Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) called foul at a press conference Tuesday after learning that the City manager's office shared a document detailing the employment history of a recently retired firefighter, who applied for an interim seat on City Council, with the Rivard Report.
Brockhouse, a longtime critic of City Manager Sheryl Sculley and political adversary of Mayor Ron Nirenberg, questioned the relationships between journalists and City Hall sources and the public information request process. At issue is information compiled by City officials about retired San Antonio Fire Department firefighter Dereck Hillyer, who recently applied to fill the vacant District 2 City Council seat.
Brockhouse maintained in a press conference Tuesday that the information was improperly shared with Rivard Report Publisher and Editor Robert Rivard, who referred to Hillyer's employment history in his weekly column, which was published Sunday.
"The city manager knowingly released an internal document to Bob Rivard," Brockhouse said, "and within 24 hours Mr. Rivard wrote a hit piece on Dereck Hillyer and the firefighters."
Brockhouse did not directly challenge the accuracy of the details of Hillyer's employment history reported in the column but said he wants to verify the information in the document. According to the document, Hillyer has been suspended for "insubordination" and "failure to follow orders," owes the City of San Antonio more than $11,000 as the result of erroneous worker's compensation payments, and is involved in a lawsuit against the City that resulted from a traffic accident with a private vehicle while he was driving a City vehicle.
Days after Hillyer announced he was retiring from SAFD to apply for the interim Council seat made vacant when William "Cruz" Shaw resigned, the Rivard Report and San Antonio Express-News filed open-record requests seeking information about Hillyer's employment with the City, which is public information under the Texas Public Information Act. On Friday, Rivard received a copy of a summary report commissioned by Deputy City Manager Erik Walsh when he learned of Hillyer's intention to apply. The report was compiled by Walsh, SAFD staff, and the City Attorney’s Office.
Rivard obtained the document informally after asking City leadership, including Nirenberg, about Hillyer before the public record requests were fulfilled Monday. Sculley directed a staff member to share the document with Rivard, according to City Attorney Andy Segovia.
"You should find it egregious and a violation of public trust that there are pending open requests ... and another member of the media is able to utilize personal relationships to obtain information outside of the open records process," said Brockhouse, who worked for the police and firefighter unions before being elected to Council and is widely expected to run for mayor.
Sharing public information while open records requests are pending on that information is not uncommon, but some sensitive information is often protected and redacted from information requests. Journalists routinely obtain information from official sources and, as outlined in the City's administrative directive for public records, the city manager and other executives can distribute information.
"Although the summary was intended for internal review, I asked the City Attorney’s Office to review so that the summary would not include any information that would be prohibited from public disclosure," Walsh wrote in a response to Brockhouse's request for information surrounding the release of the document. The response was emailed to the councilman by Segovia. "This document, although releasable, was not compiled in response to any of the [open-records requests] we received last week," Walsh continued. "The document was completed on Friday, January 4 and given to the City Manager for her weekly meeting with the mayor."
Brockhouse said he, too, has shared news tips and information on and off the record with reporters, but it's "unfair" for City staffers to favor media outlets and journalists because they are supposed to be apolitical.
"The aim of my weekly column is to inform and connect engaged citizens in San Antonio, and my most recent column showed how utterly unqualified Dereck Hillyer is to pursue appointment by City Council to the vacant District 2 seat," Rivard said in a statement. "Councilman Brockhouse is more interested in curbing a free press than facing the truth about the [fire] union's hand-picked candidate."
Brockhouse has not requested an investigation into other news outlets' sources, he said, but he wanted to know "why would City staff compile this and release [Hillyer's record]?"
"I anticipated being asked about any previous discipline [of Hillyer's] by either the Mayor or City Council, the City Manager, or the City Attorney," Walsh wrote.
Nirenberg was unavailable for an interview, but issued a statement via a spokesperson that implied he was in favor of sharing the document with members of the media.
"I’m not going to apologize for doing due diligence on behalf of the residents I represent, even if it interferes with Councilman Brockhouse’s scheme to put a union puppet on the City Council," Nirenberg said. "There will be no delay in ensuring the residents of District 2 have representation."
Sculley declined to comment Tuesday.
Hillyer emerged as the chosen candidate of some faith and Eastside neighborhood leaders last week after two public forums and an informal vote.
In his column, Rivard speculated that his position as a former firefighter indicates that Hillyer might be an ally to Brockhouse, the lone Council member who supported three union-backed ballot propositions. Brockhouse said he has had limited contact with Hillyer.
"I am coming into the ... appointment process later this week with an open mind," Brockhouse said.
Brockhouse said the media and City leaders targeted Hillyer because he was a firefighter and fellow supporter of the city charter amendments, two of which voters approved in November.
"How in the world can Mr. Hillyer get a fair shake?" Brockhouse said, adding that he has not yet had a chance to vet the facts presented in Hillyer's file. The information has been reviewed and verified by the City Attorney's Office.
City Council will interview candidates for the interim position Wednesday afternoon and appoint its new member on Thursday. A total of 13 people applied for the position.
In his email to City leadership inquiring about Rivard's column, Brockhouse asked for copies of all of Rivard's communications with City staff over the past 60 days.
"[We] will compile information and present information pertinent to your request," Segovia wrote.
During the press conference, he called for Sculley to be suspended and the City to cease all business with the Rivard Report, including advertising. As it has with other local media outlets, the City has purchased advertisements from the Rivard Report to promote City initiatives and events.
Asked if he thought the City would take any action as a result of his request and the review process, Brockhouse said "no" and scoffed.