Where is Accountability and Transparency in the San Antonio City Government?


Are you concerned about our City government as we transition from the Taylor to the Nirenberg administration?  We are told that Mayor Taylor was the more politically conservative candidate but predictably failed her re-election bid because she allowed her considerable power to be diluted by an unrestrained city staff.  The electorate seemed to ask, along with our San Antonio Making Bureaucracies Accountable Coalition, “Who’s in charge?”

Accountability remains the issue as our Mayor/Council continues their transition.

Our City government is managed by two groups — our elected Mayor/Council (10 Council Members plus Mayor Nirenberg) and the unelected bureaucracies for which our Mayor/Council is accountable (there’s that word again).

Mayor Taylor yielded the responsibility and accountability for City governance to City Manager Sheryl Sculley, violating our City’s Organization Chart where we find  “Residents of San Antonio” at the top.  So “Who’s in charge?” — we are, dear reader.  Our “Mayor and City Council” is accountable to us at the ballot box; city bureaucracies are not.  Our Mayor/Council is accountable to us for the actions of the unelected bureaucracy led by the “City Manager” whom our Mayor/Council  “manages”, but only in theory.  This responsibility/accountability distinction has real world consequences.

Recall the recent “$850 million Bond Program” which the Taylor Council approved and our citizens voted to adopt at the May 6, 2017 municipal election.  The problem is that the cost of the project is not $850 million, but approximately $1.31 billion when bond issuance and interest costs are included.  The city staff bureaucracy, under the direction of City CFO Ben Gorzell, a CPA, knowingly understated the project’s cost by about 35% to slip it past an uninformed Taylor Council.  Our Open Records Request directed to Mr. Gorzell for the issuance and interest costs of the Bonds was ignored.  To ensure the bond project’s success, free from citizen inputs, Ms. Sculley’s staff committed fraud (a conscious lie about a financial matter) and criminally violated the Texas Public Information Act (by failing to provide information which the Attorney General advised Gorzell he was obliged to release).

With a new Council in place, led by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, an associate and I met with our new Council Member, John Courage.  Challenged by the reality that responsible Council decisions must be based on the total cost of projects, including interest, Mr. Courage wisely observed, “If Council projects had to include interest costs, we would spend a lot less money,” to which we responded:  “Bingo!”  We were able to speak to our accountable Council Member; the unaccountable city staff bureaucracy has officially ignored us.

The Nirenberg Council faces a watershed at the Thursday, December 7 Council meeting at 9:00 a.m. when the SAWS unelected bureaucracy, a monopoly “regulated” by Supervisor of Public Utilities, Ben Gorzell (yes, the same Gorzell that fraudulently covered up the full cost of the $850 million bond project), will request Council approval for major rate increases — 5.8% in 2018 and 4.7% in 2019, implementing their “smart meter” project and financing their Vista Ridge 143-mile pipeline for which no financial justification was presented to the Taylor Council — which approved Vista Ridge!

SAWS CEO Puente will have no cost-benefit analysis for the smart meter project to share at the meeting, having just commissioned a $293,855 consultant study to develop that analysis at their October 10 SAWS Board meeting.  Puente will not have projected alternative financial outcomes for Vista Ridge.  But Mayor Nirenberg pledged to push for reform (that) goes directly toward addressing the public’s lost confidence in its government…to boost civic engagement and rebuild trust in government.  Will our new Mayor/Council, like the Taylor Council, vote to buy a pig in a poke?

Attend the December 7th Council meeting to learn whether your new Mayor and Council Member will be accountable to your interests.  Our elected representatives are accountable to us by virtue of their election and, by definition, accountability is individual and personal and cannot be delegated.  Nature and governance abhor a vacuum.  If our elected, accountable Mayor/Council will not lead, unelected, unaccountable bureaucracies, shielded from us “Residents of San Antonio” by feckless representatives, will.  Dear “Resident of San Antonio,” do you realize how powerful you are?

Stan Mitchell in the works at the intersection of politics and economics focusing on the lack of financial justification for major project spending by San Antonio unelected bureaucracies (MBA from Harvard Business School in 1955, focused by private sector experience financially analyzing major capital spending projects for an S&P 200 multi-national corporation) led him to becoming “the numbers guy” supporting the LetThePeopleVote Coalition that stopped VIA’s ill-advised streetcar project; he migrated to similar work for the SAMBA (San Antonio Making Bureaucracies Accountable) Coalition.

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