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The Zone of Interconnectedness 

This is how incredibly small and wrapped in cozy clover the nation's seventh-largest city has become: Two active San Antonio zoning commissioners are likely to resign and compete for the same District-8-City- Council seat that Art Hall will vacate in May (vacate isn't the right word - how about "from which he'll be term-limit Mantua banished?").

Disclosure: One of those commissioners has held my grandfather's feet. Not in some Matthew 28:9 kind of way, but in a manner completely endorsed by secular podiatry, an approach to ingrown nails that belongs to no religion. And though we lost the old man to cancer last year, a white magnet in the shape of a foot remains on my grandfather's fridge, reminding us of the doctor with the large jaw, the inner-Loop practice, and what could be the name of a Charles Dickens character, District 8's zoning commissioner, Morris Stribling.

(Another disclosure: Our editor is married to District 1 Zoning Commissioner Michael Westheimer, and he may have held her feet, too. But unlike his peers Stribling and District 7 Zoning Commissioner Jody Sherrill, word at the water cooler is Westheimer's not running for council.)

Most notably, Stribling, a potential candidate, has ties with Councilman Hall: As chairman for the Alamo City Chamber of Commerce, Stribling tapped Hall for the Black business community's leadership training. Hall was lifted into City Hall in 2003, and appointed Stribling to Zoning the following year. Guess who Hall is endorsing to take over his Northside seat? (Secret disclosure: Stribling.)

Beyond expressing wonder at just how petite is the S.A. pool within which 1.2 million people swim, there's more to the tale of two commissioners and their City-Hall ambitions. Neither are official candidates until they register their campaign treasurer with the city clerk. Then they can start building and burning through their stash (big-ticket items: mailers, Christmas parties). Sherrill - retired Army officer, Northwest Neighborhood Alliance chairman, contributor to the city's revised Unified Development Code, and the guy with the comb-over happily manning the grill on National Night Out - said he's loath to declare until after he and his wife return from a two-week Alaskan cruise in early September. Stribling said he might rest his square chin upon his hand, pensively, through one more Zoning meeting, then resign. NIMBY gadflies might catch his last appearance at 1 p.m. next Tuesday at 1901 South Alamo.

Here's my proposal: Because City-Council tenures are brief (two, two-year terms max, whereas zoning guys get an extra two-year term); Because development issues dominate City Hall's public-policy decisions (revisions to a tree-preservation ordinance overseeing Paul Bunyan-type clearing for subdivisions and anchor tenants is expected this month); Because the 11-member zoning commission has council's ear as its land-use advisory board (and are in agreement, at least in District 8, around 90 percent of the time, Stribling said); Because zoning officials have proven they can live on $20 per meeting - same as councilmembers' pay; Because of all this, the Zoning Commission might become a kind of City-Council prep school.

"I don't think anyone's ever gone onto the Zoning Commission with the intentions of using it as a stepping stone," said Sherrill, who ascended to the District 7 zoning post after its occupant, his friend and fellow neighborhood activist Nani Falcone, died in 2002. Sherrill owns a home in District 7, but lives full-time in 8. He was picked to "carry on where Nani left off," former councilman Julian Castro said.

There's been movement between Council and Zoning: Current District 4 Zoning Chairman Henry Avila served on Council from 1993-97. John Clamp tried: He resigned from the Zoning Commission in 2003 for an unsuccessful bid against Chip Haass for the District 10 council seat. Of course, there's more to public office than recommending that an old diner become a high rise or deciding a whitecollar criminal's halfway house shouldn't be near a park, but, Sherrill will allow, you'll probably see zoning commissioners graduate to greater responsibility now, because "it's the same few people doing all the work around the city."

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