Mike Kueber's Blog

April 2, 2013

Compton, California – a cautionary tale for San Antonio

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:04 pm
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Compton, California has been making news as the largest city in America (almost 300,000 people) to receive bankruptcy protection.  According to most reports, the bankruptcy was caused by a combination of extravagant pensions for city employees and declining tax revenues.  On Monday, a California judge held that the city would receive bankruptcy protection, but he deferred deciding whether the city would be allowed to continue paying 100% of its obligations to the state pension fund while forcing all other creditors to accept pennies-on-the-dollar.

From a practical state-wide and nation-wide perspective, this is an important issue because if the city is allowed to cut its payments to the state pension fund, that fund will be put in jeopardy.

From an individual pensioner’s perspective, this issue has reduced importance because most individual pension benefits are guaranteed by state and federal governments.

And finally, from San Antonio’s perspective, Stockton’s predicament is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a city is too generous in providing extravagant pensions. 

How much is extravagant?  Across California, as reported by Bloomberg News last year, cities were providing pensions that paid 90% of public-safety employees’ top salary after working 30 years, so they could retire and take jobs elsewhere while still in their 50s.   

San Antonio wouldn’t be so profligate, would it?  Yes, it would.  According to a city website:

  • The SA Fund‘s defined benefit structure provides benefits based upon the member’s earning history and length of service to the City of San Antonio. Current pension law indicates officers will be paid according to the following schedule:

                        Years of Service                      Percentage of Total Average Salary

                        20                                            45%

                        23                                            60%

                        25                                            70%

                        27                                            80%

                        30                                            86%

  • Keep in mind pension benefits are available regardless of age. A 21 year old can retire at 51 with 30 years of service and receive an 86 percent pension for the rest of his or her life.

How does this affect the City’s finances?  According to Sam Dawson, San Antonio’s 2011 Chamber of Commerce chairman, in a 2012 op-ed piece in the Express-News:

  • At present, police and fire personnel make up approximately 38 percent of our city’s workforce, but consume nearly 62 percent of its general fund. The average annual pension cost per civilian employee is approximately $6,800. The average annual pension cost per uniformed city employee is approximately $18,300. Health care costs and benefits are similarly disproportionate. Additionally, in 2012, the city will pay approximately $25 million toward the civilian pension plan for 6,000 employees and $65 million for 3,800 public safety employees. If these costs are not addressed sooner, rather than later, the end result will be less money to hire future qualified police officers and firefighters, fewer city services and a city that suffers economically. 

My sentiments exactly.

During my interview with the Express-News last week, I strongly expressed my position in favor of transitioning the City from defined-benefits pensions to defined-contribution pensions, which most of the City’s residents feel lucky to have.  As support for that position, I indicated that even the American military is in the process of shifting to a defined-contribution pension. 

When the Express-News asked my District 8 opponent Ron Nirenberg about my position, he lamely responded that the idea was worth exploring, but that it should not be discussed in the campaign because would politicize the subject.  Instead, he would consider quietly exploring the idea with a task force or study after the election.  

Nirenberg’s position reveals a lot about his political philosophy.  He thinks “politics” means something corrupted by special interests and that all disagreements will disappear if elected officials are transparent, accountable, and fair and they do their homework. 

By contrast, I think that conflicts are inevitable, even among elected officials who are acting with utmost honesty and integrity.  Principled differences can’t be resolved by task forces and doing your homework.  Instead, they need to be resolved by the ballot box.  That is what real transparency means.

March 28, 2013

The District 8 race gets dirty

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:07 pm
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With all of the money collected by my two opponents in the District 8 race, it was only a matter of time before the campaign got ugly.  But I am surprised at how quickly that time arrived.

A couple of weeks ago, Rolando Briones mailed a flyer pointing out the Ron Nirenberg wants city taxpayers to bail out financially troubled culture/arts groups.  When I brought this up at a forum, Nirenberg lamented, “Two months out [from the election] and the negative ads have already started.”  At about the same time, Nirenberg wrote the following on his campaign website:

  • It’s less than two months before Election Day, so rather than join my opponent on the low road of misleading attack ads, I believe you deserve honest discussion about issues facing our district and our city.”

