Governing bodies such as City Council frequently use executive sessions to mask certain aspects of doing business at City Hall. Elected officials hide behind closed doors to discuss personnel matters such as the "duties, appointment, and employment of the City Manager." They talk about real estate, such as the latest freebie, a portion of City South, to the Texas A&M University System, without revealing to meddling taxpayers that they plan to give away the farm. They also hunker down in their secret-meetings bunker to discuss ongoing lawsuits. In other words, "you have been sued," or we're suing you.
Fortunately for the voting public and those few who have time to peruse courthouse records, Council's weekly agenda at least must include the subjects to be discussed in super-secret Executive Session.
Council recently approved issuing nearly $130 million in empowerment zone bonds, plus another $78 million in revenue bonds (taxable series) to allow Faulkner USA to proceed with construction of a 1,000-room headquarters hotel (don't forget the 500 condos on top) adjacent to the Convention Center.
Yes, Hotel Cisneros will feature more than 81,000 square feet of meeting space, a 32,700-square-foot grand ballroom, a 21,600-square-foot junior ballroom, and underground parking to serve its patrons.
Faulkner USA is expected to kick in another $11 million; Marathon Equity will ante up $52 million, and Hyatt Equity will throw in another $14 million, bringing the project's total cost to more than $285 million.
The City expects to collect more than $52 million in revenues during the first 10 years.
This seems to be a done deal. There's no talking Roger Flores or any other City Councilmember out of committing public money to this mammoth project that some say will only perpetuate a convention center expansion race nationwide, with no clear winner in sight.
But Flores & Co. were talking last week about the lawsuit filed against the City by Bob Salvatore, president of the San Antonio Building and Construction Trades Council. Call it a council, call it a union, he says, but don't vote to spend public funds to build a new convention center hotel without determining "prevailing wage rates" for the workers who do the actual building.
The lawsuit sought an injunction and temporary restraining order to prevent the City from issuing bond money or other funds to the project. The court granted the temporary restraining order on May 6, but Council proceeded with a vote to issue the bonds for the project despite the lawsuit.
Maybe Council members believe they can shed any legal fallout since they issued the bonds under the guise of the Texas Convention Center Hotel Finance Corporation.
But the situation clearly demonstrates the benefits of joining a union. Who else will defend the workers of the world: the Express-News, Wal-Mart, San Antonio City Council?
And now, since the City cannot justify airing Citizens to Be Heard on public access channel TVSA-21, here's a little snippet on what occurred last week.
About 40 residents of Timberwood Park, a Hill Country subdivision about five miles north of Loop 1604 on Blanco Road, converged on Council Chambers to plug and protest the City's recent action to annex their properties.
In summary, one group wants the city to leave them alone and allow them to incorporate their own little town with its own police, fire, garbage collection, and other city services. The other group lauded the City's move to put the neighborhood under limited annexation, with a pending non-annexation agreement. The latter would require San Antonio to provide those services to the area.
Welcome to San Antonio, Timberwood Park. Maybe you should have built your homes 10 miles outside Loop 1604. Then you could be annexed by the City of Bulverde. •
By Michael Cary