The four leading mayoral candidates, Leticia Van de Putte, Tommy Adkisson, Mike Villarreal and Mayor Ivy Taylor, shared a stage for what one staffer said was the 21st time Tuesday afternoon at KLRN-TV studios on Broadway Street on Tuesday.
Moderator Rick Casey served up a series of pointed questions on rideshare, police union negotiations, transportation, and downtown development, and delved into more sensitive territory with questions that focused on controversies each candidate has faced.
There will be more mayoral forums if you have not yet attended one of the gatherings. See the list below for details. The candidates might be tiring of the almost daily events, but that doesn't mean each one isn't interesting and unique. Tuesday's forum was not without its moments.
During his closing remarks, Adkisson suffered a Rick Perry moment, as he struggled unsuccessfully to recall the name of HemisFair Arena, the $4 million venue built for HemisFair '68 hat served as the fist home for the San Antonio Spurs before it was demolished in 1995 and the team moved into the Alamodome.
"The San Antonio Spurs were playing in the Alamodome and before that in the other...facility that was torn down," he said, pausing. "This race is all about leadership. If you're going to have leadership, you have to have the kind of things that we did in the Commissioner's Court to save the Spurs from going to Utah, to save the Spurs from going to Memphis, and to put a great team that we're all so proud of front and center.
"I helped lead at a time when everybody else in the country was looking at the San Antonio Spurs ... we erased doubt by taking the initiative" to bring the AT&T Center to a public vote that kept the Spurs in San Antonio, he said.
The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the forum, specifically asked Casey to pose one question: How do you assess City Manager Sheryl Sculley's leadership?
Three of the candidates supported Sculley, who is largely credited with fiscal management that has made San Antonio the only major U.S. city with a AAA credit rating. Adkisson was the lone holdout, faulting Sculley for the continuing standoff between the City and the police and firefighter unions.
"I think the Triple A bond rating is a very laudable accomplishment, but that was in 2008," Adkisson said. "It doesn't necessarily happen just because somebody gets into office. Some of it is historical. Allowing this (police union contract) negotiation and this process to be played out in the media did immense damage to our ability to settle it."
"In all my years of covering San Antonio politics I've never seen a mayoral stage with so much experience on it," Casey said. "That also means that each of you have been involved" in some sort of controversy.
Leticia's Campaign Finance
Casey started with the recent attack, led largely by Villarreal and Adkisson, against Van de Putte's handling of the transfer of funds – more than $230,000 – from her lieutenant governor campaign war chest to her mayoral race. Villarreal has filed an ethics complaint with the City.
City ordinance limits contributions to $1,000 per person in city elections, Casey explained, and candidates cannot simply transfer money from accounts that don't have such limits.
"Only $1,000 from each of those accounts can be transferred, the rest should be returned," Casey said, citing the ordinance. "And (it) adds this: 'The transfer committee's available fund shall be viewed as those contributions most recently received that add up to the amount of cash on hand.'
"In other words, the ordinance wants to limit how far back it can go," Casey said. "The only ones that can transfer money are the most recent ones that add up to that amount."
Van de Putte has $237,000 in her state campaign account, Casey said. "How, given the ordinance, do you get to anything like $300,000, and can you explain your methodology?"
The room stirred.
"We know that everything that I have done is the law," Van de Putte said. "I sought out the best legal minds with the best expertise in municipal elections and ethics to find out how to do this correctly. We will have the report that you will on April 9 that shows exactly how we have transferred (those funds)."
Candidates are required to file periodic campaign finance reports. The next report is due on April 9.
Van de Putte said that her campaign staff has reached out to contributors who gave more than $500 to make sure they support her decision to use that money for her mayoral campaign. Overall, she brushed off the ethics complaint as a part of a competitive mayoral election.
"You're going to see a lot of mud fly," she said.
Adkisson and Villarreal remained firm in their claims of wrong-doing while Taylor was not asked to respond.
"This is a tar baby that she should have never have touched. All you do is get tar all over you. The more you talk about it the crazier it gets and I don't think it's going to pass muster with the voters," Adkisson said, adding that it would have been easier for her to just start fresh with new campaign dollars. "It was the one tar baby that didn't need to be touched."
Villarreal transferred $66,853 from his funds gathered as a state representative, a process that was reviewed and approved by the City's Elections and Campaign Finance office. He returned funds in excess of $1,000 to donors who gave greater sums to him while he served in the Texas Legislature. Were Van de Putte to follow suit, she would have to surrender tens of thousands of dollars back to donors to her state coffers.
Villarreal does not want to wait until the April 9 campaign report due date to see Van de Putte's report.
"Once the election passes, there's nothing we can do," Villarreal said. " I suppose I'm kind of a Boy Scout on this. If I see someone breaking the law, I want to stop it and hold them accountable."
Van de Putte's Campaign Manager Christian Archer said the allegations do not have any legal basis.
“We are not violating any law whatsoever,” Archer told Texas Public Radio on Monday. “We have two candidates that are in third place and fourth places, respectively, and this is just a desperate attempt to throw mud against the wall and see what sticks.”
Ivy's Vote Against the NDO
As the incumbent mayor, Taylor has been an obvious target for attacks against how the City dealt with rideshare companies and the tumultuous police and firefighter union contract negotiations.
But Casey asked Taylor about a controversy that stretched back to her service as the District 2 representative on City Council when she voted against an updated ordinance that expanded the City's non-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation, gender identification, and veteran status.
