District 1 duel
While our attention is focused on the various November showdowns `see this week’s story about Bexar County DA contender Nico LaHood, page 9, and last week’s review of the Dems-Greens tussle, online at sacurrent.com`, next year’s City Council races are percolating away. Early-bird District 1 candidate Carolyn Kelley turned in a campaign-finance report July 10 that indicates her seriousness and her viability: More than $26,000 raised in a race that limits individual donors to $500 per cycle and won’t really get under way until early next year.
Software and IT entrepreneur Chris Forbrich, who’s making a second run at the seat after his surprisingly strong showing against Mary Alice Cisneros in 2009, has already taken note of the math. He fired back Monday with an email calling for Kelley to turn herself in to the DA, City Hall, and the Texas Ethics Commission because she accepted campaign contributions from at least three corporations. There’s been some confusion about what type of corporate political participation is allowed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling this year, but the Texas Ethics Commission determined in late April that Texas’ law banning corporations from giving money directly to candidates (or spending money on candidates’ behalf with their knowledge) stands. If her campaign-finance report is accurate, Kelley’s campaign may have to return at least $1,300. If a complaint is filed with the TEC or the Bexar County DA takes up the case, she could face fines or criminal charges, although the TEC noted that it considers any mitigation steps a candidate takes.
“If we have mistakenly done that, we will return the money, of course we will,” said Kelley. She told the QueQue that her campaign is reviewing the report and getting legal advice. “We care very deeply about doing the right thing.”
Forbrich said the recent Citizens United ruling (and perhaps the recent media dust storm stirred up by T.J. Connolly, whom the DA unsuccessfully prosecuted for violating the ban on corporate contributions) doesn’t excuse candidates from knowing the rules. “Carolyn Kelley giving back those illegal corporate contributions she accepted is a good first step,” Forbrich said in a prepared statement. “The reality of the situation is that she broke the law when she deposited the illegal corporate contributions and she needs to answer for her disregard for the law.”
Kelley’s report also lists two donors as each giving $500 twice, which would be a violation of the city’s tight funding caps. But one of those supporters, venture capitalist Jeff Blanchard says it must be a reporting mistake in his case because he’s written only one $500 check. “I did tell her, ‘I’ll give you $1,000,’” Blanchard said. “She said, ‘All I need is $500.’ … I’ll help her again if she asks for it, if permitted to do so by the law.” The City gives candidates and officeholders up to 14 days after the discovery of an error to file a corrected report.
Blanchard is the president of the board of the Monte Vista Historical Association, and he knows Kelley from her work with the neighboring Tobin Hill organization. “She has done a tremendous job as president of the Tobin Hill Community Association,” Blanchard said, citing grant money Kelley helped obtain to rehab the Main Street corridor between Ashby Street and downtown, improving the curb appeal of several “just godawful bars.” “I think she knows how to get things done.”
Kelley’s donors also include Randy Cuniff, who owns several Main Street businesses that serve the San Antonio College student population and the gay community (perhaps some of those “godawful bars”?), restaurateurs Cappy and Suzie Lawton, and homeowner Cody Doege, whom Kelley has assisted in his battle to save a historic home from the City’s wrecking ball. Kelley’s donors also include developers with investments in D1, including Paul Covey, Ed Cross, and Rio Perla Properties, which has redeveloped the old Pearl Brewery into a foodie destination on the river.
Forbrich’s July 15 filing was notably lighter, with only $225 in contributions during the first six months of the year. But Forbrich campaign manager Colin Strother downplayed the difference, noting that they haven’t begun actively fundraising yet and that Kelley donated $10,500 to her own campaign. He characterized the bulk of Kelley’s supporters as the city’s power elite at work.
“She’s the insider,” Strother told the QueQue, pointing to donations from developers Gene Powell and Lloyd Denton. “She’s been on `the Zoning Commission`, she’s going to be the one who’s done favors for lobbyists and developers.” They wasted no time sending out a solicitation Monday that sought to capitalize on the potential errors in Kelley’s filing, and Forbrich says they’ve had good response to the email blast (his main campaign expenditure to date is for a Constant Contact subscription), including several donors who maxed out their cap this week.
“I think this is the best we can expect from the Forbrich campaign,” Kelley retorted. “While Forbrich is sending absurd emails, I’m speaking to community leaders about their concerns for their neighborhoods.”
Forbrich says he’s giving Kelley until Monday at noon to voluntarily report to the DA, etc., or he’ll do it for her.
Tree muggers and flagrant fliers
While the San Antonio Police Department recently negotiated a fairly cushy contract with the City, the San Antonio park and airport police still wonder whether their jobs will exist when their own contract expires in 2013. Their worries were heightened by a recent City decision to fill open positions in airport police with private security rather than new officers. A forlorn source in park police, who asked not to be identified for job-security reasons, contacted the Current shortly after we reported on the SAPD contract. While that agreement, which passed in May after more than a year of negotiations, assures wage increases of 2 percent in the upcoming fiscal year and 3 percent each year after until the contract expires in 2014, park and airport police wages were frozen, including the step pay rates they thought were guaranteed in the meet-and-confer agreement their bargaining unit signed in 2008.
That agreement, denounced by many park and airport police advocates, put 190 airport, park, and code enforcement officers under SAPD management, but left them out of the police officers association bargaining unit that determines many aspects of officer life, from salary to hours worked to legal representation. In 2009, Ron DeLord, a CLEAT lawyer who represents both SAPD and the park and airport police bargaining unit, met with the City to try to improve the meet-and-confer terms.
