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Be true to your City Council school

Mayor Phil Hardberger checked the time and told one of his assistants to make a phone call to round up some more City Council members. It was just past 9 a.m. last Thursday, and Hizzoner was preparing to convene the "Mayor's Leadership Seminar" in a conference room at UTSA Downtown.

He still lacked one council member for a quorum, but he opened the proceeding by introducing UTSA President Ricardo Romo, who, with Hardberger, co-hosted the City government seminar - also known as City Council School.

Five council members, Chip Haass, Roger Flores Jr., Delicia Herrera, Roland Gutierrez, and Richard Perez, were still absent. Thirteen minutes late, Haass was the first tardy student to arrive.

"We're going to accomplish great things here," Hardberger told the group before he introduced state demographer Steve Murdock, the first of several speakers.

Murdock flashed slides of demographics on a large screen. "The change in the non-Anglo population will make a huge change in Texas and the United States."

There is "no other period in San Antonio's history when so many things have converged on a big scale. We're on the verge of something pretty major."

- Henry Cisneros

District 6's Herrera danced into the room, only 20 minutes late. She was a minor distraction to the class as she took her seat, unzipped her backpack, produced a notebook, and rattled her pencils and pens.

District 1's Flores, a sophomore councilman, sauntered in five minutes later.

"There is no factor more important than the change in racial and ethnic population," Murdock continued, unfazed. "Texas is No. 2 behind California in the Hispanic population. The non-Anglo population is growing faster in all 50 states. There is a tremendous diversification taking place."

"Why should you care about the change in racial and ethnic composition of the population?" Murdock asked.

Nobody raised a hand.

"They are tied to economic resources," he answered himself. "The labor force in 2040 will be less well-educated and will be poorer in income."

UTSA Political Science Department Chairman Richard Gambitta took a turn at the blackboard as the students finally settled in their desks and explained the evolution of single-member Council districts in San Antonio. He acknowledged that the newly elected and re-elected councilmembers face pressure from constituents to fix potholes but warned them of the dangers of playing "pothole politics."

After more wise words on the roles of San Antonio's mayor and City Council, Gambitta then introduced "the two most distinguished mayors of San Antonio" that have served at City Hall: Henry Cisneros and Howard Peak (roll over in your graves, Bryan Callaghan and Maury Maverick).

Peak told an amusing story about an unnamed City Council member who arrived at the Bexar County Courthouse in the early 1990s to be sworn into office. That council member "didn't know where City Hall was."

Roland Gutierrez tiptoed into the classroom at 11:04 a.m., quite the tardy pupil. Richard Perez, it appeared, would be counted absent that day.

Cisneros, the main event, took the podium and congratulated the group for participating in the gathering. "This is good training for citizens to be heard."

He told the awestruck students there is "no other period in San Antonio's history when so many things have converged on a big scale. We're on the verge of something pretty major."

Cisneros rattled on about the "art of politics," and told the low-paid Council they should not worry about how much a City employee earns and should instead focus on accomplishing goals. "Pick your shots. Keep a list of goals to attain."

Cisneros, who served from 1981-89, is remembered as the mayor who personally fixed potholes and collected garbage to better understand City employees' jobs. And he gave a quote to a newspaper in the mid-1980s that seems apropos to light a fire under everyone working at City Hall nowadays.

In reference to City employees, Cisneros said "what I want is work, work, work, 18 hours a day, six-and-a-half days a week."

He should have repeated that phrase during the Council primer, especially to Perez, who skipped school that day.

By Michael Cary

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January 13, 2020

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