Sunday, April 17, 2005

City Manager Fiasco: Business as Usual for San Antonio’s Ruling Class

First we run a perfectly good organization, rich in potential, into the ground. Then we hire an expert from afar to fix our mess. When they endeavor to do what it takes to raise San Antonio’s administrative policies to a professional standard, we harass them mercilessly as they try to do their job. For a couple of years we make them focus all their energy on breaking ground to pour yet more concrete, beat them like a rented mule, hunt them like a patsy, and then acrimoniously run them off the reservation. All the problems remain plus a few more. We then engage in a two year “talent search” to find an appropriate candidate while entropy erodes our infrastructure. We try to find a second rate candidate to take the job on the cheap because “this is a second rate organization, and all we can reasonably expect is a second rate candidate.” Then we wonder why we don’t have a line of qualified prospects cueing up to oversee our local institutions. Our reputation precedes us so we eventually get a “second rate” candidate to fill the position, but they end up demanding more than a first rate salary to take the job due to the notorious liability inherent in playing with us.

Upon reading this, most people who have been following recent political events in San Antonio will presume I am referring to the City Manager fiasco. In fact the above scenario is taken from real life events at one of our local museums (right down to the quote from a museum board member at the time he voted to approve the last Director.) I leave you to guess which museum, but it doesn’t really matter because the same situation exists at all of them and at other local civic assets like the zoo and the botanical gardens among others. The reason it doesn’t matter which particular institution I am referring to is because the very same individuals sit on the respective Boards of Trustees of all of these organizations. They run these institutions as personal fiefdoms in the service of their own vanities rather than in the interest of the constituents they allegedly serve. But since these boards are self-appointed, self-perpetuating, self-policing and utterly unaccountable to anyone that is not a board member, why should they do anything else?

If you want to know who these people are this week they will be easy to spot, as they will be prancing around in full drag. Now I’m not talking about those folks you’ll see hanging around outside the Bonham Exchange (although you may find some of them there,) rather I’m talking about the aristocrats with delusions of grandeur dressed up like Maximilian’s courtiers. If memory serves correct, Maximilian was executed by his own people for bankrupting the country with spending on his image enhancements and his courtiers did not fair much better. So their choice to emulate his failed reign is a curious one. Fiesta my posterior, more like May Day with tacos and circuses for all the peasants. But then as Dave and Renee observed, sometimes the stupidity of San Antonio leadership is astounding.

The real problem in San Antonio is the consolidation of all local power in the hands of a select coterie of interbred families that pass it, as well as their not inconsiderable fortunes, down generation after generation. These are the same families that own large land parcels over the aquifer on which they speculate with developers. They are the same people who have poured more than $3,000,000 into local political campaigns this election season alone. Perhaps most appallingly, most of them don’t even reside in San Antonio proper. Instead they live in Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills and Olmos Park where most of the citizens of San Antonio have no say on how 09’ers live their lives, school their children or collect and spend their taxes. That our school system has one of the highest drop out rates in the civilzed world is not their problem since their offspring attend San Antonio Academy, St. Mary's Hall and Texas Military Institute. (After a century of inbreeding, most of them are too dumb to get into Keystone.) Instead of gangs, their scions join fraternities and sororities. Although judging by the way they behave when they inherit power, there is little diference. The hubris is indeed amazing.

When most positions of civic responsibility are the inherited prerogative of a Ruling Class who routinely hand over the reigns of power to their nephews and wayward sons and daughters, is it any wonder San Antonio suffers from a lack of self-respect let alone the respect of the rest of the nation? (Shucks, we can't even get mentioned on the Weather Channel.)

People complain about the apathy of the San Antonio voter since only 60,000 of them show up to vote in a city of over 1,000,000 inhabitants. But can anybody really blame them? The residents of San Antonio don’t vote because they’re not citizens, they’re subjects and this is the week that our rulers come out in full regalia to remind us of that fact.

