-to-door with candidates — block walking.

“When we block walk we wear our San Marcos Police Officers’ Association T-Shirts,” Arredondo said.

Garcia said members of the fire and police associations wear garb that marks them as police officers and fire fighters when they block walk for her.

“Because their associations have endorsed me, that’s really what they bring, is that manpower,” Garcia said. “We walked Willow Creek and the Heritage Association within a matter of four hours. And I obviously would not have been able to do that with a small number of people, so they’ve been a tremendous aid.”

Garcia said she attended some fire and police meet and confer meetings, which are open to the public, before she was endorsed by both associations. Minor, who served as vice president of his association for nine years and was elected president last year, said his experience indicates the San Marcos police and fire associations never support opposing candidates.

SMPOA and SMPFFA sent questionnaires to all council candidates and held a joint meeting in September where they invited all candidates to give five-minute presentations. The candidates’ questionnaire responses are on SMPFFA’s website. Arredondo said opposing candidates did not make presentations in one another’s presence.

“It was not a situation where we wanted them to be uncomfortable,” Arredondo said. “We wanted them to feel as comfortable as they possibly could. And after their responses, as well as their written responses to the questionnaire that we had, the association as a whole, we make the decision as to who it is we are going to endorse.”

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0 thoughts on “Police, fire fighters step up political presence

  1. It’s interesting to see how this relates to students. When talking to students I find that most of them feel that they are treated unfairly by police compared to other residents because of their age and their status as students. I have personally received such treatment. While I believe this to be due to a lack of a “middle demographic”- young professionals/graduates who stay in SM and vote more consistently than students and have more status in the community, police treatment should also be carefully scrutinized through the governing bodies that they are a part of (in this case city council).
    Council members that look out for students needs should be willing to go up to the bat against unfair police aggression while still balancing their support for this very important government service.
    Therefore, what should students expect from council members who receive their endorsement? Unyielding support for those who keep our community safe or a balanced eye to make sure that all services are offered equally and fairly?

  2. I would be interested to hear more details of the unfair treatment of students, particularly since there are many on the other side, who feel that it is unreasonable to expect any enforcement of any regulation, where students are concerned.

    Personally, I think the problem is that there is not regular, even-handed enforcement of certain regulations. Instead, we see a relative lack of enforcement for a period of time, followed by a period of heavy-handed over-enforcement. This leaves students and not-students both unhappy and deepens the chasm between the two groups.

  3. The University, and therefore students, already have their own police department. This, among other things, could be shown to be a contributing factor in the SMPD’s attitude toward certain groups residing within the city.
    While I am A firm advocate of collective bargaining, professional associations, and other forms of asserting the rights of labor, I do find myself uncomfortable with the public services endorsing any political candidate. What, for example, should I think if I need to call upon the services of the police or fire dept.’s and I have a sign in my yard who isn’t a candidate they have publicly endorsed? Will I receive the same quality of service to that of my neighbor who agrees with them? What if I find myself in a dispute and the police are called? Will there be bias for or against me because I do or do not agree with the Professional association’s publicly endorsed candidate? Working conditions and compensation are the primary reasons these public service associations exist, right?
    Or is it something else? Let’s face the facts, these working men and women have been granted a certain amount of power and privilege in order to perform a public service. Their responsibility is to every citizen and resident of the city without prejudice. When the citizens choose a course it is they that must follow it, not the other way around. I’d like to see police and fire associations remember that as we honor the difficult role they play in keeping our city safe, “their interests” should be “our interests”.

  4. In response to the request for more details of unfair treatment to students, hear this one. When I was a student, I had a party at my house. Police responded to a noise complaint. They wandered around until they finally found one underage attendee. They then proceeded to take the keg tap off and stomp on it. Then one officer, who’s still on the force, brought out a pickaxe and told us to stand back. He asked us if we’d ever seen “the untouchables” as he began to destroy our keg, which is private property. Ironically, since they had also destroyed our tap, we were able to pour out the rest of our beer thru these holes. All of this is photodocumented, which they told us was an arresteable offense.

    There are many stories similiar to this one.

    Now, of course we were in violoation of the noise ordinance, and under that law it was their duty to break up our party. However, can you imagine the police performing these acts at a tax payers home.

  5. Jason, for clarification, the university has its own police department, with jurisdiction pretty much everywhere in San Marcos, but with no interest in patrolling off campus. I would certainly not be surprised to learn that this impacts the relationship between SMPD and students.

