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Council candidate: Don’t ‘bond out bureaucrats’

By   /   February 22, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 6 of 8 in the series City in bondage

Boosters of San Antonio’s proposed $850 million bond call the record debt package “essential” and “transformational” for America’s seventh largest city. They tout the decision-making process as “transparent” and “community-driven.”

Patty Gibbons photo

INSIDE JOB: After serving on a San Antonio bond committee, Patty Gibbons concluded that the process was neither fair nor fiscally responsible.

But a city council candidate who served on one of the bond committees calls it something else.

“It’s bonding out the bureaucrats,” says Patty Gibbons, a candidate to replace retiring District 9 Councilman Joe Krier.

Sitting on a Roads and Sidewalks committee, Gibbons looked forward to a fair evaluation of projects. She didn’t see it.

“The process was not transparent to the public. There was a collective mindset of what [city] staff wanted,” Gibbons told Watchdog.org in an interview.

“Funds were diverted to where staff wanted the money to go. They kept telling us we were ‘advisory.’ It is the staff who should be advisory,” she said.

Gibbons, a libertarian conservative who previously ran for chairman of the Bexar County Republican Party, said her northside council district was “shortchanged” — earmarked for just $27 million of the $450 million roads and sidewalks allocation.

Her concerns were amplified elsewhere:

  • The citizens committee for Council District 2 conducted no local community meetings on road and sidewalk needs.
  • In District 1, council candidate Robert Feria said voters are “disgusted” that their downtown neighborhoods will remain without sidewalks or streetlights while $25 million is earmarked for public-private ventures at Hemisfair Park.
  • A controversial Hardberger Park “land bridge” [a.k.a. “deer convenience”] was rammed through the process with the promise of “leveraged funds” on the come.

“We’re short 200 police officers and we’re funding projects like this?” Gibbons sighed.

Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilman Ron Nirenberg — both running for mayor — say the bond is a key building block for long-range urban plans called “San Antonio Tomorrow” and “SA2020.”

“How about focusing on ‘San Antonio Today’?” responds mayoral candidate Manuel Medina. While Taylor and Nirenberg gaze into their “smart city” future, Medina notes west side poverty and east side crime have worsened on their watch.

Across San Antonio, roads crumble for lack of basic repair. Taylor acknowledges the city’s huge backlog of “deferred maintenance” and Nirenberg bemoans “decades of disinvestment.”

“If the city spent more of its budget on maintenance — putting tar in cracks — the roads would last longer,” says Dick Slife, a local activist and retired engineer. “Their policy has been to scrimp on maintenance and go for big repairs under bond funding.”

“$200 million of this bond is pure pork,” declares Medina, blasting $43 million to narrow three miles of Broadway into a so-called complete street.

Nirenberg — named Watchdog’s “Scariest Person in San Antonio” last year — has taken heat for carving a $10 million slice of the bond for an athletic facility at the University of Texas-San Antonio, in his district.

Also controversial: All three of the councilman’s “citizen” appointees to the parks committee that secured the Hardberger Park land bridge were affiliated with the Hardberger Park Conservancy.

Gibbons and Medina, who chairs the Bexar County Democratic Party, come from polar ends of the political spectrum. But they agree the bond is flawed and ripe for defeat at the May 6 election.

“The city is maxing out its credit card and sticking taxpayers with the bill. I’m voting against it,” Medina says.

Kenric Ward reports for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kenricward

Part of 8 in the series City in bondage

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Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.