A Freelancer’s Look at 2013 in San Antonio

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Just after City Council approved the non-discrimination ordinance (8-3), local LGBTQ community members and allies rejoice while the opposition elicits signatures to recall Mayor Julián Castro and all council members that voted in favor of the ordinance. Photos by Iris Dimmick.

Just after City Council approved the non-discrimination ordinance (8-3), local LGBTQ community members and allies rejoice while the opposition elicits signatures to recall Mayor Julián Castro and all council members that voted in favor of the ordinance. Photos by Iris Dimmick.

Randy_BearWith the year coming to a close tonight, it’s good to look back to see what you’re proud of and what you wish you could have changed. In my case as a freelance writer, 2013 was quite the ride.

Looking forward, the chance at new opportunities provides hope. San Antonio is one of those cities where opportunities abound, if you’re open to embracing them. In fact, it’s what makes this city special.

Former District 3 Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna.

Former District 3 Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna.

About a year ago, I was pondering an offer by former District 8 Councilman Reed Williams to join his staff working in his field office and helping out with a few special projects. One of those was an initiative by former District 3 Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna to help expand access to broadband resources for public entities, allowing high-speed connectivity city wide. More importantly, it gave me a chance to work on the fourth floor of City Hall and hopefully make a difference.

While the job was for only a few months, during that time I worked with a great team in the city. Our goal to light up unused fiber optic strands and make them available to universities, schools, hospitals and other agencies could help further the transformation of San Antonio as a high tech city. When I did my first calculation of how much bandwidth was sitting there ready to be put to use, 128 gigabytes, it blew me away.

But, more importantly, I was given an opportunity to spend time with the City’s information technology team involved with the initiative. Headed by Hugh Miller, the Information Technology Services Department director, I found an organization on a journey for best in class technology solutions. While it takes time to instill best practices in any government organization, it was encouraging to see our city’s resources managed so well.

My favorite memory of that effort was sitting in a press conference on the San Antonio Area Broadband Network (SAABN). Several people associated with the initiative were trying to explain complex technical network concepts to a press corps used to covering city budgets and zoning changes.

Former District 8 Councilman Reed Williams.

Former District 8 Councilman Reed Williams.

Sensing the problem, my boss, Councilman Williams, stands up and brings it down to simple oil field terms: “This thing is really just about pumps, pipes and valves,” giving high speed information flow a physical equivalent.

The journey continues and I understand big things are in the works at the start of 2014, but being on the ground floor of this was a great way to start 2013. Some day high school students on the Southside will be collaborating electronically with a college team at UTSA’s main campus about renewable energy, possibly leveraging a supercomputing cloud at the UT campus in Austin.

City elections offered the setup for another transformation in our city, the passage of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. When I met with three other members of the city’s LGBT community the summer of 2011 to introduce the concept, I had no idea the path it would take. Things like this take time, often more time than people are willing to accept. What seems obvious to one person requires education for another.

Regardless, the city went through several weeks of council chambers packed with those for and against the changes. Regardless of their views, each one had a chance to voice that view before City Council week after week. With a vote right on the edge of passage, a staffer for District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan gifted supporters with the biggest gift they could ever receive, a recorded staff meeting where LGBT lifestyles were discussed in disparaging terms.

Just after City Council approved the non-discrimination ordinance (8-3), local LGBTQ community members and allies rejoice while the opposition elicits signatures to recall Mayor Julián Castro and all council members that voted in favor of the ordinance. Photos by Iris Dimmick.

Just after City Council approved the non-discrimination ordinance (8-3), local LGBTQ community members and allies rejoice while the opposition elicits signatures to recall Mayor Julián Castro and all council members that voted in favor of the ordinance. Photos by Iris Dimmick.

Without going into the personal pain I felt from that recording, it would serve as the turning point for many. After a press conference by CAUSA, I met a staff member for District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who announced his support for the ordinance. That gave supporters the sixth vote they needed to pass the ordinance.

On the day of the vote, instead of standing in long lines to get into Council Chamber, I decided to watch the proceedings on public access. Listening to each council member speak about their thoughts on the ordinance, a feeling came over me that was hard to describe.

San Antonio Mayor, City Council members, citizens (those that oppose and those that support the non-dicrimination ordinance) bow their heads in prayer together before the morning session commences. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

San Antonio Mayor, City Council members, citizens (those that oppose and those that support the non-discrimination ordinance) bow their heads in prayer together before the morning session commences. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

What started as a simple lunch conversation with a few leaders of the LGBT community was about to become a reality, with San Antonio joining the other major cities of Texas and over a hundred other cities across the nation providing equality for all citizens. As Mayor Castro once said from the dais, “In San Antonio, there are no second-class citizens.”

A lot people came together to help pass this ordinance. The CAUSA organization grew from a small group meeting in the back room of a Greek restaurant to a coalition of hundreds of supporters. My favorite moment from that experience was during a B session in council chambers while a group of GetEQUAL Texas supporters marched around the Municipal Building outside.

As they marched, they shouted slogans of equality. Hearing that sound, it evoked images of Joshua and the Israelites marching around Jericho. Very soon the walls of discrimination would come tumbling down.

There are many other things that come to mind during the year. This past year, Fiesta Verde efforts for the Battle of Flowers Parade yielded a recycling rate of 35 percent, five points short of the Portland Rose Festival’s Grand Floral Parade, the cleanest parade in the nation. Who knows what we would have accomplished with the Fiesta Flambeau Parade if Mother Nature hadn’t washed all the trash down the river at the end.

Heavy rain during late April 2013 highlights our littering problem on the banks of the Mission Reach (left). A few days later, SARA staff members clean up after us (right). Photos courtesy of SARA.

Heavy rain during late April 2013 highlights our littering problem on the banks of the Mission Reach (left). A few days later, SARA staff members clean up after us (right). Photos courtesy of SARA.

Working with two startups who were born from Geekdom has been very rewarding. One just got back from successful pitches in San Francisco and the other continues to grow in a market that’s stuck in old ideas, offering a new way to look at vending. San Antonio is a community ripe for startups, but it needs more mentors to help coach these ventures.

In 2014 I am hoping to find new job opportunities. Freelance work is great but I’ve never been the best at selling myself. Rejoining and working with a team is my goal, most likely simplifying my life in the process.

Writing for The Rivard Report has become a passion. When starting college, I never pictured myself a writer – but the more I write, the more I love it. One of my first projects after the start of the year is a collaboration with fellow Rivard Report writer Tom Trevino on the virtues and vices of sports technology. After that comes a series on downtown, starting with a look at a relatively unknown group, the Downtown Residents Association.

Stay tuned, it’s going to be a productive 2014.

Randy Bear is a 20-plus years  San Antonio resident, transplanted from Little Rock to join the ranks of USAA in Information Technology. Over the last two decades, he’s been involved in a variety of civic and political activities, including work with San Antonio Sports, KLRN, Keep San Antonio Beautiful, and Fiesta San Antonio. Randy’s political life took root when several friends from Arkansas pulled him into the first Clinton presidential campaign. Since then, he’s been active in politics and government, including a brief period serving on the staff of former City Councilman Reed Williams. 

 

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