Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Former District 8 Councilman Art Hall will serve as the interim District 2 representative for about five months after City Council appointed him with a 7-3 vote Thursday.
He can’t legally run for another Council seat, according to City staff, but Hall said he’s not interested in running in the May election anyway. Because he did not receive a supermajority vote, which would have been eight votes, he cannot take office for 10 days as per City Charter rules.
Hall is an attorney and investor who served on Council from 2003 to 2007 and worked at St. Philip’s College as the dean of Workforce Development and Continuing Education. He will continue to work for the Alamo Colleges District and said he has spoken to his supervisor to arrange a flexible schedule to accommodate the heavy workload of a Council representative.
“I can literally hit the ground running today,” said Hall, whose first day is scheduled to be Jan. 20. “This interim position has little to no time for a learning curve.”
He will take the seat of former Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw, who resigned in December to accept an appointment as an associate judge for Bexar County.
Hall, 48, claims a homestead property tax exemption on a house he owns in District 8 – but he meets the City’s requirements for residency to serve on Council and has lived in District 2 for three years, he said.
“If I [did] not meet the residential requirement, I would not be here today,” Hall told Council members before the vote. “If you’re looking for a reason not to support my candidacy … residency cannot be the reason.”
Hall has lived in San Antonio for 20 years.
The next few months are going to be busy for Council, several members noted. City Council is slated to hire a city manager to replace Sheryl Sculley by the end of the month, implement an affordable housing plan, work on finalizing a mass transportation plan, and launch campaigns for the May election.
Hall will not be able to take part in the city manager selection process until Jan. 20, a City spokeswoman said. Interviews are set to take place Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday after City Council narrows down the list of 31 applicants during a closed session on Friday.
“I’m hoping that they won’t actually make a decision on the city manager until I’m able to vote,” said Hall, who participated in the recruitment of Sculley to the position 13 years ago.
Hall pledged not to run a campaign but instead provide representation for the district to allow a more fair election without a candidate that has incumbency advantage.
“I’m one that has always kept my word, and so I will keep my word in this particular instance,” he said.
He was selected among three finalists that included military veteran and motivational speaker Jada Sullivan and Denver Heights Neighborhood Association President Aubrey Lewis.
Each spent 30-40 minutes answering questions from City Council members, who then convened a private meeting to discuss whom they would select. After about 45 minutes, Council members returned to announce their decision. After some confusion about the voting process on the dais and at least two motions launched and withdrawn, Council ultimately took a single vote on Hall’s appointment.
According to the City’s charter, ordinances that don’t include an effective date – such as the ordinance to fill the vacancy – can take effect immediately they receive eight votes. If not, they default to a 10-day delay.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg lobbied for a supermajority vote to avoid the lack of District 2 representation, but Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Greg Brockhouse (D6), and Rebecca Viagran (D3) voted against Hall.
They supported Sullivan’s appointment, the dissenting Council members said.
The 10-day delay, Hall told reporters after the vote, is “a little disappointing, but at the same time you’ve got to respect the diversity of opinion that’s there on the dais but also in the community.”
Sullivan, 43, owns a motivational speaking company and describes herself as a “mindset coach.” She was born and raised in District 2.
She said the historically neglected East Side is in need of substantial change. Recent increase of public and private investment has added gentrification and development to a list of resident concerns that includes public safety and poverty. Sullivan said developers need to work with the community to ensure the district benefits from their profits as well.
Dereck Hillyer, a retired firefighter with a controversial record who applied for the seat and had plans to run in May, was among the 13 applicants interviewed Wednesday afternoon, but was not selected as a finalist.
Hillyer is expected to run for the seat in May, and his supporters scheduled a press conference Thursday afternoon to respond to City Council’s selection of Hall.
The group, comprised of some faith and neighborhood leaders who organized two town hall meetings to select a candidate to support through informal voting, said they want to legally challenge Hall’s residency and will continue to support Hillyer for the position in May.
However, most members of the group said they hope to meet with Hall to discuss their concerns about and priorities for District 2.
They respect that the Council followed its own process, Government Hill Neighborhood Association President Rose Hill said, “but we, too – the community – also had a process.”
More than 200 people participated in those town halls, Dignowity Hill resident Liz Franklin said. “To be realistic, it was an overstep of authority [by the mayor] … he couldn’t get past [the fact] that [Hillyer] was a fireman.”
Because of that, Franklin said, Hillyer was held to a higher standard during the vetting process.
City Hall released a damaging employment summary that showed Hillyer has been suspended for “insubordination,” 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 wherein a private citizen was injured during a traffic accident while he was driving a City vehicle.
These revelations didn’t faze the 11 people who gathered at an Eastside restaurant, Taqueria Chapala Jalisco, for the press conference – among them former interim Councilman Keith Toney (D2).
City Council is giving District 2 the “illusion of inclusion,” Toney said, while ignoring the will of the community. Many wanted to see an interim candidate who was also going to run in the May election, he added.
“District 2 should not be a [political] stepping stone, it’s the destination,” Toney said.
Hillyer retired from the San Antonio Fire Department the day after he filed his application for the interim spot on Council. He was a member of the firefighters union and supporter of the controversial propositions that went to a public vote in November.
Nirenberg said Brockhouse, who used to work for the police and fire unions and is expected to run for mayor, defended Hillyer during the selection process because the councilman wanted a union “puppet” on Council.
Local Pastor Patrick Jones said Brockhouse and union President Chris Steele were not involved in the community’s selection of Hillyer.
“I was one of the first ones to frown,” Jones said, when a firefighter was presented as a candidate, because it was going to be a “tough sell” politically. Voters approved two of the three propositions, and the City and fire union have yet to meet at a bargaining table for a new labor contract.
Ironically, Jones said, many members of the group that supports Hillyer were against the propositions.
“I believed Jada Sullivan was the best fit for the District 2 interim appointment and my vote today reflected my belief in her qualifications,” Brockhouse said in a statement. “All three candidates we interviewed were professional and would have served with honor, but to me, Jada was the best choice.
“It is also my belief that we must rise above petty politics on City Council. This process was marred by character assassination of one applicant and closed door deliberations.”