I was asked recently at a political forum how San Antonio can citizens overcome the polluting effects of special interest money flooding City Hall, like we saw last November when millions of special interest dollars were spent in an effort to defeat citizen petitions calling for accountability in city governance.
Good question. If you asked random registered voters about San Antonio’s City Council and the government it’s responsible for, most could rattle off a variety of opinions and suggestions on where improvement is needed. We have these conversations often amongst ourselves, and most such conversations come around to corrupt politicians, incompetent city officials, lack of accountability, special interests and so on.
These conversations trail off into a variant of you can’t fight City Hall, as if the problems we discuss are caused by an all-powerful system that’s beyond our ability to control. The reality is different. On May 4, 2019 every registered voter of San Antonio will have the opportunity to address their concerns and by their vote, make San Antonio a better, or worse, place to live. Sadly, if past is prologue, only a handful of our fellow citizens will cast a ballot, either on that date or during the early voting period, which runs from April 22 -30, 2019.
The reasons for low voter turnout vary, and include ignorance, unfamiliarity, and a feeling that the system is rigged against the average citizen. These aren’t really reasons, they’re excuses, symptoms of a breakdown between the governed and those who exercise authority in their name. The truth is voters have a unique opportunity every city council election to dramatically alter the trajectory of City Hall.
While difficult, by uniting around non-partisan issues, we can compel our political class to represent us, rather than special interests. No matter where we stood on Propositions A, B, and C, there’s one fact we can all agree on: the entire political establishment, whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, were united by opposition to all three propositions. The donors list to the Vote No campaign reads like a who’s who of San Antonio’s self-anointed best and brightest. Despite being outspent by a ratio of 10:1, the Vote Yes campaign prevailed in a stunning repudiation of our city’s elite.
The election aftermath was widely reported, but the most remarkable aspect of the election was, deliberately, ignored by our local Media. A close look at the Vote No donors list include a great many who benefit financially from contracts with the city. A case can be made that City Hall is largely comprised of ten cent on the dollar officials. That’s an old Tammany Hall term for senior and elected officials who are given the equivalent of ten cents for every dollar that goes to contractors and consultants.
We can fix that. This election we can demand that each candidate for City Council sign their name to the following statement as a solemn pledge and contract with their constituents:
“I promise and pledge that once elected, at my first council session after being sworn in, I will introduce and vote for the following:
The city attorney shall draft, within 60 days, an ordinance to end pay for play that is consistent with the requirements of the state and federal constitutions. For purposes of the ordinance pay for play is defined as the nexus between campaign contributions and other benefits extended to elected and senior public officials on the part of vendors, contractors and consultants that contract with and receive public funds.
The City Council, effective immediately, will require that all respondents to Requests for Proposal or Qualifications, vendor submittals and all those otherwise doing business with city acknowledge as follows:
“I swear or affirm under pain of perjury, that the individuals, corporations or entities submitting this response have not contributed to any campaign for elected office, charter amendment or ordinance related to the City of San Antonio by means of direct donations, in kind services bundling of campaign contributions, payments to political action committees or any other means.”
A party unable to complete the foregoing affirmation may offer a detailed explanation with the understanding that their submittal may be rejected without recourse on that account.
This recommendation represents real representative democracy. It demands accountability between office holders and the electorate. Nothing is more essential in the upcoming City Council election than demanding accountability. We need to mobilize around specific demands and avoid voting based on irrelevant considerations that have nothing to do with how we are governed and how much we have to pay for the privilege.