That all sounds good.  A candidate under attack has two good options – (1) respond to the substance of the attack or (b) take the high road by ignoring the ad and pressing forward.  Because the attack ad was accurate, Nirenberg’s only good option was to take the high road.

But, according to an excellent Chasnoff column in today’s Express-News, Nirenberg apparently got spooked in the last two weeks and inexplicably decided to take the low road. 

In the column, Chasnoff reports that Nirenberg, because he was upset at being characterized as a Democrat, has published a list that showed Briones to be a prolific contributor to Democratic candidates.  (Nirenberg provided this explanation during the interview that he and I had yesterday with the Express-News editorial board.) 

This disclosure, which substantively appears to be accurate, becomes sleezy, however, because Nirenberg published it on a website with the domain name of RolandoBriones.com.  According to Chasnoff’s column, one of Nirenberg’s operators discovered that the domain name was unused and could be purchased for $50, and that was too big of an opportunity for them to pass up:

  • “Touting himself as a Republican probably was a mistake. Not registering his name online definitely was a mistake.  Take it from Kelton Morgan, who’s helping Nirenberg with his campaign.  ‘I just thought, I wonder what he’s got on rolandobriones.com?  And it was available. And I’m like, Are you kidding me?‘”

My response to Chasnoff and Morgan – Are you kidding me?  Do you think City Council candidates need to buy various domain names to prevent an opponent from misuing them.  Yes, I understand presidential candidates and big companies do this, but we should have to worry about things like that at this level.  You need to do a reality check.

As I read the Chasnoff column, I thought of three questions that I would have for Nirenberg – Why take such offense at being characterized as a Democrat? Why retaliate by accusing Briones of being a closet Democrat? But most troubling of all, why publicize the attack by buying a website called RolandoBriones.com

For a silver lining to this story, their shenanigans improve my chances.

March 27, 2013

Castro’s much ballyhooed seven-figure referral fee

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics,Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 3:17 am
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A recent Brian Chasnoff column in the Express-News reported that San Antonio mayor Julian Castro has decided to start collecting speaking fees to help meet personal expenses.  According to the column, this development was prompted by the low mayoral salary in San Antonio (about $4,000 a year) even though Castro’s wife makes $55,000 a year as a teacher and he recently signed a book deal for an undisclosed amount. 

Almost incidentally, Chasnoff mentioned that shortly before becoming mayor, Castro “earned a much-ballyhooed seven-figure referral fee in 2007.”  Much-ballyhooed?  I have been observing Castro for years and don’t recall any public conversation about this subject.  Informally, I had heard that he received a big legal settlement (not a referral, and not seven figures) and that it had been used to help fund his 2009 campaign for mayor, but nothing much more than that. 

Because my curiosity was piqued by Chasnoff’s column, I googled the subject of Castro and seven-figure referral and this is what I found in Current magazine, published during Castro’s successful mayoral campaign:   

  • Julián Castro, 34, is a Harvard Law School graduate, a civil-litigation attorney, and a former two-term Councilmember for District 7. This is his second mayoral bid, following a narrow defeat to Phil Hardberger in 2005.  He’s been criticized for earning a fat referral fee from super-trial lawyer and Dem power donor Mikal Watts. He’s married to Erica Lira Castro; they have one child.

Watts is not only a Dem power donor, he is currently the subject of a federal investigation for potentially illegal lawyering in connection with the BP oil spill in Louisiana.  Coincidentally, my Council opponent  Rolando Briones has already been sanctioned in Louisiana in connection with his engineering efforts to help people hurt by Hurricane Katrina.  Isn’t it ironic how doing God’s work seems to get some people in trouble?  As they say, no good deed will go unpunished.   

A recent article by Guillermo Contreras in the Express-News reported on Watts’ legal troubles and his connection to Castro.  The article included a tidbit about the referral fee:

  • Watts had relocated his family from Corpus to San Antonio, where he took up residence in The Dominion and began pouring more money into races here.  He held at least one major fundraiser for Castro in 2009 as the former councilman battled to become mayor.  During that campaign, Castro’s opponents tried to make political hay of his referral of a drunken-driving lawsuit to Watts’ law firm.  Castro and Watts’ law firm successfully settled the case in 2007, and although the terms of the settlement are confidential, it purportedly netted Castro a sizable fee.

