Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), who is one of 13 challengers to Taylor’s re-election bid, addressed issues pertaining to local nonprofit agencies in a forum Monday at the Oblate School of Theology.
The Nonprofit Council and Clarity Child Guidance Center organized the forum, where an audience of more than 120 people listened to Taylor and Nirenberg answer questions submitted by nonprofit professionals prior to the event. San Antonio Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia served as moderator.
According to a Nonprofit Council press release, Bexar County Democratic Chairman Manuel Medina, the other frontrunner mayoral candidate, was also invited to participate. Medina, however, did not confirm by the deadline, so his invitation was rescinded, the release stated.
Opening up the event, Taylor told the audience about her longstanding respect for the nonprofit industry. Earning a degree in urban planning, she said, helped her develop a deeper understanding of how nonprofit agencies facilitate social and community change.
As a graduate student, Taylor interned with the San Antonio Affordable Housing Association, a coalition of affordable housing groups. She then spent several years with the City’s Planning Department before working for Merced Housing Texas and serving on the boards of several nonprofit groups.
“I still passionately feel about what you bring to the community,” Taylor told the audience. “As mayor, I’m focused on connecting people to opportunity.”
Nirenberg said nonprofits have a vital role in serving a variety of individuals and organizations, adding that they devote themselves to socioeconomic issues that the City may not be able to fully address, such as an increasing affordability gap, drunk driving, and domestic abuse.
“If we don’t address these issues as a community, they will not be addressed,” he said.
A question submitted by the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind addressed how the City allocates funds to nonprofit agencies. More specifically, the query voiced concern over smaller, younger nonprofits getting lost in the bureaucratic shuffle after they apply for City funding.
Nirenberg repeated his call to reassess the City’s definition of a delegate agency – an organization that helps provide basic social services, such as assistance for victims of domestic violence and in workforce development.
In its budgeting process, the City prioritizes basic services – infrastructure, public safety, etc. – along with quality of life elements, such as parks and recreation and libraries, Nirenberg said. He acknowledged that the application could be streamlined, and that the City can help allocate much needed financial resources to nonprofits.
“We cannot allow the nonprofit community to fight over breadcrumbs,” he added.
Taylor said the City has made “incremental progress” in improving the way funds are allocated to nonprofit applicants, adding that she has pushed for a budgetary line item that would give a fairer shot to organizations that lack a track record of applying for and receiving City funds.
“I’d like for us to have some more dialogue on it,” she added.
While she and other City leaders recognize the importance of nonprofits in community, Taylor acknowledged that politics eventually play a role in who gets what – if any – City funds.
Robert Salcido, executive director of the Pride Center of San Antonio, asked how the City could foster an atmosphere of greater cultural inclusion. He posed the question in light of a recent incident where a San Antonio Spurs fan and self-professed Sikh was on the receiving end of an anti-Muslim insult hurled by another Spurs fan when leaving a game at the AT&T Center.
Nirenberg said the City’s and local leaders’ stance on cultural diversity and tolerance, as well as their response to such harassment, must serve as an example to the community. The City has to be consistent in enforcing its non-discrimination ordinance, he added, and its Diversity and Inclusion Office must champion proactive policies.
“We have to stand up for people who are considered ‘others’ in the community,” he said.
Taylor agreed that local leaders should always demonstrate that San Antonio is a welcoming, inclusive community. However, communication between community members is just as important, especially when cultural misunderstandings arise.
“But that doesn’t change people’s hearts,” Taylor said. “The one-to-one communication is what needs to happen.”
Another question was about undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities: While San Antonio is a diverse community, Taylor said, it has not “adopted a political label of being a sanctuary city.”
San Antonio police officers must refrain from inquiring about citizenship status when they detain people in order to foster positive relations between police and civilians, the mayor said.
“We want our citizens to feel safe when approaching police,” she added.
Nirenberg agreed that local police should focus on the fundamentals of their job – protecting the entire community – and not on enforcing federal immigration laws.
“We need to focus on making sure everyone who is here feels safe … and [has] a right to prosper in this community,” he added.
Other questions submitted pertained to how the City could better serve vulnerable communities who may be most affected by the federal and/or state government cutting specific funds or reducing services, such as health care, mental health, and literacy.
Nirenberg said the City must continue to do “what the City does well,” namely partner with organizations, such as CentroMed, to help serve low-income, medically vulnerable individuals.
If elected mayor, he added, he would push for more community-wide dialogue to encourage a more holistic approach to issues such as improved streets, drainage, transportation, public safety, and sustainable planning.
That way, the City could help its residents achieve better health outcomes.
Taylor encouraged more collaboration with nonprofit providers, so Bexar County can better serve its health- and economically vulnerable communities.
“It would also be good for [the City] to be good listeners,” Taylor said, referring to ways in which local leaders can be better advocates for such communities.
On a question about ensuring adequate public educational resources, Nirenberg said school superintendents should join policymakers in talks about more far-reaching growth issues, including public health, development, and transportation.
But Nirenberg also said he would press for consolidation of some public school districts, at least those that are similar to each other in terms of the communities they serve.
“You have 16 different levels of property valuations, 16 different levels of resources, 16 different levels of educational outcomes,” said Nirenberg. “We have school districts competing with each other for resources.”
Taylor opposes consolidation of school districts. Rather, she supports more collaboration with nonprofits and other organizations and corporate partners to explore how they can help provide adequate resources to educational facilities.
“All these school districts have many things and different needs,” she added.
Taylor spoke in favor of the City supporting more educational innovation, citing the creation of the CAST Tech High School as an example.
Answering a question on how faith and spirituality factors into the candidates’ lives and platforms, Nirenberg said religious and faith-based organizations have a significant role in serving the community.
Growing up in a Jewish and Catholic household had a profound impact on his outlook on life, he said. Nirenberg also recalled how local faith-based groups came together to denounce the acts of anti-Semitic vandalism that took place in San Antonio’s Jewish community in 2015.
“It taught me respect for the role of faith … and about the universality of religions,” Nirenberg said.
Taylor said she will continue to emphasize the role of the faith-based community, if re-elected.
She noted the My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio initiative as one way faith-based groups and other organizations have come together to address the issues of crime, incarceration, as well as educational and career opportunities involving young men of color.
An annual interfaith community gathering that her office launched in 2015, and the creation of a faith-based liaison at City Hall, demonstrate how the City can draw upon the resources of faith-based organizations, she added.
Taylor concluded that being a born-again Christian affects her life and her decision-making process: “I will not diminish the fact that it provides me personal strength.”