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3D/I greases Flores’ wheel

District 1 City Councilman Roger Flores recused himself and disappeared from Council Chambers last week when City staff recommended extending a professional-service agreement with architectural firm 3D/International for design changes at the San Antonio International Airport. The value of the contract is $900,000, on top of 3D/I’s $12.6 million contract for architecture services, which the City awarded to the company in 2003 before Flores took office.

party lines

3D/I has its fingers in many pies, and several of its employees, including Jennifer Bramble, have particular influence on Flores. 3D/I’s local office designed the Hotel Valencia and worked on the most recent expansion of the Convention Center. Andres Andujar, chief of the local 3D/I office, recently pitched a special tax-use district for 56 acres that straddle the San Antonio River north of McCullough. Andujar also was involved in Federal Realty Investment Trust’s $150 million revitalization of Houston Street, which still lacks tenants in many buildings. All these projects are in District 1.

Flores’ self-recusal sparked curiosity, as did 3D/I’s lucrative contract extension. The answers to the mysteries perhaps lie in a series of cozy e-mails that were exchanged between Flores’ office and 3D/I’s Andujar, and between Flores’ aide Laura Cabanilla-Cruz and 3D/I employee Jennifer Bramble, a former council aide to District 10’s Chip Haass when he and Flores took office in 2003.

Money trail

3D/I contributed about $10,000 through its Houston political action committee to the campaigns of current, former, and a handful of unsuccessful candidates for City Council between March 2004 and November 2005. A breakout of those funds for current councilmembers includes $700 for Flores; $250 to Patti Radle; $750 to Art Hall; $650 to Chip Haass; $500 to Richard Perez; $400 to Kevin Wolff; $500 to Sheila McNeil; $150 to Roland Gutierrez; and a whopping $1,700 to Mayor Phil Hardberger.

In an e-mail dated May 25, 2004, Andujar wrote to Flores, recommmending 3D/I senior associate architect Timothy Baisdon for a seat on the City’s Planning Commission. On February 3, 2004, Andujar urged Flores to consider appointing Baisdon to seats on three additional boards and commissions. To date, no appointment has been made.

As for Bramble, she sent an e-mail dated August 23, 2005, to Cabanilla-Cruz, in which she discussed a trip Bramble took that included a stop at Houston Bush International Airport, where a Current employee spotted Flores and a woman fitting Bramble’s description entwined near a Continental gate during an extended layover due to bad weather. “I had a great trip,” Bramble wrote. “We got back super late last night though, so I’m really tired.”

On September 12, 2005, Bramble sent several e-mails to Cabanilla-Cruz, inviting her to lunch, and revealing that “Roger’s car was broken into and my purse was in there.”

In the same correspondence, Bramble also offered free political advice to Cabanilla-Cruz on how to upgrade Flores’ profile in the city: “I think he needs to be attending two-three public events every day. Chip was good about that ... make a list of people he needs to call every day if necessary too and don’t let him leave without calling them.”

That day Bramble also urged Cabanilla-Cruz to “please put this letter on Roger’s letterhead.” The letter was addressed to the funding-committee chairman of the Humanities Texas Endowment in Austin, urging support for a project titled “Journal for the Life and Culture of San Antonio,” an on-line journal of San Antonio history.

“My stepdad is the head of it at Incarnate Word,” wrote Bramble. ”Anyways, they are applying for a grant for money from the Texas Humanities Endowment. Roger, Chip, Andres, Char Miller, and some other folks serve on the advisory board ... If I could get the letter back by tomorrow at noon I would greatly appreciate it.”

If Roger and 3D/I’s Andujar and Bramble have such a cozy relationship, in that he gets political advice and requests for favors via his official City Hall e-mail, then Flores did the right thing by recusing himself during last week’s discussion of 3D/I’s airport contract.

By Michael Cary

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