If you want real power in San Antonio don’t run for City Council, instead just apply for membership in the San Antonio Country Club. But don’t hold your breath, because the last I checked there was a 30-year waiting list for admission. Of course I’m sure a legacy arrangement can be made if your last name is say, Adair, Barshop, Benson, Boyd, Calgaard, Cavender, Embrey, Greehey, Gross, Gunn, Halff, Kleeberg, Hamilton, Hasslocher, Hartman, Holt, Hunt, Marbut, Mays, McCombs, Maloney, Steves, Turner, Vaughn, Worth…Hell, you get the picture.

Candidates, Like CEO's, Should Assume Personal Liability

Cincinnatus is right. What disincentive is a “fine” if you don’t have to pay it out of your personal bank account?

Corporate CEO’s used to be able to hide behind a veil of corporate identity to evade personal responsibility. But this is no longer the case. They are now held personally liable for their company’s financial reports and so should candidates for office be held personally accountable for their campaign’s financial activities.

The status quo is patently ridiculous. Under the current ethics rule, a candidate can make countless deliberate errors of commission or omission on their CFR’s, be accused found guilty and “fined,” and then after they are in office continue to raise funds from their political contributors to pay the "fine." Now we know incumbents have no difficulty raising funds to get reelected so they have little to fear from “fines” that can be paid from campaign funds collected from the very people who already have disproportionate influence in government. Can this really be what the Council of Elders intended when they enacted the new ethics rules?

Imagine the currently plausible scenario: A candidate takes $2000 from one donor in violation of the of the legally allowed $1000 limit. He/she gets “fined” less than $1000. He/she gets into office, since all oversight takes place after the election. He/she then goes back to the same donor and gets yet another $1000 to pay off the "fine." The last $1000 is not reflected on the campaign finance report for this season but instead is reported as money raised for his/her reelection campaign. The figures are on the next election's CFR’s and will not be available to the public for another two years. As the rabbi said, “Now, that just ain’t kosher.”

What would solve this problem is if the candidates were held personally liable for the “fines” assessed them. They should not be able to use campaign contributions to pay “fines” since they have already demonstrated their personal inability to obey campaign finance rules. Furthermore, if anybody gives a candidate money personally to assist them in paying said “fines,” that money should be viewed as a bribe and the elected official should be charged and prosecuted accordingly. In addition, the size of the “fines” should be dramatically increased, so that the successful lawyers who tend to run for the highest office in town will actually find them a real disincentive.

CEO’s are now regularly prosecuted and sent to prison for “accounting irregularities” on their watch. So should it be with those who seek elected office.

The Jeffersonian: More Serious Consequences Needed for CFR Violations

Cincinnatus at The Jeffersonian astutely observes:

Finally, here's something I started thinking about while I was in the shower (I'm a nerd, this is what I do). Campaign finance reports are based on the idea of open campaigns/open government. Any sort of accidental or intentional deception would be a move away from this idea, and ideally, should be punished by the governing body's ethics board. But any punishment is most likely going to be a slap on the wrist or a fine that will look much like the sort of fines we see in the NBA. So therefore, shouldn't there be some other type of punishment?

For instance, removing one's name from the early voting ballot for X number of days, dependent on the severity and intent of the act. That would make an impact in the mind of candidates, and give them added impetus to turn in a correct report. Now keep in mind that I have no idea of the legality or constitutionality of this example (I would assume its both illegal and unconstitutional), nor am I in any way advocating that Julian Castro should have his name removed from the ballot or withdraw from the race. This is just one guy ruminating what would be a better way to help make sure we get correct campaign finance reports. Because let's face it, with fines either the candidate takes out a loan and pays it off on some sort of timetable, or should s/he win, fundraise the money to pay it off. Not the best way to send an example to the candidate and the campaign. But this is obviously reaching a level of thinking about campaigns and government that my brain is not suited to do- what do y'all think?

