The City of San Antonio has put grant applications to the FAA on hold while an investigation from the administration is ongoing.
More than 120 evacuees held for COVID-19 testing are being released from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and transported to the San Antonio International Airport where they will board flights or arrange ground transportation to their homes. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The City of San Antonio is waiting to submit its application for nearly $14 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration as the City complies with an investigation of City Council’s vote to remove Chick-fil-A from an airport concessions contract.

“In light of the FAA’s notification of a pending investigation we felt it was prudent to postpone FAA funding-related items until we have a better understanding of the scope of the investigation,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement Thursday.

The FAA’s Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation last week into complaints that the decision to remove the fast food restaurant violated a policy that prohibits discrimination based on religious creed. This came after State Attorney General Ken Paxton launched his own investigation into the decision, and the First Liberty Institute, a conservative nonprofit dedicated to preserving religious liberties, asked the federal government to investigate.

Airports or airport activities that receive funding are subject to the anti-discrimination policy, according to the letter from Michael Freilich, director of the office’s national external operations program.

On Thursday, Council was slated to approve a grant application for funds that would support two airfield improvement projects ($11.4 million) as well as funding for the development of strategic development plans ($2.5 million). Council also delayed consideration of a contract with another company to update a noise exposure map that involved FAA grants.

These are on pause until the City can identify impacts that the FAA investigation will have on current and future FAA grants, said Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras. “We are consulting with legal counsel,” he said. “We anticipate bringing those items back to Council for action soon.”

At a March City Council meeting, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) introduced a motion to approve a concessions contract with the requirement that Chick-fil-A be excluded from a list of potential airport restaurants because, he stated, he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

The contract passed 6-4, but the decision has since become a political issue in the mayor’s race, with Nirenberg and Brockhouse on opposite sides. Brockhouse has used his vote against the contract and Nirenberg’s vote to approve it to paint the mayor as someone who doesn’t value religious freedom, a stance that has gained the councilman support from conservative groups.

Nirenberg has maintained he voted for the amended contract because Chick-fil-A restaurants close on Sundays and he wanted travelers to have all vendor options available every day of the week.

“This FAA grant is free money,” Brockhouse said in a campaign news release Wednesday. “Ron’s poor leadership and bad decisions have made it so that we can’t even accept millions in free money.”

Via text message, Nirenberg called Brockhouse’s statement “more theater without substance.”

“Religion had nothing to do with the decisions regarding the airport,” he said. “The [FAA] complaint was made strictly for political reasons, and we are confident it will be resolved in our favor.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org