The “imperial presidency” is a term that came into use in the 60s to describe the expanding powers of the American president. Although some pundits felt that this growth was a natural evolution that reflected modern needs, it became a great concern in the liberal world when those expanded powers inured to the benefit of their archenemy Richard Nixon. In 1973, historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote a book titled The Imperial Presidency that posited the Presidency had exceeded the constitutional limits.
Interestingly, one of San Antonio’s liberal columnists, Rich Casey, recently wrote in the Express-News that Mayor Castro had “brazenly violated the city charter last week.” But instead of taking the liberal mayor to task for his imperialism, Casey opined that the real problem was the outdated charter. According to Casey, the 60-year-old charter was designed “to fight corruption and inefficiency by trying to take politics out of City Hall.” So, is that a bad thing?
The problematic provision in the charter provides as follows:
- “Members of the council shall not direct or request the city manager or any of his subordinates to appoint to or remove from office or employment, or in any manner take part in the appointment or removal of [the city attorney].”
The charter goes on to provide that the city manager should select a city attorney who has “practiced law for at least five (5) years immediately preceding his or her appointment.” According to Casey, the people who drafted the charter “didn’t want just any hack who happened to be a favorite of the mayor to become city attorney.” Again, is that a bad thing?
Casey concludes his column by saying that the mayor “should have a strong say in selecting the city attorney,” but fails to address the obvious question – why not amend the charter to enable this “strong say”? An amendment requires a vote of the people, but why wouldn’t they approve such a common-sense position?
Surely, they would be OK with injecting politics into the City Attorney position and with removing the requirement that the City Attorney be a practicing attorney.
An even bigger question is – What good is a charter if the Mayor and the City Council are free to ignore it? I am planning to file a lawsuit against the Council for the travesty it committed with the 2012 redistricting, clearly in violation of the charter. This City Attorney matter is another issue crying out for litigation, but I’m not sure who would have standing to bring an action – possibly one of the 42 applicants who were rejected in favor of a non-practicing political hack.
In response to Casey’s column, I placed the following on-line comment:
- Rick Casey has no problem with Mayor Castro blatantly violating the clear dictates of the City Charter by securing the appointment of a political hack to the position of City Attorney. Although the term political hack (i.e., a machine politician) may be a pejorative, it fits. Casey admits as much by noting that Greenblum has not practiced law for four years, and even before that, his practice was in a field unrelated to municipal law. Apparently, Greenblum’s only qualification for this job is his political relationship to Mayor Castro, and that is enough for Casey.
- Instead of charging that the appointment is unsavory, unwise, and illegal, Rick Casey disparages the City Charter for directing that the City Attorney should be selected by a dispassionate City Manager based on merit and legal ability. Good luck in getting the public to amend the Charter to reflect the current practice.
- In his next column, perhaps Casey could explore what remedies are available to the public when a political machine blatantly violates the clear dictates of the City Charter.