Referral fees, a/k/a forwarding fees, have always been confusing and controversial in Texas because they potentially enable a lawyer to receive an extravagant amount of compensation for very little work, and in the preceding quote, there seems to be such confusion.  First it says that Castro referred the case and then it says Castro and Watts successfully settled the case.  Well, which is it – if Castro referred the case, he wouldn’t have helped to settle it.  And if he helped to settle it, he wouldn’t have referred it; rather, he would have brought in another lawyer to help with the case.

By doing a bit of internet research, I learned that Texas in 2005 modified its referral rule (Rule 1.04 in the DRPC) to create two types of referrals:

  1. The lawyer can refer a case to another lawyer to handle, and thereby receive a referral fee; or
  2. The lawyer can get another lawyer to co-counsel it, and then divide the fee proportionately.

Thus, although the term referral is sometimes loosely used in both contexts, it appears that Castro actually brought in Watts as co-counsel and thereby retained the right to a more generous sharing of the fee.  How generous? – according to reports it was “fat,” “sizable,” or “seven-figure.  Whatever, I don’t think it is much ballyhooed.

March 8, 2013

Council debate/forum #3

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:51 pm
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Debate/forum #3 was held last night by the Oakland Estates Neighborhood Association.  Oakland Estates, which is located just north of Huebner Road between Fredericksburg and Babcock Roads, is an extremely old neighborhood with large lots, some with horses. 

The debate didn’t start until 7:30 pm, and I warned host Sue Snyder in advance that the timing was a bit late for an old-timer like me, so she should expect only my “B” game.  After the event, Sue came up to me and asked if that was my “B” game, and I told her it was “C-.”  

Why the low rating?  Because I was frustrated by some of the questions from the audience near the end of the event.  This was the first campaign event where, after the moderator finished asking questions, the audience was permitted to participate.  Although this sounds like a good idea in the abstract, as a practical matter the questions that came from the audience were remarkably narrow and concerned so-called constituency issues – i.e., a constituent is having a governmental problem and wants to know what you are going to do fix it. 

The problem for me with this type of question is that to talk intelligently about the issue, you have to be familiar with the government program, and I haven’t had a lot of interaction with government programs, and so I can’t speak intelligently about solving the individual’s problem.  By contrast, my opponents appear to have worked with virtually all of the various programs. 

One of tonight’s questions was how I was going to fix Prue Road.  Apparently, travel on Prue Road is difficult, and not only am I supposed to know that, but I am also supposed to know how to fix it, even though none of the responsible parties in San Antonio government has yet figured out how to fix it.  Another question came from an individual with a small, private school who complained that the city was requiring him to install sprinklers because of some mistake that the city made in supplying him with too-low water pressure.  And a third individual wanted to know what we thought was the best way to slow down traffic on neighborhood streets.

Obviously, constituent service is important, and if elected I will have to establish a process for providing that service, but I don’t think a candidate should be evaluated on his working knowledge of nuts-and-bolts issues.  That’s like expecting a congressional candidate to know how to fix an individual’s problem with his delayed Social Security or VA checks.  For some reason, I never received questions like that when I ran for Congress in 2010. 

When I discussed this matter with my host Sue after the debate, she suggested that I should simply worry about how to respond to the question, not necessarily how to solve the person’s riddle.  Excellent point, and I will prepare with that in mind for next week’s debate at Crown Ridge.

With respect to the other 80% of the debate, I think it went well.  Because the questions weren’t provided to us in advance, and because my memory of them is a bit blurred, I can’t now list each question.  Suffice to say, however, that I was able to point out on multiple occasions that Ron and Rolando were from the public sector (community organizer and government contractor) and wanted to be professional politicians, while I was from the private sector and wanted to be a citizen politician.  I also suggested that a gathering of their campaign contributors would “fill an auditorium.”  We discussed Pre-K 4 SA and a living wage for councilpersons, and I was surprised to hear both Ron and Rolando crawfish away from the earlier opposition to the living wage, and now they meekly admit that it is not a bad idea, although they won’t push for it. 

