Gender Politics Erupt During Tense City Council Vote on SAWS Appointees

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Council members Ana Sandoval (D7) and Greg Brockhouse (D6) speak privately after he cast the lone vote against the appointment of Amy Hardberger and two others as SAWS trustee.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Council members Ana Sandoval (D7) and Greg Brockhouse (D6) speak privately after he cast the lone vote against the appointment of Amy Hardberger and two others as SAWS trustee.

Conflict broke out at a City Council meeting Thursday after a councilman’s questioning of a female appointee to the San Antonio Water System board prompted charges of gender bias from two councilwomen and Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

The council was to vote on appointing St. Mary’s University water law professor Amy Hardberger and civil engineer Eduardo Parra to the SAWS board and reappointing Amegy Bank CEO David McGee.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) cast the lone “no” vote on the slate of candidates, meaning all three will join the SAWS board effective next month.

Ahead of the vote, Brockhouse questioned Hardberger about how she came to be nominated and her views on impact fees charged to developers.

Brockhouse did not question McGee or Parra during Thursday’s session. Brockhouse said that was because he does not think Hardberger’s stances on water represent his district and because his district doesn’t lie within the territories McGee and Parra would represent at SAWS.

However, a significant portion of Brockhouse’s district falls not only within Hardberger’s southwest district but also inside the boundaries of SAWS’ northwest quadrant, which Parra will represent.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Brockhouse issued at least three press releases challenging Hardberger’s nomination. He said that Nirenberg handpicked the daughter of his political mentor, former Mayor Phil Hardberger, without properly consulting other council members.

Bruce Davidson, Nirenberg’s director of communications,  said the mayor spoke with Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), Gonzales, and Sandoval about the appointments, though not Brockhouse.

Brockhouse has repeatedly called Hardberger a “water activist.” He also describes her as qualified for the job because of her position as associate dean at St. Mary’s University School of Law with a long background of writing on water issues and serving on several community boards.

“It’s not that she’s not qualified,” he said during the council meeting. “That’s not it at all. It’s just that the process isn’t qualified.”

Nirenberg should have invited more people in the community to apply to serve on the SAWS board, Brockhouse said, and asked him and other council members for their recommendations on who could best represent their districts.

“And if it ends up being Ms. Hardberger, then it ends up being Ms. Hardberger,” he said. “I’m okay with that.”

After Brockhouse’s questioning of Hardberger, Nirenberg was the first to raise the issue of gender bias at the meeting, asking Brockhouse if he would like to question the male appointees as aggressively as he had Hardberger.

Confirmed SAWS Board Trustees Amy Hardberger, David McGee, and Eduardo Parra.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Confirmed SAWS board trustees (from left) Amy Hardberger, David McGee, and Eduardo Parra shake hands after City Council approves their appointments.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) then said that she felt “particularly offended when one of my colleagues chooses to isolate and target the one woman who is clearly the most qualified.”

Gonzales said she trusted Nirenberg’s nominations and the vetting they received last month at the council’s Governance Committee.

“If there had at any point been a time that there was a question about anybody’s professional experience, it could have been done at a later date and not necessarily on the dais just for the point of show, and I feel particularly offended by that and cannot sit here quietly and observe that,” Gonzales said.

That prompted a sharp exchange between Brockhouse and Gonzales.

“Councilwoman Gonzales, not everything is sexism or racism,” Brockhouse said. “If she’s going to stand up here and – ”

“I’m going to call it when I see it,” Gonzales replied. “I’m not going to sit here quietly and allow you to do it and not respond.”

“I have the floor, ma’am,” Brockhouse said.

“I understand this is out of line, Mayor,” Gonzales said to Nirenberg. “But I cannot sit quietly.”

“Sorry, you can sit quietly while I have the floor, ma’am,” Brockhouse said. “That’s my opportunity. … I had to sit there and listen to your comments, which were way out of line.”

Listen to the discussion in its entirety below:

Brockhouse went on to say that Hardberger “is an accomplished person” but that he doesn’t believe “she best represents the quadrant that she is going to stand for, the residents of District 6.”

After the meeting, Brockhouse called the charge of sexism a “low, malicious attack” used to shut down dissent.

“The problem with these types of attacks is that you can’t defend against them,” he said.

Asked after the meeting if he thought Brockhouse’s remarks were sexist, McGee said no.

“[Hardberger] is an eminently qualified candidate,” McGee said. “People are going to have different opinions on what’s sexist or not. But she’s eminently qualified for the position, and I look forward to working with her.”

The whole thing stemmed from a back-and-forth Brockhouse had with Hardberger in which the councilman appeared to be trying to get Hardberger to acknowledge that Nirenberg selected her without consulting any council members.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) looks on as Council members discuss SAWS board trustee appointments.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) looks on as Council members discuss SAWS board trustee appointments.