“Over one year ago, the City came to the airport and park police and asked to be allowed to transfer airport police officers to the park-police department,” said Jim Caruso, president of the Airport Police Officers Association. “We said yes, but we want to secure internal rights, seniority and uniform allowances. The City turned us down.” DeLord says ever since, “we’ve been at an impasse with the City.” According to DeLord, the airport and park police want some of the same legal benefits afforded to SAPD, who have a discipline appeals process separate from the City, while park and airport police must appeal via the municipal civil-service commission.
Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh said, “I’d characterize it differently; an impasse means there’s no existing agreement.” About the stalled efforts to renegotiate the agreement, Walsh said, “They wanted to make changes to `the agreement` and we were open to making changes,” but what the bargaining unit asked for, “we really weren’t interested in.”
Meanwhile, consolidation rumors continue to swirl (and drag down morale) at the airport- and park-police offices. Although the meet-and-confer did manage to save the jobs of officers hired prior to the spring of 2008, “I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen in 2013,” Caruso said. “The City will fire the airport police and replace it with full-time SAPD officers.” He and others believe that goes for park police, too. As proof, Caruso points to the recent City directive he said his department received to keep eight positions open.
Walsh said an outside consultant recommended that the City reduce the number of airport police officers in favor of private security, noting that many airport police duties are consistent with FAA and TSA training that national security firms can provide. However, Caruso said, “they’re replacing qualified, certified peace officers,” and losing the psychological deterrent of an armed police officer in the terminal to prevent theft and other crimes.
Caruso claimed the City’s reasoning is that they could hire 1.5 security officers for every airport police officer. But beyond that, budget becomes a murky motive. Starting salary for airport and park police is nearly $10,000 less than for SAPD officers after cadet service. To replace these officers with SAPD in the long-term would appear to cost the City more, but whether it will balance out with saved costs in training and management efficiency remains unclear.
“They are nervous about their jobs, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” DeLord said. But Walsh maintains the City, which meets with airport and park police on a quarterly basis, has been upfront about a transfer of airport and park duties to SAPD. “They know at some point we’re looking at transitioning those responsibilities,” he said. Rather than a mass firing of the department in 2013, Walsh said the City will most likely look to downsize the existing departments through attrition. “Our goal is not to eliminate people’s jobs and then replace them,” said Walsh.
“If that’s your plan, then you need to tell everybody that’s your plan,” countered DeLord. “These officers need to know honestly what their long-term prospects are.”
Park police have a small ray of light, at least until 2013. Due to the new linear creek parkways opening around San Antonio, an announcement went up last week that the City is hiring — for park-police officers.
But is it news?
The tug-of-war between the Express-News and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson has been partly settled, with the County releasing hundreds of pages of emails sent from Adkisson’s official email account to toll-road opponent Terri Hall, who writes a blog for E-N website mysa.com as one of its “City Brights.” Readers piled on in the comments section of Tuesday’s E-N story, though not to raise torches against Adkisson and Hall. Instead, the majority of comments as of press time expressed irritation with the daily’s apparent siege on Adkisson, a vociferous critic of efforts to toll U.S. 281.
Nothing improper has been exposed by the records released to date, but it’s understandable the writer and editors in this case would feel compelled to make something out of it, as Adkisson has resisted complying with the paper’s full request. And yet … that doesn’t make it a news story.
Politician seeks regular advice from uncompensated local citizen
The article shrieks that Hall plays an “intimate and significant role” in Adkisson’s management of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. That through Adkisson, Hall has found “a de facto seat at the table.” For starters, we thought that was sort of the job of our elected leaders, to carry the concerns of residents to the table for us. For finishers, hasn’t Adkisson been loud and proud in his anti-toll posture from the start?
“I move around the community as any public official in Bexar County,” Adkisson told the Current this week. “I don’t get any comment from anybody saying, ‘Hey, toll those roads.’ They’re all saying, ‘Hey, be careful about those tolls.’”
Adkisson has refused to release emails between he and Hall from his private email accounts, and sued to counter the AG’s directive that he do so, ensuring the fracas will continue.
“I just feel like it ought to be possible to think out loud without having every measure scrutinized for its stupidity or its brilliance,” he said. “In the process of arriving at public policy, you’re ‘What do you think about this?’ and the other person may say, ‘I think you’re a dumbass if you say that.’ And I’d just rather not shower that on everyone and their brother.”
If there is a story at the MPO, it has long been about the intersection of private gain and the public good. From the cashing in of Perry cronies on the now-slumbering Trans-Texas Corridor to TXDOT and MPO skirmishes over tolling 281, there is the scent of mad money in the air. Perhaps, the Express-News should listen to their readers when they suggest they should instead be shooting for MPO board members who may be overly influenced by, say, the monied interests at work and not gunning for two ideologues bridging a yawning political divide through their mutual disdain for the notion of double-taxing residents for a functional roadway.
Asked one reader mildly: “Why is this news?”
And, yet, still unresolved is the question of emails Adkisson sent from his private account dealing with public issues.
“It shouldn’t be a crime to try to include more public comment and input, especially when it’s not driven by some big, powerful, wealthy corporation type or special interest,” Adkission says.
The QueQue is a fan of strong open-records laws (ask the City Attorney’s office, please). We also support journalism functioning in the public’s interest. If the Express-News has the resources to publish investigative campaigns like this one, we can think of a few possibly worthier email accounts they could be hacking.