While reading about political campaigning, I have learned that political spouses are forced to listen to their spouses stump speech hundreds of times and laugh at the same jokes.  I appreciate that concept now that I am involved in a debate/forum almost every week.  Although the audience is generally new every week, my two opponents are the same every week and for some strange reason I feel is a tinge of phoniness in repeating the same punchlines to them.  They even cause me to change my wardrobe from debate to debate.  Weird, I know.

February 28, 2013

My second candidate debate/forum

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:33 am
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Just returned from my second candidate debate/forum.  This one was put on by the Mockingbird Hill Neighborhood Association, a well-to-do enclave just north of Callahan between Fred Rd. and IH-10.  Briones and Nirenberg also participated.  The format was similar to last week’s Pachyderm forum, except this event was more of a debate because we were each allowed to respond to the initial answers, which enabled us to point out the flaws in those answers.  The questions were suspiciously similar to last week’s, and one of the hosts later admitted that they had called around for help in developing good questions. 

The questions were as follows:

  1. What exactly do you consider to be the responsibilities of a City Councilman and what assets do you bring that you feel make you particularly qualified to do the job?  A councilman serves like a director on a board, but also like a legislator.  I am particularly qualified because of my background (growing up on a farm), my education (UND & UT), my experience (lawyer at USAA), and most importantly my values and politics (limited government, fiscal conservative).
  2. The city capped the only permanent water source for the pond in Denman Estate Park and failed to find a suitable replacement.  This has resulted in very low water levels which endangers the heritage trees and aesthetics of the park.  What would you do to help allocate funds to find a permanent water source for the park?  I don’t know anything about whether I could obtain funds for water.  That is something I would have to investigate.
  3. Discussion of the Express/News coverage of the District 8 race.  The reporting of the Express-News has been appropriate and the information revealed has been relevant to the voters, but the E-N does seem to relish exposing Briones.  By contrast, the coverage for Nirenberg has been cloyingly fulsome and totally lacking in any attempt to vet.
  4. What do you consider to be the responsibility of the city to fund social programs?  As a fiscal conservative, I think city government needs to focus on core responsibilities (streets and public safety), and resist the temptation to social engineer.  But the city does have a responsibility to fill any gaps in the safety net established by state, county, and federal programs.
  5. What are your views on development in the district, the roles of developers and lobbyists in the district an how do you intend to operate the zoning and development process?  Developers have property rights that must be respected, but lobbyists will have no special access to me.  I will listen to all stakeholders, but ultimately I will make decisions based on the best interest of our district as a whole.
  6. What is your view of metrodistricting?  I had never heard of this term, but a preliminary call to the moderator revealed that the term means the same thing as city-county consolidation.  This is obviously a good idea, but not a big priority for me because, as a practical matter, some players with vested interests are usually able to obstruct the consolidation.
  7. Why do you want to obtain the low paying, relatively thankless job of City Councilman?  The politically correct answer is that I want to serve the public and give something back, but the truth is I think the job would be enjoyable and satisfying.  As I recently learned in a book called Drive, the ultimate job affords autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  The job of Councilman is one of those ultimate jobs.

After the debate, I was interviewed by Ryan Lloyd, a reporter for Texas Public Radio, and he asked me if I had a persona while I was debating.  I told him that was an interesting idea, but I hadn’t given it any thought.  Perhaps I was like a boxer who was feeling out his opponent in the first rounds to see what works and what doesn’t. 

While chatting with people after the debate, I was told by some that they appreciated my plain talk and authentic nature.  That prompted me to realize while driving home that my persona was Jimmy Steward in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with me as the citizen politician who is contending with Briones and Nirenberg as the unauthentic guys who will say whatever will make themselves sound good. 

I called Lloyd and thanked him for my new mindset.  Can’t wait for the next debate to try it out.