“So the mayor asked you to apply for this?” Brockhouse began.

“He did originally,” Hardberger said. “But then I also did reach out to some of, to Councilwoman Sandoval and other offices to see, uh –”

“So that’s interesting,” Brockhouse broke in. “Which council offices did you speak to? You say you reached out to folks, who else did you speak to in the southwest quadrant?”

“I primarily reached out to Councilwoman Sandoval since I am in her district,” Hardberger said.

“You’re aware there are other districts in the southwest quadrant, so what precluded you from speaking to the other council members?” Brockhouse asked.

Brockhouse and Hardberger went on to debate about who reached out to whom and when. Both say they have never met face-to-face to talk about water issues before.

Gonzales wasn’t the only councilwoman to comment on Brockhouse’s questioning of Hardberger. Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) told a story about playing in mariachi bands while growing up, in what she called a “male-dominated world.”

“Even the men admitted to me … that to play mariachi as a woman, you have to be at least twice as good as a man,” Sandoval said. “I apologize, Ms. Hardberger, that that is what is happening up here today on this dais.”

Sandoval went on to point out that Brockhouse was not questioning Parra the way he did Hardberger.

“You have two potential appointees representing your district here,” she said. “Your concern, repeatedly you claimed, was with the process. But I feel that it’s not.”

For her part, Hardberger declined to comment on whether she felt Brockhouse’s remarks showed gender bias.

“I look forward to taking Councilman Brockhouse at his word that he’s willing to work with me,” she said after the council’s vote.


23 thoughts on “Gender Politics Erupt During Tense City Council Vote on SAWS Appointees

  1. Clearly, Councilman Brockhouse should have cleared his questions to Ms. Hardberger by Mayor Nirenberg…the self-appointed arbitrator of gender-bias dialogue. How could Councilman Brockhouse have opened his mouth, before clearing his comments with the Mayor? How dare Councilman Brockhouse think he can speak for himself. He must always pick up his script from Mayor Nirenberg prior to any public comments.

    • If you listened to the audio, you’d hear that one, *maybe* two questions were about her actual qualifications. The rest was just whining about the process.

    • And I will trust my rep, D7 Councilwoman Sandoval, on what she thinks and feels happened during those 54 minutes above (until she gives me a reason not to … trust and verify, right?) I second Steve Talbert’s motion on posting this, RivardReport. Thank you, Brendan.

  2. As a Latina, why did these councilwomen not complain that this board is not reflective of the diversity that is San Antonio? On the board, I see a banker, engineer, lawyer, and the Mayor representing citizens yet how many San Antonians have these careers, and worse it is predominantly male, white, and wealthy (based on bios). I am sure they have problems with Trump yet the Mayor’s selections and selection process looks a lot like the “Imperial President”.

    • “and worse it is predominantly male, white, and wealthy”

      As a white male…if I were to complain about any organization by stating, “and worse it is predominantly female, brown, and poor” I would be called sexist, racist and classist.

      Mandating that positions be filled based on those parameters by no means guarantees success of the organization or that it operates in the interest of the people of San Antonio.

      Uresti and Hernandez come to mind in recent local news. As a Latina, what do you think about them?

      • “Uresti and Hernandez come to mind in recent local news. As a Latina, what do you think about them?”

        Way to derail the conversation, dude.

    • “On the board, I see a banker, engineer, lawyer, and the Mayor representing citizens yet how many San Antonians have these careers…”
      Please enlighten us as to which careers you would like to see represented on the board???

    • Hardberger is not just a lawyer, she’s a specialist in water rights, hydrology (degrees in geology) and the legal elements of law. I’m not sure there are many people with her level of qualifications. That she happens to be the daughter of the former mayor should not disqualify her.

      As a Latina, I appreciate efforts to achieve diversity. I can also appreciate recognizing extremely qualified people regardless of ethnicity or sex.

  3. San Antonio celebrates National Woman’s Day “good old boy” style. Way to represent SA Brockhouse. #mineisbiggerthanyours

  4. Clearly the issue was not about Ms. Harberger representing his dostrict because Parra also will represent his dostrict so how is this not sexism? Out of line Brockhouse!

  5. I was so confused when he mentioned racism in his response to CW Gonzales when no one mentioned it before. Projection much? Everyone that watches the A Session and follows city politics knows he’s grandstanding (again) to get his name in the paper or the Rivard Report because he’s angling for that mayoral spot. His little tantrums are getting silly.

  6. As a WOMAN, I see his questioning Harberger NOT because she is a woman, but that this person happens to be clearly a water activist. As a law professor, a professional that clearly bring more to the table than just executive prowess. PLEASE STOP REVERSE DISCRIMINATION! Get REAL.
    I applaud Brockhouse for not playing the good ol boy/girl game of let’s all agree to agree. Clearly, he is a person who stands up for what he believes.