    That aside, when the police allow problems in any part of town to fester and get out of control, leading to angry citizens at city council meetings and then step in with heavy-handed enforcement and demands/support for stricter ordinances, this is a proven recipe for poor results across the board, which we have seen more than a few times.

    Predictable, regular, even-handed enforcement is a far better plan.

    As for conflicts of interests, if the police are making enforcement decisions based on yard signs, we’ve got a huge problem. I don’t believe that is the case. I have been a vocal opponent of many of their positions and do not feel as though I have been treated unfairly as a result.

    Of course, I didn’t think I was being treated unfairly in my younger days, when my parties were being broken up, either.

  6. Ben, if your story is true, I certainly hope you raised those issues to City Council. If the police EVER showed up at my house and started destroying property, you can believe that everyone would know about it.

    That being said, if it is true, what makes you believe that the same officers don’t treat everyone the same way? In my experience, the bad officers (and there are always some), mistreat everyone equally.

  7. Ted, if that truley is your name, why would I waste my time creating stories for the few folks that pay attention to these blogs? Is that what the goes on here? Are you the filter of fact from fiction?

    We did file a complaint with the police department. What do you think happened, an ethics investigation?

    Know your neighbors and communicate with your neighbors otherwise we’ll always be saying……I used to have a crime problem, now I’ve got a cop problem.

  8. Amanda, you can contact me through the student directory. I would love to discuss this further.

  9. Ted,
    I am not suggesting the police or the fire depts. are making enforcement decisions based on yard signs at all, what I am suggesting is the opportunity for bias to creep its way into an already well established “us vs. them” culture is being embraced by the professional associations that represent our public servants. I want a police officer who knows the names of her neighbors, drinks coffee with a stranger sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Coffee Pot, and chats me up in line at HEB. While on the surface it may seem that these things have nothing to do with what we are discussing, I believe it does.

    I also believe it is incumbent upon any public service institution to make every possible effort to remain non partisan. The high profile nature of the services they provide demands trust and accountability. How can we trust our relationship with these service institutions when they openly endorse one individual candidate over another? How can they trust us when we openly oppose them? To whom will they be accountable to? The person(s) they endorsed?

    Beyond their right to bargain for better wages, better working conditions, and other employee/employer related issues, public servants such as police and fire are duty bound to serve the interests of the citizen by enforcing the law. Is it too much to ask of police and fire depts. to even appear neutral?
    I’d like to see the SMPOA and the SMPFFA trying to figure out ways of making more police one of “us” rather than insisting that they not be one of “them”.

  10. Jason, you raise interesting points. Personally, I’d be happy of SMPOA, SMPFFA, SMABOR and other groups making endorsements would explain what they mean by things like “we go with a candidate that we feel is going to serve our best interests.”

    I like to think that SMPOA and SMPFFA share my interests, but I’d rather hear what their interests are. Without any details from SMABOR, I am forced to rely on experience, which leads me to believe that group does not share my interests.

    I don’t object to the endorsements. I’d just like to know why various groups endorse various candidates. It seems like some of the other groups are better about offering explanations to go with their endorsements.

  11. I’m not sure I am comfortable with public employees using their political clout against their employers. What’s next teachers endorsing School Board races?

  12. Jason and Ted,

    You bring valid concerns to this discussion. Let me introduce myself as Danny Arredondo-President of the SMPOA. I will respond only once and in a very sincere fashion. I don’t know you Jason but I have met Mr. Marchut at council meetings. Let it be known that the SMPOA and the SMPFFA work closely together and our concerns are for public safety, and that means for every citizen that eats, sleeps, and visits San Marcos students or non students.

    We know that we aren’t perfect but we would like to have the best training, the best equipment and yes, even the best possible benefits for ourselves and our families as we serve everyone in this community including students. Now when we mention public safety this also means 911 telecommunicators and EMS Personnel.

    When we all became public servants we didn’t give up the rights that everyone else is afforded and there is a proper way to invoke them and are doing so.. We aren’t out bad mouthing the candidates that we didn’t endorse. Heck, most of us have developed friendships with most of them. We are just out supporting and endorsing the candidates that we feel will address or carry the torch for the public safety concerns that we have in the city of San Marcos.

    Mr. Marchut, I believe that at times we will agree to disagree but I have heard your concerns and I believe I understand them.I was born and raised (44 years) in San Marcos as were my older sibling and parents. I love everything about San Marcos and Hays County including Texas State University-San Marcos. I think we want to get to the same place we just have different ideas of how to get there. This is what I am talking about when we say Public Safety is our primary concern. We mean all aspects of it including traffic in your neighborhood.