February 22, 2013

Disenfranchising Northside voters by Castro’s City Council

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:13 pm
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For the past couple of years, there has been a loud political battle over Voter ID laws, both in Texas and across America.  Republicans claim that a requirement for voters to provide a photo ID is a reasonable precaution against voter fraud.  Democrats counter that there is scant evidence of a voter-fraud problem and that the actual intent of Voter ID laws is to disenfranchise Democrats (and minorities), who are more likely to not have a photo ID.  Regardless of who is right, there is no question that any disenfranchisement related to Voter ID laws is miniscule compared to disenfranchisement of San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides by San Antonio’s version of Tammany Hall, the Hispanic-dominated political machine of the East, South, and West sides headed by Julian Castro.  

According to the 2010 U.S. census, San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides (Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, whose populations are between 21% and 56% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 741,000 residents while the Hispanic-dominated East, South, and West sides (Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, whose populations are between 3.98% and 19.81% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 585,000 residents.  Yet each area had five councilpersons.  What a travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle!  The extra 156,000 voters in the North and Northwest sides were essentially denied representation.  My District 8 in 2010 had 50% more residents (159,578) than District 5 (106,608) had, yet each had one councilperson.

Fortunately, this sort of travesty is supposed to end with a redistricting following each census.  San Antonio’s 2010 population of 1,326,721 means that each council district should have 132,672 residents.  (Although congressional redistricting requires that each district have almost exactly the same number of residents, cities are allowed by law to have a deviation of +5% or –5%.)  That sort of flexibility might make sense in the hands of a wise City Council, which could use the flexibility to create compact districts with communities of shared interest and easily identifiable geographic boundaries.  But this flexibility makes no sense when the Castro Council uses it to continue its outrageous disenfranchisement of the North and Northwest sides by massively diluting our votes. 

With the average council district supposed to have 132,672 residents, the heavy-handed Castro Council decided to re-populate Districts 1-5 with between 126,616 residents and 129,002, while Districts 6-10 will have between 134,410 and 139,227.  Thus, Districts 1-5 will have about 636,000 residents while District 6-10s will have about 691,000.  The difference between the most and least populated districts after redistricting is 9.8%, the most possible without breaking the law.  

Perhaps those of us who live in northern San Antonio should be happy that, instead of the 156,000 North and Northwest side residents disenfranchised in 2011, we will only have 55,000 disenfranchised in 2013.  Of course, that is based on the 2010 Census.  Everyone knows that all of San Antonio’s population growth continues in the North and Northwest sides and that the 2020 census will reveal a repeated travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle. 

A wise City Council would have set the populations for Districts 6-10 as slightly lower than Districts 1-5, knowing that population growth would reverse that status by 2020.  (Population growth in San Antonio has been to the North and Northwest for several decades.)  But apparently, we don’t have a wise City Council.  Instead we have a City Council where the Castro machine runs roughshod over the non-Hispanics on the North and Northwest sides.

When I called my councilperson Reed Williams to complain about this inequitable treatment of his district, he responded that there was not much he could do because “they have the votes.”  Well, that’s not what civil-rights advocates said in the early 60s when their voting rights were trampled on.  Instead of turning the other cheek, Williams should be raising hell on behalf of his constituents.    

Further evidence of this bigotry by the Castro Council was recently revealed when it adopted what the Express-News called “a race-conscious approach to awarding contracts put out for bid.”  Apparently, the city’s race-neutral program had resulted in too few contracts going to minorities and women.  Because there was no evidence of discrimination, the Council’s action revealed that it was more interested in equal results than in equal opportunity.  Under its new program, every bidder except white males will receive preferences.

Further evidence of Castro’s prejudice against the North and Northwest sides – in a column last month, Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff wrote that Castro admitted to him that an employer-incentive package was especially generous because the employer was locating on the South Side – “Are we doing a little more because it’s a South Side investment? Sure,” Castro said.  Why should the creation of jobs on the South Side be more valuable to San Antonio’s mayor than the creation of jobs on the North Side?   

I just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, so I’m especially sensitive to the issue of taxation without representation, and the supercilious attitude of Castro’s Council evokes a similar feeling.  Like the colonies, we are being treated by the crown as its personal ATM machine.  So, the next time you hear about the Republican Party trying to disenfranchise a few voters who don’t have photo IDs, tell them that the Republicans are small-time amateurs compared to the big-time professionals on Castro’s City Council.

