The auditor’s new clothes
San Antonio’s brand-spankin’-new City Auditor ordinance doesn’t fix the problem, says District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, one of two nay votes when the ordinance sailed through Council last week. “It just brings more people into the problem.”
Citizens, specifically. The new law adds two commoners to an expanded three-member council committee that oversees the City Auditor — a nebbishy, spreadsheet-driven position that mushroomed into a dark cloud of unexpected fury and destruction last spring, when former auditor Pete Gonzales was shown the door shortly after he started poking around the City’s playground inspection and maintenance records. An Express-News investigation uncovered a coverup of sorts, and the casualties of le petit scandale included former Parks & Rec Director Malcolm Matthews — and now, the old audit system.
The new protocol (much like the old protocol, but with i’s dotted and t’s crossed): the expanded Audit Committee approves an audit plan, a contract with the City Auditor that lays out which departments and programs s/he can review. If the auditor wants to initiate an investigation into something not included in the plan, s/he has to bring it to the committee for approval. The Mayor gets to appoint all five committee members; council gets to hire/fire the auditor.
But if citizen oversight sounds like a shortcut to integrity and sunlight to some, District 9 Councilman and Audit Committee Chair John Clamp shares McNeil’s alarm that citizens will serve as voting members. Adding laypeople to a council committee may mean that any changes to the City’s audit plan would have to be brought to the full council, he says. Ye aulde City Charter specifies that with a few exceptions, i.e. Planning, citizens may only serve in an advisory capacity.
Clamp, the only other no vote, and McNeil also think it’s unfair to put citizens on the hot seat for internally unpopular audits and any public screw-ups. When SA’s citizens voted in 2001 to create the City auditor position, says McNeil, they asked council to do the job. “To put citizens on the committee gives that job back to the people,” she said. (The Queque nonetheless doesn’t share her concern that citizen members might not keep mum about behind-closed-doors topics. In fact, this seems like a good time to remind you of our phone number, (210) 388-0625, and email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Clamp and McNeil also question the wisdom of having all five committee members, council reps and citizens, appointed by the mayor (by the language of the ordinance, it appears the full council may get to advise, but not consent to the mayor’s choices) — no matter how righteous and beloved. Hardberger’s out in five months, after all. Appointments by District 8 CM (and mayoral candidate) Diane Cibrian, anyone? `See “The MashUp,”.`
Queque humbly suggests that if the City really meant to put some teeth into the position, they would have taken a cue from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and created a fixed term for the auditor, during which s/he could only be removed for misconduct by a super-majority public vote of the full council. As it is, an independent-minded auditor `see: Pat Major, Pete Gonzales` can still be booted at any time by a simple majority vote.
Steve McCuskeris getting a lot of unsolicited advice these days. The director of the San Antonio Zoo has been the target of a concerted campaign to get 48-year-old Asian elephant and retired amusement ride Lucky the Elephant released to a Tennessee-based elephant sanctuary. `See “Free Lucky,” July 30, 2008.`
Her impending entertainment obsolescence (a planned expansion of the Africa Live exhibit, which includes two African elephants, is sure to sideline Lucky) and a history of early pachyderm deaths prompted the advisory board of the City’s Animal Care Services to step into the debate with a call for Lucky’s release.
ACS board member Randy Murdock is no wild-haired tofu eater. “I’m one of those guys that say if God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them so tasty,” he tells Queque. That said, it only took a little research (including the average lifespans of captive elephants) to convince him that Lucky deserves better.
“Technically, it’s none of our business,” says Murdock, “but if you look into the history of that poor elephant — I mean, they have to work on `her` feet every day, because elephants are migratory ... Lucky doesn’t have any grass.”
So, the ACS board has joined Voice for Animals, Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, and Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in calling for Lucky’s release.
“There is a no-cost alternative that will ensure a happy life for Lucky,” the board writes. “The elephant sanctuary in Tennessee has pledged they will relocate `Lucky` to their refuge and absorb all costs. After many years of faithful service to San Antonio, it is time to retire lucky and allow her to enjoy life with her own kind.”