    Mr, Marchut, this also holds true for the association and our administration at SMPD. There are a number of things we (SMPOA & SMPD Admin) have agreed and disagreed on but at the end of the day, we all want the same things for everyone in San Marcos and that is for everyone to be safe.

    Jason, I am out and about in the community everyday. Every officer and fireman in San Marcos is approachable and should be. I see officers and fireman waving (all five fingers)as they drive around all the time. I see them in coffee shops (to embarassing to be seen in a donut shop, ha! Ha!)and even HEB. But the reality is that people only traditionally call us when something has gone wrong or is broken and needs to be fixed. They don’t approach us and we don’t get that call to the dispatch center that someone is having their 50th wedding aniverseray or they just got a huge promotion or even graduated from college and wanted the cops to stop by and celebrate with them.

    SMPD also has a citizen’s police academy twice a year. We are currently on Class #26. The Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA) was designed as a way for citizens to get to understand police officers and get rid of the us vs them mentality. We have sinced used this program to bridge the gap not only between police and citizens but also between citizens and students in San Marcos. The CPA also gives citizens the opportunity to see the internal operations of our police department. Yes, we know that this is uncommon for police but dispite what people believe, we welcome people to come and see what we are about and how we operate. Are you familiar with the ACT (Achieving Community Together) program? SMPD and Texas State have come together to develop a great program to bridge the gap between students, non-students, and law enforcement agencies in San Marcos. We still have alot of work to do but everyday we are a step closer to making things better and safer for everyone in this community.

    Did you know that SMPOA and SMPFFA have spend their own hard earned money funding number of events such as an annual easter egg hunt (over 10,000 eggs), we partner up with Tanger Mall for an annual Halloween Candy Give Away. We had a fundraiser BBQ for the Lion’s Club Tube Rental Fire Fund. We have an annual fundraiser for an endowment at Texas State and have raised over $27,000 so it could be self sustaining. We sponsor local youth sports teams such as San Marcos Youth Baseball & Softball Associations. There are also a number of other organizations, school events and fundraisers we donate too. We even traveled to our sister city in Monclova,Mexico and donated over 2000 christmas toys to extremely poverty stricken children in Mexico of couse this was after we delivered over 5000 toys to over 1100 children in San Marcos through our Blue Santa Program in 2008. We (SMPOA & SMPFFA)also recently began a fundraising campaign to help those suffering from cancer that may need some type of financial support or transportation for treatment.

    You see, we really aren’t much different than any of you other than the fact that we run towards danger when everyone else is running away. And I often wonder if we are crazy for doing it, but we do. Well this is just a bit of information that I wanted to share.

    And yes, Ted is his real name and he is real person.

  13. Being an early graduate of the San Marcos Citizens Police Academy, I highly recommend it for those who wish to learn something of the operation and management of such an organization, something about the cases, calls and individuals they deal with, and the strategies, tactics, weapons and technology they use to enforce the ordinances and laws they are charged to carry out. One sees as well typical situations that they are prepared to respond to, guidelines for discretionary actions, use of force, etc. The curriculum also include(d) brief reviews of those laws and the relative priority of each in maintaining the health, safety and welfare of the City.

    Maybe the most interesting and enlightening parts of the course are the interactive exercises, in which one learns about road stops, 9-1-1 calls, illegal substances, gangs,potentially violent or dangerous behavior, common community nuisances and the rules governing them. The cherries on the cake are trips to the firing range and the driving track, as well as the situational exercises in which the civilian learns to approach standoffs, arrests, etc. as officers do.

    Under expert guidance, a person seeking to understand the role of education, prevention and enforcement, as well as the citizen’s role in maintaining civility, can come away with much knowledge, and a great deal more appreciation of the proficiency and practices of our officers–from patrol to apprehension, identification, counseling, and crowd control to arrest or domestic assistance or force, search, issuance of citations and arrest.

    Looks different when YOU are asked to do it and be critiqued; and it helps one to appreciate the young men and women who give their lives to such dangerous, boring, frustrating and altruistic work. In all, our public safety personnel have a reputation of two decades at least of highly trained professionalism, and seldom forget that, even if provoked by an independent wise guy or a drunk or a person in the process of ‘LOSING IT OUTRIGHT,” which is just about the only time things get dicey for the errant citizen. It’s usually easy to avoid, if one chooses.

    Unfortunately, some clients have watched too many movies about police rousts and corruption and cowboy behavior. Then too, very frequently, a “MANLY MAN” may have had too many refreshments and try to impress his temporary host–
    not always a smart or painless way to display courtesy. The officers are trained to put up with much, but each has some usually justifiable limit beyond which he/she will not turn the other cheek. Then the fun stops.

