Last week, with an 8-3 vote, Council approved a budget granting domestic-partner benefits to gay and straight city employees, capping countless hours of intense, fiery debate that roiled nearly every community budget hearing over the past month. LGBT advocates and several on council cheered the vote as a step toward equality. Mayor Julián Castro remarked, “There are not going to be any second class citizens in San Antonio,” while District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña said, “My vote is to take care of people. I want to send a message of respect, that each and every one of those individuals are valued.” Only David Medina (District 5), Elisa Chan (District 9), and Carlton Soules (District 10) voted against the proposal.
Some tried to frame their opposition as a financial argument, though new policy comes at a miniscule cost to the city, according to the city manager’s estimates. Castro aptly noted, “We have a $2.2 billion budget. … It’s ironic, then, that we spend most of our time talking about an item that does equal .014 percent,” or $300,000. But for the opponents on the religious right who had packed city meetings for weeks, the move marks San Antonio’s quick descent into moral decay.
Groups like the so-called San Antonio Family Association and an assembly of local pastors calling themselves Voices for Marriage already fuming over the San Pedro Playhouse’s staging of the gay-Christ-portraying Corpus Christi quickly latched onto the issue. Led by rallying cry that “Demonic forces are converging on S.A.” (courtesy of local pastor Gerald Ripley), the small but boisterous group of social conservatives hit nearly every budget hearing with cries of “blasphemy.”
George Rodriguez, president of the San Antonio Tea Party, decried the city’s “liberal social agenda” before threatening to spark a recall election drive, saying “there are morals and there is right and wrong.”
Local attorney Allan Parker with the conservative Justice Foundation even made an appearance before the council vote, making veiled threats of possible legal action. San Antonio joins four other Texas cities in offering domestic partnership benefits, none of which have been challenged in court for constitutionality.
Remember when we suggested Rick Perry was looking for stooges to help turn one of his top funder’s nuclear dumps into a national enterprise? Well, he had to look no further than former CPS Energy CEO Milton Lee. Perry’s new appointments to the state commission governing the two-state Texas-Vermont Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, announced last week, brought in a slate of new faces who will help determine the future of radioactive-waste dumping in Texas — and how much Dallas billionaire Perry donor Harold Simmons will make on the state’s favored Waste Control Specialists’ site in Andrews County.
Lee, who made his exit as CEO of San Antonio’s city-owned power utility last year, enjoyed a rocky tenure. One of the chief architects of the proposed expansion of the South Texas (nuclear) Project, now on hold as the Fukushima radioactive dust continues to settle, Lee helped implement years of aggravated attrition at CPS, forcing the exit of hundreds of employees and prompting a lawsuit from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers alleging dozens of cases of sex-, age-, and race-based discrimination.
Karen Hadden, director of the Austin-based SEED Coalition, said Lee’s appointment to the radwaste commission raises serious questions, given the gravity of decisions the commission will make in the coming years – namely, whether or not to make WCS the nation’s radwaste dumping grounds. Lee’s track record for environmental concern, she claims, is dubious, pointing to Lee’s role in helping form the Climate Policy Group, which consisted mostly of publicly-owned utilities heavily invested in coal power. Under Lee, the utility spent more than $120,000 lobbying against cap-and-trade policies through member dues to the CPG and trips to Washington D.C.
What’s notable, but unsurprising, is whom Perry failed to reappoint — Bobby Gregory, the commission’s persistent opposing voice, who had been a thorn in the side of radwaste expansionists. Perry had tried to coax Gregory off the radwaste commission by offering him a prestigious board-of-regents appointment, which would have conveniently required him to step down from the radwaste commission before it voted on whether to open up the West Texas dump to waste from an additional 34 states, something Gregory openly opposed (the commission ultimately passed the proposal).
Critics have long complained that Immigration and Customs’ Secure Communities program snares far too many immigrants who commit minor offenses or leads to the deportation of those charged with crimes that are never actually convicted. Some in law enforcement have also approached the program with hesitancy, fearing the erosion of trust between their officers and the largely immigrant communities they police. After hosting a series of regional meetings, a federal task force set up to review the contentious immigration enforcement program was finally set to issue its report last week, advising Immigration and Customs Enforcement how to fix the program. Then five of the task force’s 19 members resigned in protest, taking their names off a report they claim fails to address serious problems. “I believe it does not go far enough in making specific and enforceable recommendations that would repair the damaged relationship between immigrants and local police,” said former task force member Arturo Venegas, a retired Sacramento police chief and director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative. “What’s more, immigrants charged with more serious offenses, but never convicted, have no protection in the task force report. It seems we are agreeing to turn the long-stand principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head for certain groups of people.”
Internal documents released this summer by ICE in response to a lawsuit brought by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights, revealed that the FBI was both helping design and expand SC nationwide in the hopes of merging it with the Bureau’s growing biometric identification-gathering program, “Next Generation Identification.” All the while DHS had pushed the program as key for its immigration enforcement measures.
When Joe Angelo stood up before the San Antonio City Council earlier in the month to run down how Animal Care Services would be investing its money to reduce the number of euthanized dogs and cats by 2017, perhaps we should have taken it as a cue that something was up with director Gary Hendel. Last week, Hendel was “repositioned” to oversee shelter, clinic, and “live release functions,” according to an email from Assistant City Manager Erik Walsh to Mayor Julián Castro and members of the City Council. “This focus will allow Gary to work towards implementing the high volume rescue partner concept included in the FY 2012 Budget to increase the number of animals adopted or rescued,” Walsh wrote. Restructuring will also hit the various committees helping to guide ACS, also, a topic to be discussed at tonight’s ACS Advisory Board meeting.
And so into the director’s chair comes Joe Angelo, formerly assistant budget director over “innovation and reform.” But who is Joe Angelo? Well, not exactly cut from animal-control cloth. But according to his campaign website when he recently ran for mayor in Wilton Manors, Fla., Angelo has the three R’s on his side. He is rumored to be “Respectful … Responsible … and Ready.” Not only is he a Harvard grad, but he likes to jog, play piano, watch Big Bang Theory, and play Sudoku. Oh, and his dog Gizmo sings opera.
We attempted to secure an interview with Angelo, who is rumored to have dramatic and energetic ideas for reaching toward no-kill status for the pound, but had no luck as of press deadline on Tuesday.
Kelly Walls of the San Antonio-based Homeward Bound animal rescue and constant Hendel detractor wasn’t sure the move represented a victory, but she was anxious to see if reforms would follow. Homeward Bound has adopted more animals from ACS than perhaps any other organization in an attempt to save feline and canine lives from the gas chamber. Her complaints about Hendel have included problems with proper breed identification, failure to vaccinate all animals on in-take, and failure to monitor and protect animals from rabies. “We’ve been pulling so many mothers and puppies out of there that are just dying in our hands because they’re not vaccinating them,” Walls said. •
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