The Bonds That Tie


A bond is a city’s vote of confidence in itself, and San Antonio is ready to do this.


Say that you love me, vote for the bond. — Mayor Phil Hardberger. Courtesy photo.

Such is Mayor Phil Hardberger’s Poetry of Earnestness, deft and inspirational, with countless depths of meaning, yet somewhat short on detail. To interpret this line, taken from his response to our candidate survey, you must first decide whether you’re a San Antonian.

You can define that, as far as the May 12 bond package is concerned, by asking yourself whether you plan to still be somewhere in Bexar County 10 years from now.

If you’re not, you really only have two things to consider regarding the bond package, since you won’t be around to reap the benefits:

A) Do you commute? If you think traffic sucks now, how bad will it be with 151 civic improvement projects underway across the city?

B) If you’re a homeowner and plan to sell, it might make sense to gamble on the property-value increase likely to follow $550-million in civic improvements.

If you don’t care about either, you
shouldn’t vote on the bond. Let the real San Antonians decide how to keep San Antonio lame. The rest of you, you’re with Phil, and he says you’re ready to make this decision: Are you confident in your city?

Don’t know how to answer that? Well, let’s simplify the question.

Do you trust Phil?

If your answer’s no — why not? Phil trusts you, and you came up with the bond package.

Back in February, the City Council voted to put the five-bond package on the ballot. It included 43 roadway projects, 26 drainage projects, 69 parks ‘n’ rec projects (including $33.5 million for the purchase and development of the 204-acre Voelcker park that you just know will one day be renamed after Hardberger), 11 library projects (including two new libraries), and two public-health facility projects.

All of these projects were ostensibly chosen by 128 of you, who worked on the four public committees that presented the bond to the City Council. According to Public Services director Tom Wendorf, more than 500 people attended the meetings, with 170 people addressing the committees.

(The 2005 U.S. Census said S.A’s total population is 1.2 million, which means .0005 percent of the city participated. That isn’t terrible, considering that, according to the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, only .03 percent of the city will likely vote in the election.)

But perhaps you’re not like Phil, and not so willing to trust your fellow man. In that case, here’s what should you consider:

A) If you live on the East Side, you might join Otis Thompson of the Freedom Foundation in his attempt to hold Proposal 3, the Parks bond, hostage in order to secure $30 million to redo MLK Park and Plaza (and unseat Sheila McNeil while Thompson’s at it).

B) If you live in the North Side, North East, or South San Antonio school districts — each of which is considering their own hefty bonds (see this week’s Say-Town Lowdown, page 12) — and your back’s already close to breaking thanks to your new property-tax obligation, you might have to weigh what’s more important: city infrastructure or your kids’ education. (While the bonds proposal won’t require a tax-rate raise if San Antonio meets growth projections, tax bills will rise as property values increase.)

C) If you just plain don’t like Phil and everything he stands for, Phil’s said he would gladly pass the mayor’s hat if it would secure the bond’s victory. (He can only hold the job for two more years anyway, and he’s thinking about “the future” and his legacy. The proposed completion date for all the projects is June 2012, and Public Works says we’ll be eligible for another $305-million bond the following November.)

Not coincidentally, “A Foundation for Our Future,” was the title of Phil’s January “State of the City” address, and subsequently the namesake of the political action committee “Foundation for the Future,” formed to pass the bond package. On Monday, Hardberger launched a pro-bond television endorsement with $100,000 from his own

In fact, Phil and the bond campaign are inseparable.

Foundation for the Future campaign treasurer Betty Henderson is based in Phil’s re-election-campaign office, and if asked about the bond, she refers callers to Christian Archer, Phil’s paid campaign strategist, who also coordinated polling for the bond. Henderson identifies Archer and Trish DeBerry of the marketing firm Guerra DeBerry Coody (hired by both Phil and the PAC) as the two “kind of” chairs for the bond campaign.

Actually, Foundation for the Future has four co-chairs: Aurora Ortega-Geis, director of the Fannie Mae San Antonio Partnership Office and vice chair of the CPS Energy Board; Ramiro Cavazos, Phil’s former director of economic development and current director of research and economic development at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; former District 8 councilperson Bonnie Connor; and Ed Kelly, a former USAA Insurance executive. Ortega-Geis and Cavazos were selected as co-chairs of the Community Initiatives Committee, one of the four that decided what projects would be covered by the bond proposals.

Otis Thompson’s anti-bond petition. Courtesy photo

As of April 12, the PAC had collected more than $270,000 in campaign contributions. In some cases, however — including $10,000 checks cut by the Zachry Construction Corporation, Pate Engineers, and Civil Engineering Consultants — the term “investments” might be more accurate. (Hardberger mayoral opponent Michael “No Corruption” Idrogo calls it “Smoke and mirrors ... payoffs for ‘Friends of Phil’” in his response to our candidate survey.)

Again, if you trust Phil, then you ought to trust the bond proposal.

If you don’t trust Phil, then you might consider the absolutely un-poetic, mathematical reasoning of conservative District 8 candidate Jacob Dell, who
supports the bond:

The bond fits my 85/15 rule (eighty-five cents of every dollar should be spent on basic infrastructure and police/fire/EMS protection).

All in all, only four candidates who responded to our survey said they wouldn’t be voting for the bond: mayoral candidates Rhett Smith, Eiginio Rodriguez, and Michael Idrogo are rejecting the whole package, and District 1 candidate kat swift said she will be voting against the $306-million streets bond only, “due to funds being spent on new development and roads for toll-road diversion.”

The last bond, passed by voters in 2003, contained $115-million to handle the same issues as this 2007 bond. According to Public Works, final construction is expected to be complete in December. 


For a discussion on how the Bond may affect your property-tax bills, check out Heywood Sanders’s Say-Town Lowdown, “Taxing Bonds,” April 18-24.


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