    Congrats to Officer Arredondo, whom I have watched grow over a long period, along with many compadres in local Police and Firefighter operations.

  14. Officer Arredondo, thanks for the reply. You are correct that we have agreed to disagree on some issues, but there are others where I have agreed 100%. That is why I am leery of some endorsements that come out without any real details. Do you endorse a candidate because that candidate agrees with you where I do, or does that candidate agree with you where I disagree?

    At any rate, thanks for the reply and for the work you and all of the police do.

  15. I was already pushing against Garcia so that’s no surprise. But Thomason receiving the endorsement has pushed me to Coppaletta. Well done SMPD, using your public jobs for political clout. Just another problem to add to the SMPD’s list.

  16. One outsider’s perspective–
    As a former public employee, I must say that a career in a profession in which your paycheck comes from a public entitity does not negate a private life or an independent perspective, but what it does do is bring your personal views under greater scrutiny. Instead of having one boss or one employer, you find that the entire community feels free to judge your words or actions in a way that they would likely not care to be judged in return. All the community needs to be concerned with is whether or not that public employee does their job well, and the better a community treats their public employees, the more likely they are to retain the services of quality individuals (just as with private employers). Public employees are free to collectively support candidates through the means outlined in the article just as other collective groups do. Also, just because a collective organization supports a candidate’s campaign does not mean that every individual in that organization is voting for that candidate, or has even has made monetary contributions to support the PAC. Even within a group individuals can agree to disagree, and yet still respect one another and accept the decision of the majority. Like it or not, those of us who actually participate in the poltical process must accept the decision of the majority after every election, and win or lose, would we have it any other way?

  17. For my fellow brothers and sisters…
    Well, I am new to all the “blogging’ that goes on in the computer world. Frankly I have never been on Facebook or Myspace and would like to keep it that way. However, I have been compelled to address some concerns my fellow citizens in the community have outlined in their blogs. The most important comment I notice is – “we go with a candidate that we feel is going to serve our best interests.”
    I cannot speak for police, but I can touch upon some concerns as a firefighter who is a member of SMPFFA. I was born and raised in San Marcos and can still remember when River Road and Wonder World Drive were one-lane dirt roads. I can also remember taking lunch to my father has be plumbed the homes in the Hughson Heights area. I can also remember when we got our first snow in San Marcos back in the 1980’s and the Munden’s was still around. I also remember seeing my mother working very hard at Perry’s the local five-n-dime story to earn a living to place food on our table. So as you can see I have seen San Marcos grow by leaps and bounds. Now that I have given you an idea of how old I am and how long I have been around in this community. I find it difficult to place any life (whether it be a civilian or that of my fellow brother or sister firefighter) on an aerial apparatus that was put into service when I was still in high school back in 1987; this is what we mean that “we go with a candidate that we feel is going to serve our best interests.” I personally wish to support someone who is not afraid to “go to bat” for public safety. Who is willing to place their “good foot forward” and to address all concerns posed to them by those in the public safety sector.
    I have sat and watched as previous Chief’s were asked by council members and city managers whether there was a need for additional staffing, pay or to upgrade our current fleet of fire trucks. Some of our current fire trucks were put into service in the late 1980’s and are still considered frontline apparatus. Another underlying concern that I have is that the City of San Marcos has lost valuable firefighters to San Antonio and Austin – we know that we will never be able to contend with cities of this nature. But it sure would be nice to retain firefighters who would be willing to stay, if we were able to pay our workforce the salary of those cities similar in population. The concerns I have listed have continually fallen on deaf-ears. The meet and confer process currently going on is disheartening. Members of our Association have continually tried to work with the team from the city. I have been present at some of these meetings where members of the association have been sequestered from 3-4 hours. Our meet and confer board members have provided feedback on articles for discussion but city attorneys continue to block talks making it difficult to come to a consensus.
    I wish not to establish any ill discontent with members of our current council or city officials; in fact, many current council members have shown us great support throughout the years and I appreciate everything they have done for us.
    Lastly, as for the commitments about “police are making enforcement decisions based on political yard signs” and “how police and fire should remain neutral.” When we are called upon by the community through 9-1-1 or to simply serve in any other capacity, all differences set aside we do our job to the best or our ability with respect and humility. As for remaining neutral…we have for many years. We as an association feel that should our career end while in the line of duty, that the community we so much gave to will embrace our family should we leave them behind.

    “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around us in awareness.” – JAMES THURBER

    Andrea Acosta
    SMPFFA L3963

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