    • What exactly is a “water activist”? Is it someone who advocates for policies that keep our drinking water clean and ensure that our city has enough water to sustain itself? Perhaps someone who looks at the situation in Cape Town, South Africa ( and wants to avoid that for San Antonio? As a WATER DRINKER, then that is exactly who I want serving on the SAWS board of directors, regardless of whether they are a man or a woman.

      Greg Brockhouse is a bully with an inflated sense of self-importance. He obviously went into this meeting with an agenda meant to attack Hardberger, not to learn more about all three candidates’ qualifications or issue positions. Maybe he wasn’t being sexist in this instance, but absolutely came looking for a fight, not for solutions.

  7. Without diving into the 54+ minutes, I support Councilman Brockhouse’s questioning due to that being his responsibility as an elected city representative. If he thinks a person or a process is suspect, by gum go question!

    He did state Amy Hardberger is qualified for the position. But if a candidate for a position that impacts a city district does not reach out to or satisfactorily consult with that district’s representative, then by all means I want to see that called out.

    But maybe Councilman Brockhouse is being frozen out by his peers, and is also feeling slighted by little or no contact from Amy Hardberger about the position. And so another opportunity for the councilman to make a point and to stand out among the council … upcoming bid for mayor, perhaps?

    Still, is it a cool dais or a hot seat that best serves us, the electorate?

  8. When the introduction to the Brockhouse’s comments begins with “I wanted to take just a few minutes to highlight concerns I have about the appointment of Miss Hardberger” he is making it clear that his issue is with the person, and not the process.

    When excusing his non-questioning of Parra by claiming that his district is not covered by the NW quadrant represented by Parra, he’s ignoring all D6 residents north of Culebra and Grissom and everyone outside of 1604 – aka the fastest growing areas in D6 and possibly those most affected by SAWS impact fees.

    In his own words “My district is ENTIRELY within the southwest quadrant” [emphasis by speaker]. “I’m going to be asking questions about the person who is representing my area.” “I ask to split the vote so that way I won’t vote against the other two. The other two represent other areas and the other members of those council offices are representative of those offices and they’re okay with it, and I’m fine with that.”

    Whether it was sexist or simple grandstanding and an attempt to pick on a single candidate, Councilman Brockhouse demonstrated, again, that he is already running a populist campaign for mayor and is not actually representing his district, otherwise he’d know where the boundaries are and ask questions of Parra, too.

  9. Brockhouse seems to be consistently pushing hard on everything. It is giving him a negative reputation. Who wants to be represented by a pit bull? That doesn’t impress anyone except others who seem to be perpetually mad. If he runs for mayor, which seems to be his eventual intent, I hope the voters will realize what a disaster it would be to have someone with his attitude as the face of the city.

  10. More grandstanding and self-promotion from future mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse. Anything to get his name in the headlines again.

    And what does he mean when he says, “It’s not that she’s not qualified. That’s not it at all. It’s just that the process isn’t qualified.”? I can’t make heads or tails of it. Not the kind of temperament and intellect I would want serving as mayor.

  11. Why is Brockhouse throwing around the phrase “water activist” like it’s a bad thing? San Antonio deserves water activists on the SAWS board. A water activist will be the very best steward of this very important resource.

    Also, Brockhouse proves once again that he’s a big mouth blowhard who is not interested in repping his distract; rather, he is feathering his nest for a bid for mayor. He seems to be emulating Trump in the way he acts. Mini-Trump is NOT what San Antonio (or anyone) needs.

    Finally, the picture of Brockhouse mansplaining to Sandoval is priceless. He shows his true colors in word and deed.

  12. To be an effective member of the SAWS Board, ideally it requires members to be informed on the entire City’s needs from water quality, quantity, infrustructure, bonding capacity, financial issues and more. The three candidates are qualified to address these issues. It became about politics at the City Council meeting.

  13. I am no fan of Brockhouse but the Hardbergers get special treatment because of the former Mayor. He demands are always followed by Councils. Hardberger got the recent bond issue to give his Hardbergear Park $10 million for an overpass so that yuppies would not have to walk with their dogs to the crossing that would make them walk a couple of extra blocks. He justified the idea because he said he saw such an overpass on a recent tour he took to Europe. Then on another occasion he walked right into a Council A Session to shake council’s hands, etc. in an attempt for them to favor a firm that wanted to get the huge harge contract. Thank God his lobbying failed. I saw it the meeting of the city’s tv channel. Such arrogrance must stop. Councils always allow the former Mayors to get their desires. Next the Council will back a plan to build a downtown MINOR league park to again honor Nelson Wolff although the idea makes no economic sense. We already have enough empty stadiums. This follishness must stop!!!!!


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