When Mayor Ivy Taylor first became interim mayor of San Antonio in July 2014, she was technically in violation of the City’s Ethics Code. City Council voted 8-2 on Tuesday to prevent any future efforts to cite such a technicality as cause for an ethics complaint.
For years, Taylor and her husband Rodney received income from Section 8 vouchers at several properties he rents out on the city’s Eastside via the San Antonio Housing Authority. Because the mayor is responsible for appointing SAHA board members, a conflict of interest arose when she took office – triggering an un anticipated ethics violation.
Taylor was unaware of the violation until “I read it in the newspaper,” she said after the vote. The San Antonio Express-News found the conflict of interest last summer. “We waited for the dust to settle after the election (to address the issue) because I didn’t know if I was going to continue serving as mayor.”
In November, about five months after she was elected in June, Mayor Taylor and her husband transferred all of their Section 8 SAHA contracts over to the Housing Authority of Bexar County. The code provisions that were approved today represent a sort of pass from the Council that only applies to Taylor for that specific period of time between her appointment as interim mayor to November, the so-called “period of conflict.”
There were no new board appointments during that period, but she did reappoint Chairman Morris Stribling.
So why is City Council acting now?
“Sooner is better than later,” City Attorney Martha Sepeda told Council, as there are two vacancies on a board that is struggling to reach a quorum for meetings that require votes in order for SAHA to carry out actions. Public housing officials asked Taylor to initiate the waiver process.
Thursday’s action does not prevent citizens from lodging ethics complaints against Taylor, Sepeda explained, but if a petition is presented to the Ethics Review Board, they’ll have Thursday’s code provisions to look at as guidance from City Council.
“We’re not amending the Ethics Code,” Sepeda said.
No one doubts the violation was unintentional, Taylor did not benefit materially from her position as mayor, a point several Council members noted during their comments before the vote.
“No conflict has occurred,” Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) said. “We have full confidence in her actions. … This is something we can clean up and do it the right way.”
Council members Ray Saldaña (D4) and Ron Nirenberg (D8) voted against the ordinance, but not because of lack of confidence in the mayor. Rather, the councilmen felt, for different reasons, that the ordinance itself had problems.
Nirenberg found the entire exercise of going back and pardoning Taylor’s oversight moot and could send the wrong message to the public.
“Why are we doing this?” he asked his colleagues. “It’s very clear that there is no conflict that currently exists, and that the mayor did what she needed to do to get ride of prohibitive interests in the contracts … so the action today has no real effect on her ability to perform her duties in that role.
“It does not send the right message for us to have an ethics code that we retroactively say doesn’t apply in certain situations,” he added. “The breadth of the ordinance is remarkable.”
Saldaña said he places “no blame of this at the mayor’s feet,” but would have preferred to fine-tune the language of the waiver and address future application of the code, a “proactive waiver rather than just retroactive.”
“We’re talking because of a simple oversight that frankly could have happened to each one of us on the dais,” Saldaña said.
*Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor gives remarks during opening day of DreamWeek 2016. Photo by Scott Ball.