The invisible lobbyist
Say this for local attorney and all-round political shaker Gerardo Menchaca: When he strikes, he rarely leaves fingerprints behind.
Menchaca registered with the City as a lobbyist in 2007, and even though he’s no longer on the official list, he continues to behave much like the breed. Last month, Menchaca, working on behalf of CPS Energy, coordinated a one-day trip for SA councilmembers to the South Texas Project’s nuclear facility near Bay City, with the hope of persuading our local elected officials to embrace a plan to build two new nuclear reactors on the site.
On Friday, March 13, Menchaca accompanied five other passengers on a morning flight from San Antonio to the nuclear plant: Councilmembers Lourdes Galvan and Philip Cortez; two of Galvan’s assistants; and Mike Kotara, CPS executive vice president of energy development. A City Hall source says Menchaca aggressively and persistently pushed other councilmembers to go as well.
Galvan told QueQue she was initially reluctant to visit the nuclear site, but added, “I wanted to educate myself and make sure that when the topic comes up this fall, I’m well informed.”
Galvan said she hasn’t decided whether to back the expansion of the nuclear facility, because she remains concerned about the treatment of radioactive waste and possible cost overruns.
While it’s easy to understand why Galvan and Cortez would want to view the site, the big question is why Menchaca, a private attorney, is arranging trips for CPS with the purpose of romancing local politicians. CPS spokesperson Theresa Cortez would only say that Menchaca “helped with scheduling,” and CPS Government Relations Analyst John Leal, who worked with Menchaca to coordinate the trip, refused to comment. No one at CPS would answer questions about whether Menchaca received any pay from the agency, a scenario that could possibly put him in violation of City ethics rules.
“The guy walks as many fine lines as he can to enable the candidates that he wants to succeed, for his own personal stake,” says a City Hall source who’s dealt with Menchaca. “That’s basically the nature of what lobbyists do. But you’ve got to file `with the City`.”
Menchaca’s nebulous role in City politics is particularly important because of his close relationship with mayoral frontrunner Julián Castro. Menchaca served as deputy campaign manager for Castro’s 2005 mayoral campaign, and has also contributed to Castro’s current effort. On October 17, 2008, the Castro campaign paid Menchaca $3,000 for “consulting,” and exactly a year earlier they paid him $6,000 for “campaign services.”
It’s worth pondering what role Menchaca might play in persuading a Mayor Castro on the hot-button, highly divisive nuclear-power issue, and whether Menchaca is the kind of connection that Castro should maintain.
Menchaca did not respond to the QueQue’s repeated requests for an interview.
Green skies initiative
Policy’s made in more than one governmental chamber, of course, and your local utility spreads the lobby love accordingly: CPS Energy has spent more than $91,000 fighting global warming solutions during the past 12 months.
As Washington strains under the weight of industry and environmental lobbyists seeking to influence the outcome of what would be our first national climate bill, CPS Energy has been quietly working the angles on Capitol Hill to keep the coal power the city has come to rely on cheap for consumers in the short term. So-called “cheap” power is the mandate the utility operates under, after all. Too bad that mission is now at odds with the survival of the earth as we know it and, quite possibly, our survival as a city and a nation. The most recent peer-reviewed science on global warming has found that due to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere we are already locked into unavoidable “permanent” drought across the Southwest and throughout Central America, as well as a complete redefinition of global coastlines by one or two meters (Check out “Last Chance for a Slow Dance” March 25-31, to get the background). However, measured against the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change, we have a limited amount of time to change course — until 2014 to level off greenhouse emissions, for instance.
Responding to an Open Records request submitted by the Current, a CPS Energy legal staffer wrote that the City-owned utility has spent $91,700 lobbying in the past year “in the attempt to influence U.S. climate policy.” According to Zandra Pulis, senior legal counsel at CPS, the utility has also spent about $67,657 in membership dues with the Climate Policy Group, an industry group it joined in September 2006 that lobbies Congress against limiting carbon emissions under cap-and-trade legislation. An effort that, to this point, has been remarkably successful. Get the list online (big recipients of CPS’s largesse: Talley and Associates and Roland Leal) on QueBlog.
