A pedestrian in a wheelchair on Merton Minter Street rolls his wheelchair close to oncoming traffic in the Medical Center.
A pedestrian in a wheelchair on Merton Minter Street rolls his wheelchair close to oncoming traffic in the Medical Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

As an assistant city attorney for the City of San Antonio, Nick Dominguez has spent years picking apart legal cases.

He’s taken on personal injury, commercial, administrative and constitutional litigation for the city, in addition to defending the paid sick leave ordinance.

But earlier this year, he seized the opportunity to run on an interim basis the city’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department, created in the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“I saw it as an opportunity to help build something … rather than tear down,” said Dominguez, who started his new role in mid-November.

As a gay Mexican American who wears a hearing aid, Dominguez is uniquely qualified for the work the department does: centralizing the city’s efforts to ensure and make operational accessibility, diversity, equity, inclusion and integrity across departments and services.

The department will act as a central hub for employees and residents to report complaints or allegations of waste and fraud and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the local Non-Discrimination Ordinance and Equal Employment Opportunity laws.

“I see where the rubber meets the road on the work that I can do,” Dominguez said.

The San Antonio area has a long history of inequity, demonstrated by life expectancy that varies by geography, lopsided infrastructure investment and divergent income levels. In recent years, the city has started to recognize those challenges, using an “equity lens” to allocate resources to disadvantaged populations.

“The ultimate goal is to have diversity, equity and inclusion be a natural thing that all our employees consider as they deliver city services on a daily basis,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said. “We have a long way to go to get there.”

The new department brings together and oversees three offices: the Office of Equity, formerly under the city manager; the Disability Access Office, formerly under Public Works; and the Office of Municipal Integrity, formerly under Human Resources. The total cost in fiscal year 2022 for the new department is $2.2 million.

The new director reports to the City Attorney’s Office. Dominguez’s title has changed, but he hasn’t moved his office out of the International Center on South St. Mary’s Street.

Nick Dominguez will run the city's new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department on interim basis.
Nick Dominguez will run the city’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department on an interim basis. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

While the offices of Equity and Municipal Integrity are also in that building, Disability Access still operates a few blocks away at the Municipal Plaza building across from City Hall. Dominguez is trying to figure out a way to get them all in one place.

“I think there’s a lot to learn from the three different teams,” he said. “[We need to] try to unify them in that [physical] sense and make them run a little bit more efficiently.”

Consolidation of these teams allows for a more strategic approach, Segovia said. “Then we can focus on different things like language access … [and] diversity in our boards and commissions and in city departments.”

Beyond compliance, the department is tasked with removing barriers for disabled people across the city.

“We want compliance truly to be the baseline — that’s what everybody should expect — that we comply with the law,” Segovia said. “But then another key facet of it is to make more progress above and beyond what the legal obligations are for the community in terms of delivering equitable services.”

One of its first major initiatives will be to develop a language access plan to expand and enhance the city’s language and translation services. The budget provides $50,000 to study the community’s language needs and compare services offered in other large cities.

Once completed, the department will establish a team to implement the plan and manage interpretation and translation requests. The city provides Spanish and American Sign Language interpretation for all City Council meetings, but will “expand its interpretation contracts to provide additional translation and interpretation capacity for the entire organization,” the city budget states.

Dominguez said he would also like that team to develop ways to improve the content of translations — to be more culturally relevant than simply grammatically correct.

“Like a lot of San Antonio, I’m originally from the [Rio Grande] Valley,” he said. “I use a lot of Spanglish.”

Six vacant city positions were redirected in the 2022 budget to create the new department, which includes three positions focused on language access, a director, a civil rights coordinator and a gender equity manager.

“I think if you look at our current tools [they are] focused on racial disparity and economic disparity,” Segovia said. “I want to make sure that we also look at gender inequality, particularly in this community where you have a real problem with domestic violence.”

Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) pushed for the addition of a civil rights coordinator to better enforce the Non-Discrimination Ordinance.

Dominguez hopes his department can become a one-stop-shop for others to get equity problems solved — instead of working within departmental silos.

“I want the department heads and everybody in the city to be able to recognize a [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] question when they see it and be able to know who to call,” he said. “When city dollars are spent equitably, I think the taxpayer gets the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck.”

Dominguez said he’ll likely apply to become the permanent director. While he has had to learn how to handle the financial and other responsibilities of running a department, he said he enjoys the day-to-day work of problem-solving.

“Catching people in lies [like attorneys are trained to do] is part of finding weakness,” he said. “This [job] is about finding a weak point in a system — finding a flaw in the logic and trying to shore that up. … That’s what I try to bring.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org