Mayoral candidate and Councilman Greg Brockhouse’s (D6) attempt to reconsider a divisive City Council decision to remove Chick-fil-A from an airport contract failed Thursday with another divisive vote.
Council voted 6-5 to reject Brockhouse’s rare procedural move that would have led to further discussion and a vote on the amendment just ahead of the May 4 election. It is unclear if Brockhouse has other procedural avenues to get another vote.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Art Hall (D2), Rey Saldaña (D4), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Ana Sandoval (D7) voted against Brockhouse’s motion.
Brockhouse said in a press release that Thursday’s vote “sent a message to our City, the State and the Nation that we do not respect religious freedom.”
Roughly 50 people, most of whom religious representatives, gathered in Council chambers Thursday morning, but procedural rules prevented public comment on Brockhouse’s motion. The discussion was limited only to the issue of placing the removal of Chick-fil-A on a future agenda – not the underlying reasons for doing so in the first place.
“This is an opportunity to have public conversation and debate and to bring in every [stakeholder],” Brockhouse said, and to provide “full transparency.”
Brockhouse and Council members Rebecca Viagran (D3), Manny Pelaez (D8), John Courage (D9) and Clayton Perry (D10) generally said they wanted to open the vote up to public input and more information.
Pelaez, who originally supported the move to take the fast food restaurant out of the contract, said soon after the March vote that he regretted not delaying the final decision until after a more robust discussion could take place. The desire for more discussion led Pelaez to side with Brockhouse on Thursday.
However, Pelaez noted the timing and fervor of Brockhouse’s attempt to revote “smacks of politics.”
“We would be naive to believe that this has nothing to do with mayoral politics and the convenience of [the potential re-vote] being two days before an election.”
Brockhouse’s motion was to have a discussion next on May 1 and then a discussion and vote on May 2.
Brockhouse directed City Attorney Andy Segovia to clarify that the timing was dictated by the agenda-setting process, not by the councilman.
Nirenberg called on City staff to set up a future meeting to discuss how such high-profile contracts are handled.
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“I’ve called for an open B Session [meeting] so that the council and citizens can further discuss contracting issues to ensure that our processes are operating under the full compliance of local, state and federal regulations,” Nirenberg said.
The Chick-fil-A controversy has been a centerpiece of Brockhouse’s criticisms of Nirenberg and his campaign to take over the mayor’s seat. It also has permeated most City Council District races.
“We’ve spent far too much time letting Councilman Brockhouse try to exploit a fast food subcontract for his own political gain,” Nirenberg said. “I’ve said from the beginning that I voted in the best interests of passengers and taxpayers, and it’s important to have something open seven days a week and preferably local.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) abstained from voting in the original March vote after suggesting that the vote be delayed until a more full discussion could take place. Her motion then received only two other votes by Councilman Art Hall (D2) and Brockhouse.
“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t have a thoughtful conversation on this,” Viagran said.
There was plenty of disappointment in Council chambers during the discussion Thursday.
“I for one don’t appreciate my colleagues putting me or the City in a position like this,” Gonzales said, noting that while the City followed the established process, the decision to remove Chick-fil-A from the contract came as a last-minute amendment to a years-long process. It was Treviño who motioned for approval of the contract with the amended language to take out the restaurant.
“I especially don’t appreciate my colleagues making amendments on the dais without giving us any information,” Gonzales said, adding that she has more important work – crime, housing, health – than a fast food chain at the airport.
“I find it very offensive that we put the City in this position and that the mayor hasn’t taken control of the situation early on,” Gonzales said. “I for one am offended and tired of it and believe we need to get on to the important work of this city.”