The following is District populations before and after redistricting:

District            Before             After

1                      112,466           126,616

2                      123,727           129,002

3                      118,848           127,207

4                      123,256           126,702

5                      106,608           126,228

6                      152,661           134,410

7                      137,292           139,081

8                      159,578           139,169

9                      159,189           139,227

10                    133,096           139,079

http://www.sanantonio.gov/clerk/ReDistricting/index.aspx

 

 

 

February 20, 2013

My first candidate debate/forum

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:51 pm
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Last night, I attend my first City Council candidate debate.  The event was put on by the Alamo Pachyderm Club, a county-wide Republican group, and all three candidates attended.  There were perhaps 25 other attendees. 

The event was called a debate, but it would be more accurate to call it a forum because, although we provided our views on 12 pre-identified topics, we did not have the back-and-forth that is essential to a debate.  The 12 topics were sandwiched by a 3-minute introduction and a 2-minute summary.

I found the event to be interesting and challenging.  Because I ran for Congress three years ago, I have some experience giving a stump speech, but then I was never able to finish within the 3- or 5-minute limit.  Last night, I pushed myself and succeeded with two minutes on my background and one minute on my political philosophy – i.e., a frugal, pragmatic conservative. 

I thought it was important to talk about who I was in the introduction, and then use the 12 topics to provide more specifics about my political philosophy.  Unfortunately, the questions focused too much on the inner workings of City Hall (not my forte, while Ron Nirenberg and Rolando Briones are the ultimate insiders) and too little on political philosophy.  The following questions were sent to me the afternoon before the debate:   

  1. Having read the San Antonio City Charter, describe your views on the responsibilities of city government and that of a City Councilman.  What are your views on the Ethics of City Officials, Staff, Appointees, and Contractors?  Should the ethics policies be expanded / how?  Should violators be dealt with more harshly?  Do we need an Ethics Auditor?  No, we don’t need an Ethics Auditor, with its associated bureaucracy.
  2. In the area of fiscal policy and social policy where would you place yourself on a spectrum with conservative on one end and liberal on the other?  What are your priorities for our city budget and where should increases and cuts be made?  Fiscal conservative and social liberal. 
  3. What are the most important transportation issues in the city and how will you solve them?  Please comment on funding, toll roads, VIA, street cars, and light rail.  Cost-effective public transportation.  No, to toll roads or light rail; yes, to street cars.
  4. District 8 has several serious road and traffic problems. What roads do you consider problems and what are your solutions?  Please comment on any changes you plan for the Infrastructure Management Program (IMP).  What will you do about the additional traffic on Wurzbach due to completion of the Wurzbach Parkway?  I haven’t ranked the problematic roads in District 8, but the IMP appears to be an effective tool for doing that.
  5. SAWS wants city council to approve multi-year rate increases.  Please comment on SAWS multi-year rate increases, revenue requirements, expense trends, and capital expenditure projections.  The recent request for dramatically increased rates reflects problems with SAWS management and Castro’s politicization of it.  
  6. What are your views on development both in District 8 and throughout the city?  How do you view the role of developers and lobbyist in District 8?  Over the last 4 years District 8 has a remarkable record of gaining consensus on zoning issues before they reach council vote. How do you intend to operate the zoning and development processes?  The interests of property owners and neighbors must be balanced, but my ultimate priority is satisfy the District residents as a whole.
  7. The fire and police contracts are due to be renegotiated.  While the pension fund is well funded the City’s contribution is quite high.  The fire and police employees do not contribute any portion to the premium.  What is your understanding of the current costs and what changes to the benefits would you support and why?  Pension reform should be one of the most important issues facing the City Council.
  8. San Antonio civilian employees will probably push for a real contract.  Do you understand and what is your position on “meet and confer”?  Are you endorsed by or receive funds from SEIU?  “Meet and confer,” which is one level below collective bargaining, is not needed by San Antonio’s public employees.
  9. How do you intend to communicate with and solicit input from District 8 citizens? How often?  How available will you be?  Will your council votes be representative of your views or those of your constituents?  How will you gain support from other council members to gain success for your constituents’ views?  I will have an open door, and will consider having Town Halls.
  10. What is your position on salaries for City Council members?  Opposed.
  11. What are your thoughts regarding the City of San Antonio’s Pre-K for SA program?  Opposed.
  12. What plan would you propose to curtail overestimating the project costs, over-selling bonds and resulting budget diversions?  I don’t know anything about these problems.

