Verbal fireworks erupted in the City Council Chambers Tuesday after a community activist questioned the relationship between council members and the Firefighter's Association.
The City and the fire union are negotiating a new contract, but Tuesday, local activist Abel Alonzo questioned whether council members who receive campaign contributions from the union should be voting on firefighter pay and benefits.
Alonzo went ahead and made his comments despite the fact that council members read a resolution which seemed to back fully its city staff in tough contract negotiations with the fire union.
"I'm not going after the police or firefighter association. I want to correct something that's wrong," Alonzo said. "I know that my name will be mud and I know if I ever need help that there will be delay in getting help, but I'm willing to pay that price."
Alonzo believes there's a violation of ethics laws when council members take money from organizations like the firefighter's political action committee. The fire union chief says that eight of the nine council members have received PAC money from their group.
Alonzo feels that because of that fact, council members should not be voting on the new firefighter contract because there's a conflict of interest. He asked the city manager and city attorney to look into the matter.
Council did not respond to the ethics charge, but the union president for firefighters and police had plenty to say afterward.
"What council members do is not unlike any other form of government, whether it be a county or state," fire union President Carlos Torres said. "All elected officials, for the most part, are allowed to legally to take money through PAC funds or any other method."
"My first take is it is irresponsible, given the fact that the individual doing the calling out quite frankly receives his own form of payments for various things in our own community," police union President Michael Staff said. "I think it's hypocritical by that individual to make that kind of statement. I think it's irresponsible. Are we going to change the way Corpus Christi does business singularly amongst all other cities in the state?"
City legal staff said that PAC money can be accepted, and there's no violation of the law.
The union presidents said they believe this isn't an issue, and wondered why Alonzo brought up the subject. Alonzo said that he simply thinks it's wrong, and at least one council member seemed to agree, because Priscilla Leal was going to abstain from the contract vote since she has received an endorsement from the fire PAC.