Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Bexar County Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff, who is waging a long-shot campaign to oust County Judge Nelson Wolff, held what he called an "emergency" press conference Monday to criticize his opponent for spending County funds on "frivolous" projects such as the San Pedro Creek while neglecting essential services.
Rickhoff, a Republican, is running against Wolff for a seat the Democrat has held since 2001. Rickhoff told reporters that while he doesn’t expect to defeat the four-term incumbent, he wants his campaign to shed light on the county commissioners court's current fiscal policies that are “unsound and not sustainable.”
“Our taxpayer money is being used for frivolous and self-aggrandizing projects,” Rickhoff said. “Meanwhile, Wolff is neglecting and refusing to fund basic county functions.”
Rickhoff, who is serving as manager, treasurer, strategist, and developer of his campaign, came armed with a 42-page document outlining why he believes Wolff should not be re-elected.
In short, Rickhoff argues that basics such as roads, law enforcement, and health services for Bexar County residents have been shortchanged under Wolff's tenure, with Wolff instead favoring cultural projects such as restoring the San Pedro Creek and the Alameda Theater downtown, and funding the San Antonio Symphony.
“It’s a million-dollar waste while the infirm, the disabled, the wards, and the people we are trying to establish guardianship for do not have [the services they need],” Rickhoff said.
He referred specifically to the controversial $735,000 Plethora sculpture commissioned by Bexar County for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. “They are spending a million dollars on this [project] when there is no authorization for the County to do such a thing,” he said.
TJ Mayes, Wolff’s chief of staff, told the Rivard Report that while the County is involved in many revitalization projects throughout the city, the funding is “voter-approved.”
“Bexar County taxpayers resoundingly spoke in 2008 when they supported the venue tax option, which passed with 65 percent of the vote,” and included in it $6 million in funding for the Alameda Theater renovation, Mayes said. “City of San Antonio residents then approved the bond in 2017 overwhelmingly, which included about $19 million for San Pedro Creek.”
Rickhoff, however, stated that Bexar County voters don’t realize that “our county is $3.7 billion in debt and rising fast,” and that if they did they would likely be voting differently. “Five more years on this course will leave our county bankrupt,” he said.
He alleges there's a "pay to play" system at the County, pointing to campaign contributions made by individuals and family members that won significant contracts.
Rickhoff also criticized Wolff and the four county commissioners for emphasizing funding for projects inside San Antonio's urban core to the detriment of residents living in unincorporated areas of the county.
Christian Archer, campaign manager for Wolff’s re-election bid, said Rickhoff’s comments about funding priorities stem from a place of “zero vision” when it comes to “improving quality of life and building a first-class American city.”
“Imagine if hundreds of years ago, [someone said]: 'That’s a terrible idea – why would you want to turn that ditch into a beautiful River Walk? Just think, we could spend more money on the jail,'” Archer said.
“We can have a drainage ditch, or we can have a beautiful hike and bike [trail] that everyone in Bexar County can be proud of.”
Rickhoff, who is quick to note that he supports both the arts and renovations throughout the city, said that to him it comes down to both priorities and funding oversight. He believes Wolff’s vision includes “art, opera, symphony, and statues,” while “county mental health program suffer most.
“Apparently, these matters are too far from Judge Nelson Wolff’s priorities,” he said.