You CPS watchers out there should know that the utility’s membership in the politico-industry group Nuclear Energy for Texans is granted free of charge and no City donations to the group have, as yet, been made.
All told, according to Pulis, CPS has spent $2.56 million on lobbyists since 1999 working the statehouse and the Capitol.
Keeping their word to the Current, U.S. Represenative Henry Waxman’s office released its draft global-warming legislation on March 31. Setting a goal for renewable energy in the U.S. at 25 percent by 2020, it would mean big gains for clean tech. However, there is room for improvement, Environment Texas tells us. How ’bout scrapping the carbon offsets that make tracking carbon reductions more difficult, for instance.
Hello, Charlie Gonzalez? Please water up, not down.
Sheryl Sculley has made it clear: She will not abide misconduct in the Airport Police Department.
On March 17, the City Manager disregarded a decision by San Antonio’s Civil Service Commission, and upheld the December 2008 termination of Corporal Russell Martin. Sculley ignored the commission’s 2-1 finding that the Airport PD had misrepresented Martin’s concerns that there might be “fisticuffs or shooting” if he was teamed with Sgt. Orlando Battles as a threat of violence (Martin meant to warn his superiors that he might be attacked by Battles).
Sculley also tossed out this logical standard applied by the commission: If Martin was a threat, why did the department wait nearly six months to terminate him? That long delay supported Martin’s argument that he had been targeted because he blew the whistle on Battles’ pattern of time-card fraud.
In her letter to Martin, Sculley said: “The City of San Antonio maintains a zero tolerance policy in an effort to keep the workers free from hostility, violence or threats of violence.”
Apparently, Sculley is less concerned about threats of violence to the general public, considering that Sgt. Battles’ law-enforcement career has survived a 2003 incident in which he was arrested for public intoxication and allegedly tried to break into the apartment of a neighbor. City officials also don’t seem to be losing any sleep over the fact that Airport Police Chief Ron Bruner, as a member of SAPD in 1992, submitted a fake report stating that his son had died, and falsely told a female officer that he was divorced and battling cancer.
With this in mind, the big question is why Corporal Martin didn’t get a handsome promotion instead of a termination letter.
No more Ms. Nice Kitty
“the cat lady’s” cake. Dear D’Ann Trethan has been understandably enamored with the Current since we ran a good-sized story about the City of San Antonio’s SWAT-like home invasion of her cat rescue one year and two HEB “thank you” cakes ago.
But what have we done for her lately, right?
This week, we are pleased to say we have a genuinely newsworthy reason to shine our little newslight on D’Ann again: After months of anguish and lament, she is finally taking the City to court.
In a suit to be filed this week, Trethan alleges that a City Animal Control officer ordered her to remove all her cats from her home-based shelter, “For the Love of Animals,”a run-down rental home north of the airport that has since been demolished. The edict came on September 5, 2007. Without warning, CAC officer Eddie Wright showed up the next day with backup, kicked in the door, and took nearly 50 cats out of the home. They were euthanized in short order.
“Plaintiff was given notice of an administrative hearing which was going to be held on the 19th day of September … to determine the disposition of the cats. Prior to the hearing which was scheduled for September 19, 2007, the City of San Antonio exterminated all the Plaintiff’s cats.”
Trethan has been called a “hoarder” by more than one animal lover, and surely her shelter did not conform to Animal Planet camera-ready standards. But she is also staunchly defended by others that well know what the underfunded feline lover was up against. That is, a city awash in strays.
“The whole purpose for `the lawsuit` is to help the future generation,” Trethan told the QueQue. “I can’t let my cats have died in vain.” Her hope, she adds, is that, “We can get money to build a cat sanctuary and shelters on each side of town in order to keep from turning our own homes into shelters.”
Listen to an interview with Trethan on QueBlog, online at sacurrent.com. •