Workforce development, expansion of educational opportunities, city management, rideshare, and NFL aspirations where the topics that dominated a forum between the four leading mayoral candidates Monday night. Nearly 60 people attended the event at Trinity University.
To start the night, Moderator Rick Casey of the KLRN show “Texas Week” asked candidates Leticia Van de Putte, Mike Villarreal, Tommy Adkisson, and Mayor Ivy Taylor to describe one or two major issues they’re focusing on during their May 9 City Election campains. Early voting starts April 27.
Villarreal said San Antonio has to better prepare students and workers to compete in a global economy. One way to achieve this, the former state legislator added, is through internships and apprenticeships.
“By the end of my tenure (as mayor) I would want to see 20,000 internships created,” he said.
Villarreal did not mention the program in his remarks, but San Antonio Works is a collaboration in which several of the city’s largest employers are working together to see if they can develop 20,000 internships and apprenticeships locally between now and 2020.
Paid internships to will help prepare students for the real world, Villarreal said, referencing a cybersecurity certification program at Holmes High School that gives students the tools they need to work in high-level information technology jobs and internships right out of high school.
Villarreal said some of those students are walking mere blocks away to Accenture, whose one of three local offices is in the Holmes area, to work in its IT department. Accenture offers paid undergraduate and MBA summer internships in various locations nationwide.
“This exposes the students to role models and helps them to get a clearer understanding of what to expect,” he added.
Improving infrastructure and managing growth were themes for the other candidates at Monday’s forum. Mayor Taylor, seeking a full term in office, said she would like to see more sustainable, mixed income growth in and around the city’s core.
“This can alleviate congestion and the diminished quality of life,” she said.
Two ways of luring inner city developers are, according to Taylor, expanding educational opportunities and having flexible codes and incentives.
Candidate Leticia Van de Putte said the city should do all that it can to improve more streets, drainage, and other infrastructure elements citywide.
“Unless you take care of infrastructure, you don’t get all that economic development or cohesive transportation system,” she said.
Van de Putte said in the planned 2017 bond issue, which will ultimately come before voters, the City should propose pledging 75% of it towards larger infrastructure projects that otherwise would not see much progress on a yearly maintenance basis.
She also said San Antonio could benefit from improvements in so-called “human infrastructure.” The former state senator said that a mayor should use the power of the office to call for more investment in wider educational access. For example, the city should maximize the 1/8-cent sales tax that funds the Pre-K 4 San Antonio program and encourage more collaboration among the City, educational facilities, and employers.
Candidate Tommy Adkisson reiterated his back-to-basics theme, saying some local “neighborhoods are teetering on the brink of unsustainability,” based on crime, stray animals, lagging road repairs and a lack of code compliance in certain areas. Adkisson added that San Antonio could benefit greatly from the city shifting its focus from new neighborhoods back to existing neighborhoods across San Antonio.
The former county commissioner called for the creation of a nonprofit in which leaders of local neighborhood and community associations could work together to better reinvest in their own areas.
City Manager’s Performance and Salary
Casey then asked the candidates whether City Manager Sheryl Sculley is overpaid or adequately compensated. Adkisson didn’t mince words in a response.
“I think it’s ridiculous the city manager makes more than the president of the United States,” Adkisson said, referring to Sculley’s base salary of $400,000 in 2015 approved by City Council in early 2013 as part of a two-year contract. Her salary is the highest of city managers in Texas. That pay level, combined with a recent “power vacuum” on the council gives the public the impression that the council works for the city manager, Adkisson said.
Taylor said she would not view Sculley’s salary as excessive, but that she disagreed with some stipulations in the contract extension Sculley received in December 2013. Taylor didn’t elaborate but did say it’s difficult to find someone with the professional caliber of Sculley to stay in such a high position of authority.
Van de Putte commended Sculley’s overall performance but was concerned about transparency at City Hall, citing the inclusion of 15% bonuses in 2014 and 2015 as part of Sculley’s contract extension.