During my responses to these questions, I twice criticized candidate Nirenberg based on his campaign literature – once for his opposition to “getting lean” with spending for police and fire and once for his rhapsodizing about the importance of the arts to San Antonio.  Unfortunately, I never found a good time to discuss Briones’s history as a fat-cat player and mover & shaker in local politics and government contracting.  In hindsight, I should have noticed that affirmative action in city contracting was not one of the listed questions and carved some time out of my introduction to broach the topic. 

Because I’d forgotten to prepare for the debate summary, I failed to make my case – i.e., Nirenberg is a big spender, Briones is too much a player with a revolving door.  Instead, I simply thanked the club for the opportunity and suggested that I was the candidate who could best represent them in the Council. 

Next time, I will do better.

February 13, 2013

Ron Nirenberg – a fiscal conservative?

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:31 am
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I’ve blogged previously about Rolando Briones, the reputed frontrunner in the District 8 City Council race.  In the past few weeks, a series of articles in the San Antonio Express-News has revealed that Briones as a government employee and vendor has a fundamental belief in the mixture of money and politics.  Because I believe that the mixture of money and politics is one of the fundamental evils in America, he is not my idea of a sound councilperson.  Today, the Express-News reported on a debate between Briones and another District 8 candidate, Ron Nirenberg, and that article reveals why Nirenberg is fundamentally flawed also. 

During the debate, Nirenberg claimed to be a fiscal conservative, and this is consistent with his website claim that he believes in limited government.  But when the debate turned from generalities to specifics, Nirenberg sang a different tune.  When asked to defend San Antonio’s arts budget, he declared that it was too small to make a difference.  When asked to defend San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA education spending, he said he’d rather invest in education that builds jobs than pay for welfare programs down the road. 

These responses are liberal boilerplate for nonessential government largesse.  These responses are exactly the opposite of what a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government would say.  A fiscal conservative does not continue spending merely because it is such a small amount that savings would not be significant.  As Everett Dirksen said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.”  With respect to San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA spending, this program is something that someone who believes in limited government would recognize as a responsibility of our local school district, not the City Council.    

Nirenberg’s one sound position relates to the ethics of mixing money and politics:

  • We really do need to close the revolving door between people in city government and the people who make a living off your taxes.”

Although this comment was obviously a potshot at his debating opponent Rolando Briones, who makes a living as an engineer sucking on the government teat, the comment is dead-on.

The Express-News article noted that the Nirenberg campaign had produced a glossy 26-page position paper on various issues.  After an extensive search, I finally got my hands on the position paper.  It contained the following interesting revelations about Nirenberg:

  • Community organizer.  “Ron Nirenberg is a community leader, an entrepreneur, a family man and a public servant. As the Associate General Manager of Trinity University’s noncommercial KRTU-FM, he leads a public media operation that serves both a community focused higher education mission and a burgeoning arts audience in South Texas.  Prior to joining KRTU, Ron worked for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, developing and directing award-winning civic engagement programs in cities across the United States, including San Antonio.”  I find these statements interesting, not only because Nirenberg’s prior job sounds a lot like Barack Obama’s job as a community organizer, but also because his current job seems to create a conflict on interests with the issue of city support for the arts.
  • Public safety.  “To keep you and your property safe, we must ensure that department resources match the rate of growth in the city.  Police and fire should be our top budget priority even in lean years….  Emergency services are the single largest investment of our tax dollars, and we need to make sure that we don’t cut them in an effort to ‘get lean’ during the budget process.”  This is an obvious play to secure the vote of the police and fire membership.  A genuine fiscal conservative would want to get lean at all times, but especially at during lean years.
  • Education.  “Gaps in education achievement continue to reveal weaknesses in our workforce development, which is a key factor for economic competitiveness coming out of the national recession. We must work to end political in-fighting in area school districts while supporting proven workforce readiness programs.”  Along with Nirenberg’s previously declared support for more spending on education, this statement indicates that Nirenberg endorses Mayor Castro’s forays into local school-district elections.   This reveals, not a believer in limited government, but rather an arrogant individual who believes he can do anyone’s job better than they can.
  • Arts & Culture.  “I am a firm believer that arts, history, culture and a sense of inclusion make up San Antonio’s’ very soul and separates us from every other city in the world. To nourish this soul, we must expand patronage of the arts in our own District 8 while encouraging the institutions that do well for the entire city. We must continue to improve our community centers and make them work more efficiently by creating sustainable partnerships with the private sector. Let’s always remember that community and culture are critical parts of our development boom.  This paragraph belies Nirenberg’s claim during the debate that spending on the arts is insignificant.  If Nirenberg has his way, we can expect San Antonio’s arts spending to explode