On the day it passed in September 2013, Taylor said, the ordinance would "diminish (some people's) faith because it’s politically correct to do so." She also cited that it is (was) her job to represent the District 2 constituency. "I’d like to engage in other issues … I feel a lot more comfortable and productive when talking about how to balance the budget.”
Since 2013, she hasn't changed her stance much, she said.
"The ordinance (that was passed) in 2013 had some provisions that would apply to businesses in addition to the City," she said, referring to the section that allows the standards to be applied to businesses that the City works with. "I felt very uncomfortable with that. I thought it could put business owners ... in the position of choosing between the law and their faith."
In 2011 Taylor voted in favor of domestic partnerships for City employees, but when asked if she would support repeal of such ordinances, she said "it would be better if we just focused on the business of the City. I also found when I became mayor that there have been no efforts to actually implement the ordinance that had been passed and so I felt that it was a political stunt."
Van de Putte was the only candidate that took issue with the former City Council member's stance.
"The way we judge someone on their work is the qualities that they bring (to the work place) – not who they happen to love," she said. "When we have an ordinance on hand that really focuses on what the City does with its own employees and what businesses do that do business with the city, I think it is appropriate (to include sexual orientation)... we need to continue to be a city that marches toward equality."
Adkisson has been fighting requests and court orders for access to his personal emails since 2010 when the San Antonio Express-News started its legal battle seeking access to Adkisson's personal emails regarding toll road policy in Adkisson's capacity as the chair of the Metropolitan Planning Organization and county commissioner at the time.
Adkisson maintains that any emails sent from his personal account are just that: personal. Yet there is little disagreement he used his personal email account to communicate and receive communications from anti-toll road activist Terry Hall.
"The attorney general said you were wrong, the district court said you were wrong, an appeals court ruled against you and the courts actually said that you were so off-base that you had to pay the Express-News' legal fees," Casey said. "Is there any chance voters will get to see those emails before the election?"
"Boy are they going to be let down," Adkisson said.
He explained that the request and following litigation came about because the Express-News disagreed with his toll-road policy.
"This was one way to try to diminish my fight," he said. "I was undeterred because I felt like they were trying to intimidate me. But I felt like (compliance would mean) that really every corporation that has a representative on a board or commission (would have) their representative susceptible to having all their personal emails reviewed."
Adkisson said he will continue to refuse to share his emails.
"It's a Fourth Amendment question ultimately, but you know I don't have time to debate and discuss the Fourth Amendment forever," he added.
Villarreal said transparency should be a priority of City government, stopping short of commenting on Adkisson's emails specifically. "Across the board I want our city government to be transparent so that citizens can trust us and be engaged in the problems."
Mike's Appraisal Bill
Two years ago, while serving in the Texas House, then-Rep. Villarreal sponsored a bill, written by Jim Popp, an Austin property tax agent, that has been "quite unpopular with tax assessors (in San Antonio), Houston, and around the state," Casey said. "Tax assessors already feel outgunned against wealthy, corporate interests that own big buildings. They feel that (corporations) have budgets for legal power that local public officials can only dream of."
This system provides for a bias in favor of corporations who can argue their tax assessments down and sell properties for much more. Villarreal's bill made the tax assessor's job more difficult by raising the standard of proof, Casey explained, from a "preponderance of evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence – one stop below reasonable doubt."
The bill, Villarreal said, is actually intended to help the average, smaller property owner.
"The higher evidentiary standard, you can reach that if you're willing to go to court," he said. "But for the average home owner, we just go down to the Chief Appraiser's office, we get in front of the Appraisal Review Board (ARB) and we try to make our case.
"Here's what my bill did. If you win in front of the ARB, then the next year the chief appraiser has to hit a higher standard of evidence if he wants to bring back the same property appraisal increase that he tried for in the prior year."
He said the bill addresses the ARB process in favor of small property owners.
Van de Putte voted against that bill while serving in the Texas Senate.
"It is not the appraisal itself, it is the appeals process that is wrong," Van de Putte said. "If Mike's bill had really worked, you would see numerous bills filed this legislative session for the average homeowner."
The provisions are too difficult for home and small business owners to use, she said. "The bill was incomplete and that's why I voted no on this."
Adkisson said the bill "shifts the burden to the individual tax payer and I don't understand why we would do such a thing."
The debate continues, with new locations and dates:
- April 1, 6-8 p.m.: Texas A&M University, One University Way (all 14 candidates are invited to attend)
- April 6, 6 p.m.: Trinity University, Laurie Auditorium
- April 7, 2-4 p.m.: San Antonio Nonprofit Council Mayoral Forum, Oblate School of Theology
- April 8, 8 p.m.: Our Lady of the Lake, Thiry Auditorium
- April 14, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.: AARP San Antonio Mayoral Candidate Forum, Palo Alto College
- April 14, 6:30-9 p.m.: Pints & Politics II: The Rivard Report, The Pearl, Southerleigh, and Overland Partners present a mayoral forum at the Pearl Stable ($10 tickets still on sale)
- April 15, 7:30-9 a.m.: (members only) ULI San Antonio Breakfast, the Aztec Theatre
- April 27, 7:30 p.m. Theatre for Change at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
A campaign source said that there are about 19 scheduled events with the four major candidates before the May 9 City Election. Early voting starts on April 27.
*Featured/top image: Candidates Mike Villarreal, Leticia Van de Putte, Ivy Taylor, and Tommy Adkisson hosted by Rick Casey at the KLRN Mayoral Forum. Photo by Scott Ball.
Read all the stories on the City and police union negotiations in the Rivard report archive.