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The North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce issued a scorecard ahead of next week’s election rating the mayor and City Council members on how they voted on key issues of interest to the business community.
Overall, only two Council members – Clayton Perry (D10) and Art Hall (D2) – received passing grades, while the bulk of those evaluated performed below average, according to the chamber’s requisites.
With early voting underway for the May 4 municipal election in which all 11 seats are up for grabs, the timing of the scorecard’s release was no coincidence.
Although the chamber does not endorse candidates in local elections, it rated City Council members and the mayor on nine issues the chamber deemed important to business interests. Cristina Aldrete, president and CEO of the North SA Chamber, said her group hopes Council will “use this as a benchmark.”
“You have to understand that the business community … has strong priorities,” she said.
Hall, an interim Council member appointed in January, participated in only two votes deemed relevant by the chamber, so Perry was effectively the lone Council member to meet the chamber’s threshold for approval.
Perry voted along with the chamber’s preference eight of nine times, receiving an 89 percent score. Aldrete said 70 percent would be considered “passing.”
“I was very proud of that,” Perry said. “Unfortunately my colleagues don’t get it. … We are becoming a business-unfriendly city.”
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who is challenging Mayor Ron Nirenberg, ranked the next highest at 67 percent.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) received the lowest scores, each with 25 percent, just below Nirenberg’s 33 percent. Nirenberg and Brockhouse often are on the opposite side of issues brought before Council, with Brockhouse criticizing him and other members for sending “anti-business” messages with votes and policy formation.
The North San Antonio Chamber’s executive committee selected the votes on which it rated based on the chamber’s membership interest, Aldrete said. That included issues chamber officials received phone calls, letters, and emails about and followed through the legislative process.
Although the scorecard does not capture the nuance behind Council members’ decision-making process and political compromises, Aldrete said the voting records, which were obtained from the City Clerk, were the cleanest and fairest tool.
“We worked with former Council members to formulate the tool,” she said, and based some of its methodologies on the state legislator scorecard released by Texas Association of Businesses.
“We’re not using it to say, ‘You’re good’ [and] ‘You’re bad,’” she said. “It just kinda is what it is.”
Aldrete and many in the broader business community feel they are not being included in key conversations surrounding policy development and economic opportunities. That came to a head in discussions leading to Council’s decision not to pursue a bid for the 2020 Republican National Convention. Others involved a decision not to bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, approval of a paid sick-leave ordinance, and the recent decision to remove Chick-fil-A from the airport concessions contract.
Aldrete wants Council members to consider all the facts before voting, she said. “If you don’t feel ready to vote on something, you have to say, ‘I don’t have enough information.’”
In the case of Chick-fil-A, a motion to delay the vote was unsuccessful.
The North SA Chamber joined other local chambers of commerce in opposing three city charter amendments – two of which passed – backed by the firefighters union that were put to San Antonio voters in November last year. The scorecard includes a point for all elected Council members who voted in favor of placing those on the ballot, although it was a procedural move and not a vote on the merits of the propositions.
There is another section that was not included in the overall score, which includes issues that were not directly voted on or weren’t brought up by a substantial number of chamber members, Aldrete said. Since the decision not to pursue the Republican National Convention was a consensus reached during a closed-door executive session, it is included in that section.
While Brockhouse and Perry said after the meeting that they disagreed with the final outcome, “when you go into executive session, you come out with a consensus” and that’s the final decision, Aldrete said.
Likewise, no vote occurred on the decision not to pursue Amazon by offering a robust incentive package, so it was not included on the scorecard, Aldrete said. That was a decision Nirenberg made in partnership with the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation and Bexar County officials.
According to Aldrete’s research, North SA is the first chamber in a large city to have a scorecard, although she said groups use them in smaller cities such as Lubbock. She would like to see it become a standard practice in cities statewide.
“All big cities across the state are having the same issues with City Council members that don’t understand how they impact the business community,” she said.
Aaron Cox, senior vice president of membership development with the Texas Association of Businesses, which is the statewide chamber, said the North SA Chamber scorecard is a good start.
But scorecards aren’t for every chamber, he said. “Some chambers aren’t engaged in policy side. … Some are concerned about relationships, quite frankly, with mayors and Councils and are trying to maintain those relationships.”
Such scorecards can be seen as an adversarial judgment of elected officials, he said, “but I think if done properly, it’s a reference point. It’s a source of information.
“This is tool, not a weapon.”