Riding the wind is also a rumor that the City’s Parks & Rec board — which discussed Lucky’s fate at a meeting earlier this year — is prepared to deliver a similar letter in the weeks ahead.
Shock the monkey
McCusker is being squeezed on another front, as well, involving a captive-born giraffe sold from the San Anto Zoo to that delight of children everywhere: Michael Jackson. According to PETA, “Annie Sue,” who has since given birth to her own offspring, has left Wonderland Ranch and is now packed away in a cramped, unlicensed facility in Arizona. PETA has been writing and calling on McCusker to use his position to help Annie Sue and Co. find more hospitable placement.
His only response to date, according to PETA, was a two-line brush-off:
“The San Antonio Zoo has no room for these animals. Nor do we have any legal right to obtain/confiscate them.”
In a city hoping to obliterate animal cruelty by 2012 in time for Aztec creator-god Quetzalcoatl’s return, the black marks just keep coming.
Protesters in Kathmandu, Nepal, are incensed that 25 captive-bred rhesus moneysare being exported to San Antonio’s Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research for use in research on HIV and tuberculosis vaccines. The SFBR keeps more than 3,500 nonhuman primates for medical research, including more than 3,000 baboons.
Mangal Man Shakya, chief of the Wildlife Watch Group in Nepal, told Kyodo News: “The export of wildlife for subjecting them to experiments that could kill them is illegal.”
Natives of the Indian subcontinent, the rhesus monkeys used to be taken from India until that country outlawed their export in 1978. That turned medical traffickers to Nepal, according to the Himalayan Times.
Bait and tackle?
The Queque has waded through enough bureaucracy in our attempt to ford the gap between Avenues A and B on the great San Antonio River Improvements Project, that we might damn well turn Republican. `See “It’s for the birds” already, April 30, 2008.` The riverside(-ish) trails that will run from the river-barge turnaround at Pearl Brewery to the tippy-top of Brackenridge Park are currently being set, designed, and funded, but the government hoopsseem endless — and not unlike an obstacle course for citizens trying their damndest to participate in the public-input part of the process.
Two weeks ago, the Park Segment Subcommittee recommended a set of paths that did not include hotly contested trails, known as routes three and six, along Highway 281 and the southern edge of the River Road Neighborhood. `See the map at sacurrent.com.` This solution not only gladdened the hearts of most of the RR neighbors, it made the birders happy, because Avenue A would remain a dead-end haven for migratory birds.
But the River Oversight Committee nonetheless asked the lead architects, Ford Powell & Carson, to work up design and pricing for all of the trails, including routes three and six. ROC Chair Irby Hightower said opponents of those trails shouldn’t assume they’re being thrown under the bus: The County, City, and the San Antonio River Authority, which jointly oversee the River Improvements Project, want to see all of the options.
The architects’ plans were due November 24, as your devoted Queque went to press, but you can get a gander at the Park Segment’s December 11 meeting, when they’ll be formally presented to the committee. Then: Park Segment makes a final recommendation to the Museum Reach Committee, which then passes along (or alters) a recommendation the ROC, which then passes along (or alters) the plan to the Committee of Six that represents the City-County-SARA triumvirate. Although … each of those bodies must also pass on the plan independently. Remarkably, construction is expected to commence sometime this century. The upside of all this committee hobnobbery? If the Avenue A proponents (aka former Mayor Howard Peak) do sneak routes three and six back in, objectors will have plenty more public meetings to protest.
The Queque does wonder if the golf course’s new ability to serve booze might make a trail along the back nine more enticing. When George Brackenridge deeded the parkland, which includes the greens and fairways real estate, to the City more than a century ago, he albatrossed the gift with a caveat: no firewater, or UT Austin could claim the land. Last week Council agreed to let the Municipal Golf Association pay UT $145,000 not to enforce the dry law, and the San Antonio Conservation Society’s copacetic, too. Beer and wine are on their way, and maybe liquor. “I’m planning on having a beer there this weekend,” said MGA’s Reid Meyers. Although the bar will be in the clubhouse, he didn’t rule out a bar cart … which could make that morning hike from downtown to the park a little more relaxing.
Keep an eye on Curblog and Queque for meeting info and updates.•