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Gutierrez' gift of gab

During his last meeting two weeks ago, outgoing District 3 City Councilman Ron Segovia handed out accolades, commending the sitting and incoming council members for "continuing to serve the community." Interim City Manager J. Rolando Bono chimed in with his own thanks: "You've treated us very royally."

Segovia also used a "point of personal privilege" to acknowledge Roland Gutierrez, who defeated him in the May 7 city election.

Gutierrez was sitting in the "officials and lobbyists" section of the newly named Norma S. Rodriguez City Council Chamber, presumably to observe the proceedings before he was sworn in June 2. This was unprecedented by an incoming elected official. Get to work before your opponent leaves his council seat. Do your homework before taking the reins in District 3, where City South lies on the horizon as a horn of plenty for all who have suffered decades of neglect.

The timing was perfect as Andres Duany, architect and urban theorist with the firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., unveiled the results of a South Side charrette that polled City South stakeholders on what they envision.

"A lot of uncoordinated development would preclude farming," Duany warned the City Council. He recommends a "system of walkable, compact villages imbedded within agricultural areas" that lie within the City South land of dreams.

Furthermore, roads should be built in a coherent manner instead of the "current disconnect between roads and development." Duany says City South's 80-square-mile perimeter should someday be a series of "at least nine villages."

Outgoing Mayor Ed Garza said the charrette lasted more than a week, and that, although it was his brainchild, it is "hard to imagine that far into the future ... there are a lot of contentious issues, and I want them on the table for debate rather than nothing happening at all ... this could become a long-term reality."

"Leave room for the statue of Ed Garza," Segovia joked.

It was altogether inspiring, and at one point it seemed prudent to glance in the direction of Councilman-elect Gutierrez to gauge his level of enthusiasm.

Alas, Gutierrez was huddled in the "official business" corner of the council chamber, thoroughly engaged in a tête-á-tête with registered City Hall Lobbyist Baltazar Serna Jr.

A quick check of the Gutierrez 30-day campaign finance report reveals that Serna has not contributed any funds under his own name to the new District 3 official. If Serna had checked this report, he would have found that one of his competitors in the City Hall lobbyist industry, David Earl, paid $499.23 to cater a campaign fund-raiser for Gutierrez.

Theoretically, Serna was simply trying to even the playing field, as he is a lobbyist for Terramark Communities, a Houston development company that plans to build an entire neighborhood around the City South hub at Roosevelt and Loop 410.

It's all perfectly legal, so far. According to the City's Ethics Code, the happy 45 minutes or so that Gutierrez spent gabbing with Serna is not considered lobbying, as it occurred during an open public meeting of the City Council.

But last week, midway along in the council meeting, the official District 3 Councilman Roland Gutierrez was in his seat, with some kind of device attached to his ear, his lips moving sotto voce as council conducted business.

One of the observations made in the "Report of the Mayor's Committee on Integrity and Trust in Local Government" was that "the practice that citizens mention most frequently is that council members spend too much time on their telephones during the council session, leading to the perception that all of the important business had been decided ahead of the public meeting, or that an interested party on an upcoming council vote was lobbying the council member."

Gutierrez is not scheduled to take orientation classes until June 20. Let's hope the city attorney's office reminds him that the two immediate predecessors on City Council from District 3 only served one term.

By Michael Cary

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