Villarreal also lauded Sculley’s management of the large, complex organization that is the City of San Antonio and for helping the city secure sound financial ratings. He said the overriding issue here is accountability and oversight from the mayor’s office and council members.
“As your mayor, I will make sure she earns every penny she’s paid,” Villarreal said.
Casey and students asked the candidates about their stance on rideshare, a controversial topic that peaked recently when newer regulatory rules from the city became effective April 1, Uber and Lyft shut down operations on San Antonio roads. However, some city suburbs have developed interim agreements to allow rideshare mobile applications and drivers to work within their city limits.
While acknowledging the public safety perspective, Van de Putte called San Antonio’s current regulations of transportation network companies (TNCs) “very restrictive” and labeled city officials’ handling of Lyft and Uber’s threats of departure “embarrassing.”
“As mayor, I would start from scratch,” she said.
Adkisson said he understood a process was needed to vet the rideshares, but agreed with Van de Putte that the current regulations should be revamped.
“Let’s do what we can to make this work,” he added.
Taylor said San Antonio still would welcome TNCs and that Uber and Lyft were not forced out of town – they left by choice. She wondered why Uber would choose to accept a key requirement, fingerprinting with background checks, in some markets but not in San Antonio.
Villarreal said the city underperformed in dealing with Uber and Lyft, and that he could do better.
“I’ll form a bloc to get them back and take the framework from what’s worked in any other Texas city,” he added.
NFL in San Antonio?
Casey asked the candidates whether San Antonio needs an NFL team to take, what some call, a next step towards being a renowned, well-rounded city. The question was asked in the context that, in the eyes of some political observers, then-Mayor Henry Cisneros had sold the public on funding the construction of the Alamodome with the chance of winning an NFL franchise. Casey also asked whether San Antonians should entertain the notion of paying for improving and updating the dome or even building a new facility to try and attract such a franchise.
“I bristle at the notion that one criterion makes or breaks a city,” Adkisson said. The NFL expanding to San Antonio – if it were to ever occur – should be “market-driven decision.”
While the facility hosts some events, Adkisson did call the Alamodome “a failure” as a whole.
Van de Putte said the Spurs’ success, along with a strong economy, has added value to San Antonio’s marketability, but whether that would or should translate into bringing in a second top-tier professional sports franchise is something that the city should not worry about right now. But, she added, if there’s an opportunity, it must come from the marketplace and voters should have say in how it may go forward.
Taylor and Villarreal agreed with Van de Putte’s assessment.
“My highest priority is investing in us, making sure we have safe places to walk and bike,” Villarreal said.
“Securing an NFL team would not be at the top of my priority list,” Taylor added.
- April 7, 6 p.m.: Second Baptist Community Center, 3405 E. Commerce St. hosted by Bexar County Democratic Party, African American Political Alliance, Claude Black Group
- April 8, 8 p.m.: Our Lady of the Lake, Thiry Auditorium. Hosted by OLLU Political Science Department, the Colmar Group LLC, Munoz Public Relations, Canovision Entertainment.
- April 8, 7-8:30 p.m.: San Antonio Firefighters Banquet Hall. Hosted by San Antonio Tea Party, Alamo City Republican Women, Republican Men’s Club
- April 14, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.: AARP San Antonio Mayoral Candidate Forum, Palo Alto College
- April 14, 6:30-9 p.m.: Pints & Politics II: The Rivard Report, The Pearl, Southerleigh, and Overland Partners present a mayoral forum at the Pearl Stable ($10 tickets still on sale)
- April 15, 7:30-9 a.m.: (members only) ULI San Antonio Breakfast, the Aztec Theatre
- April 27, 7:30 p.m. Theatre for Change at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
*Featured/top image: Trinity University students introduce the mayoral candidates at Trinity University during its mayoral forum. Photo by Scott Ball.