Baby Kissing Politicians Feel Our Pain

We don't elect officials to "feel our pain." We elect them to prevent it. When they can't, we expect them to hunt down and punish those who caused it. When I want empathy I'll call a therapist. I just wish that when I wanted justice I could call a politician.

With regards to "If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me directly, here’s my number…”, fat chance of this response. Most of the mayoral candidates cannot even be reached personally by email (not even from their websites) when they are running for office and want something from us, namely our votes. I have sent numerous polite emails to the candidates and have yet to recieve a personal reply. How much less likely is it that they will be responsive to my needs when they have already achieved their sole objective, attaining elected office?

Dead Can't Rant: See Crooks Run for Office

See Crooks. See Crooks Run (For Office).
by Dave & Reneé @ 3:26 pm

San Antonio blogger Cicero has a blog dedicated solely to tracking the 2005 San Antonio Elections.
Watch morally questionable con artists kiss babies while they reach around into mom’s purse for donations. See their incompetence on public display:

Slinging Mud at Velcro Hardly Constitutes a Sport

It is a cliché that politics in Texas is a full contact sport. In fact, it is hardly even sporting to sling mud (or if you prefer, muddy arrows) at candidates to whom it sticks like Velcro. Hardberger is indeed a greedy trial lawyer. Castro did copulate with the poodle on his CFR filings. Schubert is actually a puppet of the local Concrete Mafia. It seems that Teflon coated politicians like Reagan and Clinton are rarer than hen’s teeth in South Texas.

What is truly galling is the umbrage they choose to feign when their integrity is called into question. With what the mayor’s job pays along with its commensurate hassles, one would have to be a saint, a masochist or a crook to want the office. It is highly unlikely that any of San Antonio’s mayoral aspirants is going to be put on the fast track to beatification. Since none of these candidates seem to be able to blithely take a punch, we can probably rule out masochist as well.

The Jeffersonian: It's Getting Dirrty Down Here!

In a recent post at The Jeffersonian , Cincinnatus writes:

I love the way we play politics in Texas, it soo much better than the way its done, say, up in the Midwest. We get dirty attack ads, scurrilous rumors of a candidate's health, and frontrunners almost crying because someone's flinging 'arrows of mud' (note to Castro campaign- work on your attack metaphors) their way.

Off the Kuff Notes Arrival of New Blog

A recent post at Off the Kuff reads:

Polls and debates in San Antonio

The Jeffersonian notes a new Survey USA poll which shows Julian Castro continuing to hold a solid lead in the San Antonio Mayor's race, but still falling short of a majority of the vote. He also has some analysis from a televised debate last night. A longer analysis is provided by a newcomer on the scene, SA Elections 2005. He was a bit unimpressed:

Interesting stuff there, so check it out.

Thanks to Charles for the plug.

Check out Off the Kuff for copious amounts of interesting stuff.

Bona Fortuna to The Jeffersonian and to The Red State

Siddhartha was correct, all things are temporary and so it shall be with SA Election 2005. The blog will live on until a couple of weeks after the election/runoff to facilitate post-mortem commentary. Afterward it will be archived and its author will reveal his identity and the reason for the pseudonym.

The historic Marcus Tullius Cicero was an admirer of the historic Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Both were citizens of courage and integrity who valued the Republic over personal ambition. While Cicero did not revile Antony in his famous Philippics for the purpose of homage to Cincinnatus; he would indeed have been flattered to be associated in the minds of his audience with that great champion of the Republic.

Bona Fortuna to The Jeffersonian, and to The Red State for speaking truth to power.

The Red State Notes New San Antonio Election Blog

Here is a resent post from The Red State:

It looks we are getting more blogs into the mix. San Antonio Election 2005 provides some in-depth analysis of what is shaking. The blog's name may get you Google hits but you may have to rethink it after May. That is okay. The Buddhist believe all is temporary.

Using the pen name Cicero (I guess a homage to Cincinnatus at The Jeffersonian), he has given a pretty interesting take on won Friday's debate between the three major mayor candidates. I look forward to seeing what he has to say.