Since President Obama’s inaugural address, there has been talk that big-government liberals are becoming less afraid to come out of the closet and declare their status.  Nirenberg’s claim to being a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government shows that being a liberal is not yet viable in San Antonio. 

If I had been in the debate with Nirenberg, I would have been tempted to ask him distinguish himself from a fiscal liberal.  If Nirenberg isn’t a liberal, I don’t know who is.

February 7, 2013

Briones continues to self-destruct

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

Rolando Briones, the reputed City Council frontrunner in District 8, continues to self-destruct.  According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News today, Briones was fined by the state of Louisiana in 2011 for doing post-Katrina work without first securing an engineering license from the state.  Briones responded that the fine was the result of an innocent oversight.

This incident by itself might not be so bad, but the article reminded the readers of another incident that was also reported on a few days ago:

  • Briones has faced professional troubles before. In 2002, he was fired from his engineering job at the San Antonio Water System for “lack of leadership” and “willful violation of company policy.”

 And then for extra measure, the article layered Briones with some additional sleaziness by describing his business practice of claiming that his vast engineering business is co-located in places like New York City or New Orleans when, in fact, he only has post office boxes there. 

I’ve seen low-information, cynical voters overlook a lot of flaws in their politicians, but that doesn’t describe the voters of District 8.  I suspect they will gravitate to a conservative alternative.    

 

January 31, 2013

Shake-up in the District 8 race

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:49 pm
Tags: ,

Only one day after I wrote about the difficulty in competing against a moneyed candidate, the moneyed candidate for the San Antonio City Council in District 8 received the worst sort of free media coverage.  In a column in today’s Express-News, columnist Brian Chasnoff revealed that candidate Rolando Briones not only lied about his reason for leaving his job in 2002 at the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), but also covered up that he had been fired “for cause” for accepting gifts from SAWS contractors.  Briones’s response – he believed accepting meals and golf outings from vendors was the normal course of doing business.

Although this conduct occurred more than a decade ago, Briones apparently has applied the same sort of ethics in building his multi-million-dollar engineering business as a government vendor.  Last May, an article in local on-line newspaper Plaza de Armas wrote the following:

  • If you’ve glanced through even a handful of local campaign finance reports, you’ve probably seen the name Rolando Briones, owner of Briones Engineering. He’s politically connected and a prolific contributor to City and County candidates. Well, Briones is also looking to make the leap from mini king-maker to candidate. We hear he’s busy lining up support to run next year in Council District 8.    

And just a couple of months ago in November, a Chasnoff column in the Express-News pointed out that Briones was actively securing engineering contracts with the city of San Antonio earlier in 2012 while concurrently running for the Council, even though this was contrary to ethical precedent established by Councilwoman Chan a few years earlier.   

In Chasnoff’s column today, Briones attempted to justify his departure from SAWS in 2002, and his justification is both surprising and ironic – “I thought [SAWS] was a very military-esque environment.”  It is surprising that an aspiring San Antonio politician would be critical of a “military-esque environment,” and it is ironic that someone who prefers a more free-wheeling environment would want so badly to serve in the capacity of an elected representative, where even the apprear of impropriety is unacceptable.

 

 

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