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News : Party lines 

Who’s not beholden?

City Council ignored hotelier Rick Drury’s plea last week to rethink approving a contract with a Marriott Courtyard Hotel operator that seeks permission to hang balconies on a multi-story hotel on the site of the former St. Mary’s Catholic School, which sits on the River Walk adjacent to Drury’s own hotel.

Larry Macon, attorney and husband of former city attorney Jane Macon, said a traffic study conducted by Pape-Dawson engineers for the Marriott franchisee showed an average of 18 autos stopping during the peak evening period in front of other downtown hotels in the St. Mary’s Street vicinity. He also pointed out that the traffic study was beyond what the law required for Council to approve the project.

Drury hired an engineer to perform another traffic study, which showed 133 vehicles during an evening peak period in the same vicinity.

Council ignored Drury’s argument that the Courtyard hotel would have insufficient room for cars entering the property, and that traffic would block a bus lane and back up traffic to Houston Street. He also argued that the balconies are an accident waiting to happen to pedestrians who might be walking along the sidewalk if and when a hotel guest drops a martini glass off the balcony.

Drury also made a comment about City Council members being beholden to the business interests that wanted to ramrod the project through the approval stage.

That got District 3 Councilman Roland Gutierrez’s hackles up. “These 11 people are not beholden to developers. We’re beholden to nobody but the constituents of the City of San Antonio,” he seethed.

Before the council wackos drag out their foam-core-backed printouts of campaign contributions that suggest some council members are beholden to developers, take a minute to consider the following.

Councilman Gutierrez has championed the argument that San Antonio needs to build a Texas A&M University campus on the South Side, and he is determined to get it done.

It’s rumored that local architect Henry Muñoz would design the project and realize a profit for his company. Muñoz contributed $500 to Gutierrez during the last campaign-finance reporting period. Charles Turner of Terramark Communities plans to build housing subdivisions in the area immediately adjacent to the proposed campus. He contributed $500 to Gutierrez. And Gutierrez’s fellow attorney and friend, Baltazar R. Serna Jr., also contributed $500 to Gutierrez. According to the City’s web site, City Hall lobbyist Serna lists Terramark Communities among his many clients.

Read Gutierrez’s latest campaign-finance report, carefully note the names on it, and judge for yourself who’s beholden to whom, especially if you believe in the adage that money is power.

Here’s another kick in the pants for City Hall dwellers.

City Auditor Patricia Major shunned her seat on the Council dais last Thursday as she awaited Council’s acceptance of her resignation letter.

It seems that Mayor Phil Hardberger and City Manager Sheryl Sculley no longer need her services as an outside auditor. Major was hired in January 2003 by Mayor Ed Garza after voters approved her position. The intention was to keep City Hall honest, and she has worked hard during the past three years to fulfill that intent.

Sculley, it appears, doesn’t need her sniffing around City Hall. In fact, she appeared preoccupied as Major took the podium to say fare thee well to City Hall.

If anybody was listening, Major made an impassioned plea for the City to retain the auditor’s position (as was mandated by the voters, but who counts them?) to serve as a third set of eyes and ears in municipal government.

She also urged the Council to work to remove term limits from City Council seats, which would, in her opinion, cement the position of auditor without a new bunch of honchos jumping on her every two years.

“I feel like I’ve been on a team for eight months, but I never got the playbook,” Major said. To his credit, District 8 Councilman Art Hall voted not to accept her resignation.

Now, about those term limits.

In Mayor: An Inside View of San Antonio Politics, 1981-1995, former Mayor Nelson Wolff writes about the City Council’s vote to sign a new police contract in 1988 that then-City Manager Lou Fox said would cost the city $17 million.

Then, it was “uh-oh” time as Fox discovered that the life of the contract would cost $44.6 million.

Fox resigned. C.A. Stubbs launched a tax rollback which went to the polls in February 1990, and the voters approved it. C.A. then launched a drive to install two-year term limits. Wolff was elected to his first two-year mayoral term, and was shown the door after four years in office.

If Patricia Major were counting the beans during the police contract fiasco in the late-1980s, San Antonio City Council might not be crippled by term limits today.

Think about it. And yes, Nelson Wolff, somebody is reading your book.

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