Mayor Ron Nirenberg has appointed new members to the City’s Charter Review Commission, expressing a desire for new sets of eyes on possible City charter revisions.

Nirenberg also has given the commission a sharper focus on issues he believes should be further explored ahead of a potential charter amendment election, which he hopes can happen this November.

“After a length of time, it’s great to get fresh perspectives on charter reform,” Nirenberg said. He added that member appointments would have been made sooner, but it has taken the City time to vet the candidates.

Nirenberg outlined the new member appointments in a memo sent Wednesday to City Manager Sheryl Sculley, City Clerk Leticia Vacek, City Attorney Andy Segovia, and City Auditor Kevin Barthold.

The new commission members are:

Wilson-Anaglia and Garza were the only commission members re-appointed by Nirenberg. Cottrell served on the commission when it was first created by a City ordinance in 2014. Additionally, Gyna Juarez was appointed as a non-voting alternate member. Juarez is prevention resource center senior director with the San Antonio Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

In his memo, Nirenberg outlined the rationale for his decision to revamp the commission.

“All 13 commissioners are appointed by the mayor, and all the terms for the current commissioners are expired. In accordance with the [commission] ordinance, I sought feedback from City Council on appointments,” he told top City staff.

In his memo, Nirenberg thanked previous commission members, which included former Councilmembers Art Hall, Jeff Webster, Mike Gallagher, and Richard Perez.

That commission held three public hearings last summer, when residents submitted 18 recommendations for amending the City charter, which voters last changed in 2015. Following the public hearings, commission members then formed four subcommittees to delve further the topics of development, bond issuance, ethics, and governance.

The subcommittees met a few times last summer, forwarding recommendations to the full commission for discussion. The Council Governance Committee got an update on the commission’s progress last October, but did not review any recommendations.

Nirenberg wrote that he would like the commission to complete its work and submit proposed charter amendments to the Governance Committee by June 21. The City has a state-mandated deadline of Aug. 20 to set a charter amendment election on Nov. 6.

Nirenberg asked for the commission to have subcommittees to focus on development, public finance, ethics, and governance, with the following suggestions in mind:

  • Changing the Planning Commission’s membership to 11 and ensuring each member is appointed each Council member and the mayor;
  • Whether to allow the City to issue debt to support affordable housing;
  • Whether any changes should be made to the composition and appointments to the Ethics Review Board (ERB);
  • Whether the ERB should be autonomous with independent oversight and power to compel testimony, and whether any other recommendations would strengthen the board’s effectiveness or authority;
  • Whether the City should be able to appoint an independent ethics auditor with a legal background;
  • Whether mayoral and Council terms should be extended from two to four years with a limit of two terms and whether terms should be staggered;
  • Whether City elections should be moved from May of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years to coincide with state and federal elections.

Nirenberg also asked the commission to look at whether City candidates should be required to provide additional proof of residency. While the residency question would not need a charter revision, the Governance Committee wanted the commission to keep studying the topic.

“They are priorities of mine, but I know they are priorities of many people in the community,” he said.

Making City government more transparent and ethical was a top priority in Nirenberg’s mayoral campaign.

Nirenberg also requested the commission to get more input from the community and from Common Cause Texas, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to help improve public participation, and ensure public officials and institutions are accountable to their constituents.

“I have stated many times that the City of San Antonio should be the ‘gold standard’ of ethics in governance,” he wrote. “I believe we as a City are closer than ever to meeting that standard with our governance structure and advancements like the Office of Municipal Integrity.”

Nirenberg’s directives for the commission do not reflect any proposed charter revisions that the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association is pushing for through a petition drive on three amendments: limiting the city manager’s salary; giving the union the right to seek binding arbitration in the event of an impasse in future contract negotiations; and lowering the needed number of registered voters to call for an election on virtually any Council actions.

Nirenberg said that holding a charter election this November is ideal, but he also wants a thorough exploration of the issues and carefully crafted proposals.

“It’s more important we get good work from the commission than be rushed to meet some arbitrary date,” he said.

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.