Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council failed citizens this week with a closed-door judgment of troubled City Councilman Mario Bravo (D1) in a two-hour, private session.
Afterward, the writing was (literally) on the wall with a posted agenda item for the Thursday, Nov. 10 meeting: “City Council believes a publicly issued written censure and vote of no confidence are the appropriate response to Councilmember Bravo’s actions on [Sept. 15].”
Bravo’s request for time to present his case at the Thursday meeting, which was closed to the public and the media, was denied. Instead, Nirenberg and eight City Council members served as the self-appointed backroom judge and jury.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), the victim of Bravo’s angry, out-of-control attack outside council chambers on Sept. 15, also was excluded from the meeting, although it is not known if she requested admission.
Bravo and Sandoval had been in a relationship prior to his election in 2021, which made the nature of his public assault even more toxic. The details of his verbal violence targeting Sandoval are damning, so why not make the case against him in open session?
Even the worst among us deserves his or her day in an open court proceeding. Since when does a government entity in this country render a verdict without the defendant, the victim, or the public and media present to observe?
City Attorney Andy Segovia, no doubt, will defend the meeting as a “personnel” exception to open meetings law. That’s a weak argument when the “personnel” happens to be someone chosen by voters to hold public office. The written report generated by a third-party attorney hired by the city to investigate Bravo’s misconduct was not released to the public or the media.
I do not defend one word of Bravo’s inexcusable, frightening verbal assault of Sandoval, as detailed by the San Antonio Express-News. Like many others I’ve spoken with in Bravo’s district, where I live and work, I doubt he can effectively serve going forward. Yet he already has been stripped of his committee assignments by Nirenberg, effectively neutering him as a representative of the district.
Politically, Bravo is toast.
Bravo (D1), however, was elected by voters, not by his colleagues. He can read the political landscape and choose to resign, he can announce he will not seek reelection, or he can take his chances and ask voters for forgiveness in an unlikely bid for reelection.
If he decides to hang on and serve out his two-year term with about seven months remaining, shouldn’t voters be the ones to decide who represents the district going forward? The decision to allow the mayor and council to serve as judge and jury sets a dangerous precedent.
Welcome to cancel culture.
Bravo’s treatment makes me wonder: Why didn’t Mayor Ivy Taylor and then-City Council member Nirenberg (D8), who defeated her in a June 2017 runoff, give the same treatment to Alan Warrick, the District 2 councilman with two drunken driving convictions on his record, after he passed out on a city hall park bench overnight?
The incident occurred days after Taylor and Nirenberg finished first and second, respectively, in the May 2017 city election and a few weeks before Nirenberg won the June runoff.
Warrick claimed, dubiously, that he must have been surreptitiously drugged while drinking with a female companion at the downtown bar On the Rocks, but owner Justin Vitek said Warrick was cut off after becoming drunk and that he repeatedly refused the staff’s efforts to call an Uber to take him home.
Voters aren’t stupid. Nobody wants someone who acknowledged blacking out on a downtown park bench for a night to represent them in public office. Warrick was soundly beaten in the same June 2017 runoff, with William “Cruz” Shaw winning 56.34% of the vote against the incumbent’s 43.66%.
While Bravo’s fate was inappropriately handled in my opinion, I take heart at the decision, also announced Thursday, by H-E-B and USAA, the city’s two leading employers and corporate citizens, that they will forgo the 13% rebates from their July CPS Energy bills, sums of $530,932 and $119,295 respectively.
Both companies will donate the money to CPS Energy’s Residential Energy Assistance Partnership (REAP) program, which helps low-income San Antonians pay their utility bills. CPS executives say thousands of ratepayers are delinquent in paying about $165 million to the utility.
The Bravo attack against Sandoval came after she chose not to support his proposal to use the city’s $75 million windfall from CPS Energy after a record hot summer to mitigate climate change rather than staff’s proposed 13% rebates to commercial and residential ratepayers.
I proposed a similar use of the funds in this column and had about as much success as Bravo in persuading Nirenberg and other council members. The rebate was approved, even as some noted it would do little to help low-income residents, while commercial and wealthy residential ratepayers would receive an unneeded rebate.
I still think the council’s decision was short-sighted and that little real action is being taken locally to mitigate climate change and global warming. My family will join others in directing our rebate of $20 or so to REAP. Let’s hope every profitable commercial user and every well-to-do residential ratepayer does the same.