News - City CouncilObjections over objectivity

Dustup clouds Council's zoning nomination

Last January, City Councilwoman Patti Radle asked retired firefighter and water activist Eiginio Rodriguez to apply for the vacant District 5 seat on the Zoning Commission. He had no idea what he was in for.

On May 5, when City Council voted on Rodriguez, District 1 Councilman Roger Flores Jr., in an unprecedented move, motioned to withdraw the nomination.

Although Mayor Ed Garza said Council should approve Rodriguez as a "Council courtesy," and that no councilmember had pulled a nominee's name before, District 9 Councilman Carroll Schubert supported Flores' motion.

Garza, Radle, District 6's Enrique Barrera, and District 8's Art Hall supported Rodriguez' nomination, but it failed to get six votes. Several councilmembers were absent from the dais during the vote.

"I don't think Council courtesy should be a practice," Flores told the Current. "Everybody's nominees shouldn't be rubberstamped. If you want to give an unadulterated recommendation to Council and nominate somebody opinionated, then go ahead, but you can't ask everybody to agree with you."

"If you want to give an unadulterated recommendation to Council and nominate somebody opinionated, then go ahead, but you can't ask everybody to agree with you."
- Roger Flores

Flores and Schubert raised concerns over Rodriguez' objectivity because he often petitions Council about development issues over the Recharge Zone. Rodriguez is a member of Smart Growth San Antonio, a group that opposes further development over the Recharge Zone. Rodriguez serves as a member of the Edwards Aquifer Water Quality Advisory Task Force. He is also president of the Loma Vista Neighborhood Association in the heart of the West Side.

In an e-mail distributed on the Smart Growth list, Radle wrote that she "felt very good about nominating Eigenio. I am very disappointed that he was not approved."

While Flores and Schubert are requiring that zoning commission members be objective, not everyone on the appointed body could be considered neutral. Zoning Commission member Helen Dutmer, who represents District 3, has a reputation for being outspoken and independent. A former City Councilwoman and County Commissioner, Dutmer vehemently opposed the Applewhite Reservoir and fluoridation of the City's water. In January 2001, Dutmer wrote a letter to the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, saying "The entire population of a city of over one million people, should not be forced on medication that MAY `Dutmer's emphasis` help a minority of children to abate juvenile tooth decay."

Rodriguez said that after Radle approached him about the nomination he went to the City Attorney's office and asked about the term "conflict of interest."

"I told them I had been involved in water issues," he said. "And they asked, 'Are you paid for what you do? Will you benefit?' I said, 'Well, I like clean water; that's it.'"

Rodriguez worked for a public referendum on the original PGA Village project and said he caught a computer error that would have invalidated thousands of signatures. According to Rodriguez, during a computer upgrade in the 1970s, clerks typed in "01-01" for voters' birthdates. During the petition drive, some people's signatures were invalidated because birthdates on their voter registration cards - 01-01 - didn't match those on their driver's licenses. Rodriguez said he approached the Bexar County Elections office, the error was corrected, and the signatures were validated.

The Zoning Commission's District 5 seat remains vacant, as it was earlier this month, when the commission voted to deny a recommendation for James Lifshutz' proposed Big Tex project, a mix of residential and commercial development, because of concerns over possible asbestos contamination at the site. Lifshutz' project lies within District 5.

Rodriguez said he learned his nomination had been defeated via e-mail.

"I felt bad in the beginning," said Rodriguez of his derailed nomination. "The issues I bring to Council are not my words, they are things said by the TCEQ, U.S. Geological Society, the EPA, and other entities in Texas that say things about water. There should be objectivity and subjectivity in everything."

By Lisa Sorg

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