The MashUp was fixin’ to be in a bad mood come Saturday. On the last day of February, the San Antonio Public Library Board quietly voted to change the signage at the District 10 Oakwell Branch: It’ll now read The Tobin Library at Oakwell — answering the supplications of the Tobin Endowment, which recently made a “no strings attached” $100,000 donation to the Public Library Foundation. Former Board member Beverly Ingle resigned last fall because it looked like a quid-pro-quo was in the offing, to the tune of $250,000.
In the ensuing sunshine of public scrutiny, the board held public meetings at which members of the Friends of Oakwell Library opposed the renaming, and then changed the name anyway — for $150,000 less than the original asking price. So, what do budding citizen-activists learn from this? When moneyed interests come shopping, take their first offer, because your representatives will sell you out anyway. We have to hope that more checks with Tobin trustee Bruce Bugg’s signature are on their way to the SAPLF, because you shouldn’t let a library billboard go for less than $5 million (Still a bargain for a form of philanthropy that imputes Carnegie-level civic cred. AT&T paid $40 million for what amounts to rent: 20-year naming rights for the eponymous home of the Spurs).
You’ll also recall that Mayor Phil Hardberger endorsed the name change, which made our conflict-of-interest rash flare up because Bugg’s tendrils wind like a nutrient-recycling plant or kudzu (depending on your perspective) through the city’s arts, parks, and campaign coffers `see The Say-Town Lowdown, November 22-28, 2006 for a partial list of gift recipients`.
So MashUp was still feeling cynical when a late invitation from Hizzoner to participate in “A Moral Vision for San Antonio’s 300th Anniversary” arrived. The symposium, held Saturday in co-sponsor San Fernando Cathedral’s sunny downtown café/meeting hall, consisted of roundtables populated by captains of industry (Pearl Brewery developer Kit Goldsbury; Westover Hills developer Marty Wender), moral compasses (Trinity professor Char Miller; District 5 Councilwoman Patti Radle), and various movers and shakers (University of the Incarnate Word President Lou Agnese, Jr., whose son, the Tres, replaced Ingle on the Public Library Board; County Judge Nelson Wolff), and, of course, Henry Cisneros.
The Mayor opened the discussion with rhetorical flair, using the City’s Catholic heritage to evoke a secular obligation to provide adequate housing, education, and economic opportunity to SA’s residents. `This is why MashUp can’t help but like him, dammit!` Then three discussion topics were initiated by panels of six, who addressed the question in front of their peers before the tables quickly tabulated their own responses. A quick rundown:
Question 1: What should we stop doing?
Interesting answers: Abolish our Balkanized independent-school-district system. Stop jailing people for drug offenses. Stop development over the aquifer recharge zone. Leave disappointment with past failures at the door (from your mouth to C.A. Stubbs’ and Heywood Sanders’ ears, eh, Henry C.?)
Question 2: What should we keep doing?
Interesting answers: Keep investing in parks and downtown. Continue workforce training. Complete the homeless campus. Support small business. Continue developing our relationship with Mexico.
Question 3: What should we start doing?
Interesting occurrence: Express-News Editor Bob Rivard called in sick for the third panel, so moderator Juan Sepulveda pulled MashUp from the back benches to fill in. So, I didn’t take notes during this panel, but I recall talking about supporting developers and politicians who promote investment in the city as a whole, rather than viewing it as competing ’Sides (and let’s build that downtown performing-arts center, already; which, San Antonio Museum of Art, means thinking big and sharing that riverbank plot). Author John Phillip Santos spoke about our culture’s central role in a Mestizo future.
Several panelists addressed our need to create educational and economic opportunities to lure San Antonio’s best and brightest back home. Another interesting theme: SA, get over your self-esteem issues already — nobody talks down Say-Town like the locals.
I don’t know what will come of this heady morning. As one businessman noted, we need to create the infrastructure to support the kind of collaboration this conversation benefitted from; he mentioned the Santa Rosa child-abuse-prevention program as an example of the concrete good that can be achieved when you bring diverse interests and capabilities together in a common goal. I’m also a fan of concrete accomplishments, so while we’re being idealists, let’s also be realists. If we’re going to sell library-naming or renaming rights, let’s be frank and not undervalue the assets on the table.