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A bone for campaign watchdogs

Belated congrats goes to new City Attorney Michael Bernard, billed as an agent of change who jumped across the street from the Bexar County Courthouse to City Hall. Bernard will earn an annual salary of $152,000, apparently enough of an incentive to leave the district attorney's office.

Interim City Manager J. Rolando Bono said he had found in Bernard "what we need in City Hall - where Mr. Bernard excels is his ability to create positive change in an organization."

Councilman Roger Flores, who was still eating his breakfast during the meeting in which Bernard was confirmed as the city attorney, mumbled something about stabbing people in the back, then welcomed him: "We need to have someone that knows how to succeed."

Maybe some of that success will include reducing the number of outside law firms the City hires to litigate in the local courts. Maybe it will give some of the assistant city attorneys a shot at the glory of a well-orchestrated legal brief.

And Bernard, a heads-up: Assistant City Attorney Helen Valkavich is one of the few City employees who promptly returns telephone calls and responds to freedom of information requests.

OK, one last question: If Michael Bernard is the new City Attorney, then why the hell is former City Attorney Andrew Martin (you know, the one who, uh, misplaced the PGA Village contract?) still working at City Hall?

If only Bexar County would switch over to electronic reporting for its political candidates.

Since April, City Council candidates have been able to electronically file their campaign contribution and expenditures reports on the City's website, Before this innovation, City Clerk staff had to scan the reports, make them available as computer files that had to be downloaded to a web visitor's personal computer, a cumbersome process indeed.

Now campaign watchdogs can scan the files without the time-consuming downloading process. Just a quirk or two: Be sure to type in exact names, such as Mary Radle, as "Patti" is the District 5 councilwoman's middle name, but not recognizable in a formal document such as a campaign finance report. And "Chip" Haass, for research purposes, is Christopher Haass.

Just a few minor glitches, but the system works much better.

"The inputting was about the same, but the only concern I had was when you hit send," says Connie Rodriguez, Councilwoman Radle's campaign treasurer, who has experience with both systems. "I was leery about whether it actually got sent. The first time we did that, we called and said 'Did you get it?' But it's been working."

So far, so good. Now, if only Bexar County would switch over to electronic reporting for its political candidates, from the district court judges to the county commissioners. Their campaign finance reports are still handwritten or typed and turned in to the election administrator. You must visit the Bexar County Elections office across the street from the police station to read the reports. But the good news is that elections office employees report a scanner has been delivered to their office. Maybe we will be able to download the PDF files in the future.

And perhaps some of the handful of people who have actually read these files have noticed something peculiar in Precinct 2 County Commissioner Paul Elizondo's campaign finance reports. In addition to the usual lobbyists and law firms that dump thousands of bucks into local campaign treasuries, Elizondo's list contains such names as Joseph Castillo, who donated $100 in November 2004, Marcus Jahns, $250; David Marquez, $500; David Morgan, $100; Gabriel Perez, $100; and David Smith, who donated $500 to Elizondo's campaign in late 2004.

It's funny: These names match those of the men who regularly sit in on meetings of the Commissioner's Court, and who hold titles such as director of human resources, consultant and former budget director, director of economic development, executive director of information systems, director of infrastructure services, and executive director of planning and resource management.

It must be a coincidence.

By Michael Cary

More by Michael Cary



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