By Michael Cary
Last week, Assistant City Manager Christopher Brady revealed to the City's Governance Committee that a report to City Council on significant changes to its agreement with Lumbermen's Investment Corporation's PGA Village was made in a secret 2002 executive session.
Bonnie Conner served as District 8 Councilwoman in 2002 when the City ignored more than 100,000 signatures on a petition drive to put the PGA project to a vote. Before Council adopted the agreement, which prevented the City from annexing the property for 15 years - thus forgoing collection of any property taxes during that time from the golfoplex - Conner amended it to require a full report on any changes to the ordinance.
The ordinance also required environmental management, water monitoring, and fire protection services for PGA Village, which is supposed to eventually feature two golf courses, one hotel, 4,000 homes, condos, apartments, and 100,000 square feet of commercial office space on property located in one of the most sensitive areas of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
The ordinance also authorized City Manager Terry Brechtel to execute a final agreement with Lumbermen's - without involving Council - by December 9, 2002.
As for the full report required by Conner's amendment, Brady said "we provided a black line draft" in executive session in November 2002. The report was listed on the Council agenda as an "attorney-client consultation." Yet, according to state law, executive session for governmental bodies is to be used solely for legal matters, such as litigation, potential real estate purchases, and personnel matters.
The PGA Village swindle is unauthorized, and is illegal, says Amy Kastely, a St. Mary's University law professor and attorney for Clean Water/Clean Democracy, a coalition of local environmentalists, led by former Councilwoman María Berriozabal.
Brady's secret session report was a "clear violation of the Open Meetings Act," Kastely charged during Citizens to be Heard on May 6. "There were two conditions required: A written report on changes to the Council and the public, and a final agreement signed in a 45-day period. None of these conditions were met."
During the year-long PGA Village saga, the proposal changed several times. Initially, developers wanted the public to pay for its construction through a special taxing district. According to an e-mail reviewed by PGA opponents, that proposal could be reintroduced under the guise of a "Municipal Public Improvement District."
By the time, the PGA ordinance was finalized behind the blinders of executive session, developers had convinced the City to delete a list of PGA Village employees who would be covered by a agreement requiring them to earn a living wage of at least $8.75 per hour. The golf courses were exempted from watering restrictions during drought periods. A prohibition against county tax abatements was eliminated, which paved the way for County Commissioners to kick in $2.4 million to upgrade roads for the project. A requirement that PGA Village pay $100,000 per year to the San Antonio Water System in perpetuity was decreased to 15-years.
Clean Water/Clean Democracy member Joleen García frowned and shook her head in disgust as Brady suggested that the final report should not be made available to the public since it was presented to the City Council in executive session.
But Council Members Patti Radle and Julián Castro said they do not plan to let City Staff keep the final report secret.
"I think we need to bring it into open discussion as much as possible since more than 100,000 people signed the petition to put PGA to a vote," Radle said last week.
Castro said the circumstances of the secret negotiations between the City Manager's office and the PGA developers "makes you guess" what happened, adding he does not recall seeing a full report on changes in the contract.
"This fuels the thought that the City has something to hide. The PGA process the first two times was not very well done. We need to have better government." •
By Michael Cary
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