News : Devil horns for Councilman Flores?

San Antonio City Council relied on the City Clerk’s ability to count votes back in March 2004. If a councilmember whispered his or her vote to the clerk, the audience was hard put to hear it.

Nowadays it’s much easier since a voting tote board was installed later in 2004. A councilmember now has to flip a switch to record his or her vote, which is then flashed on a screen for the benefit of (fast-reading) residents who have time to sit at home and watch the proceedings on television.

But the old system was in place when the City voted to award a contract to the Paseo Del Rio Association to manage the issuance of permits to vendors who sell flashing devil horns and other novelties on the River Walk. The association subsequently failed to issue those permits to all but a few approved vendors, and the San Antonio Police Department began evicting the remaining vendors from the River Walk.

District 1 City Councilman Roger Flores claims that he abstained during the vote because his family owns a restaurant on the River Walk. But River Walk vendor Michael John says he attended that meeting, and says it was District 5 Councilwoman Patti Radle, not Flores, who abstained from voting on the agenda item. Flores says he abstained from the vote, and former acting City Clerk Yolanda Ledesma agrees, but John contends he saw Flores vote for the ordinance.

The River Walk Vendors Association sued the City, alleging that the Paseo Del Rio Association was named a delegate agency in control of public rights of way on the River Walk in violation of the Texas Constitution. The case has accrued about three volumes of paperwork, and parties to the suit were ordered to work out a settlement.

John also filed an ethics complaint against Flores, alleging that he violated the City’s ethics code by not recusing himself from the Council vote, and gained an unfair advancement of private interests.

“The Councilman did at some length persuade fellow councilmembers to pass this ordinance and vote on it although his family were to receive a pecuniary gain and other economic benefits either directly or indirectly,” reads the complaint.

Paul Fletcher of Earl and Associates, the attorney for the plaintiff, said last week the court has not issued a written decision, leaving the case in limbo (meaning it can’t be appealed), and the City and plaintiffs are expected to work out an agreement to allow River Walk vendors to ply their trade. “There was no order on summary judgment, but there was an oral pronouncement from the bench that there was no delegation of authority to Paseo Del Rio Association” (meaning the plaintiffs lost that round), said Fletcher. “We’re in a wait-and-see approach, and we’re trying to work with the City to address concerns they may have. They say it’s a safety issue, but I challenge them to find a safety problem from selling a flower or devil horn. People are not falling into the river because of a sale being made.”

An agreement between the plaintiffs and the city that would take away licensing duties from the Paseo Del Rio Association, or a change in rules concerning vending on public or private property on the River Walk could make the lawsuit moot. However, the Ethics Review Board has yet to render a decision regarding the complaint against Flores. The councilman, who had been known to whisper his vote to the City Clerk under the old voting system, contends that since the ordinance “was not likely to affect my economic interest, or the economic interest of my family, I did not recuse myself from participating in the matter.” When someone is recused, the general practice is that they leave the room, but Flores stayed to participate in discussion of the ordinance. “Neither I nor my family are in the business of selling or soliciting novelties on the River Walk.”

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