Friday marked a historic day in Bexar County as three women took their separate oaths of office. With masks on, Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1), Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3), and Constable Kathryn Brown (Pct. 4) swore to uphold the duties of their elected positions on the first day of the new year.
With Clay-Flores and DeBerry on the court, it will be the first time there has been more than one woman serving as county commissioner, while Brown is the first Black woman to serve as constable in Precinct 4.
At the county courthouse, the scene was quiet. Due to coronavirus precautions, the typical high energy and overflowing of well-wishers was replaced with a more modest gathering. A few of the new commissioners’ loved ones were in attendance, along with reporters and photographers documenting the day. Clay-Flores’ two older brothers, Isaias Clay-Flores and Jose Clay-Flores, her mother Rebeca Clay, and her niece Jenica Clay-Flores joined her for her swearing-in ceremony.
After being sworn in as the South Side’s new commissioner, Clay-Flores addressed reporters and those watching the livestream with vigor, her voice echoing in the sparsely-populated courtroom. She promised to uphold her campaign pledge of staying accessible and connected to her constituents, as well as to work toward paving the road for women who serve on Commissioners Court in the future.
“I was, frankly, disgusted that there were no women on the court and only two women in 100 years – and never a woman of color,” said Clay-Flores, who is Black and Latina. “My hope is that the work that I’m about to embark upon ensures that I may be the first, but not the last.”
Clay-Flores challenged incumbent commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez in the Democratic primary and ousted him in a runoff election. The political newcomer most recently worked as a special projects manager for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.
Her swearing-in was followed immediately by that of DeBerry, her new colleague in Precinct 3. DeBerry brought her children Scott Mejia and Madeleine Mejia, her sister Dana Orihel, and 93-year-old father Russell DeBerry to celebrate the occasion. She acknowledged the significance of her and Clay-Flores’ presence on the court and emphasized the importance of diversity in not only gender but race. DeBerry does not want her gender to define her, however.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to be known for being a woman on the court,” she said. “I want to be known for being a great commissioner and bringing a small business wheelhouse to the table. We’ll get things done.”
DeBerry last ran for office in 2009, when she was up against former mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro who ultimately won the mayoral election. She has since started and run public relations firm the DeBerry Group, which she said will undergo a “transition” with her new role in Bexar County. DeBerry declined to provide details Friday as to how her role with her business would change.
“There will be more details that are forthcoming,” she said. “Since I was elected there’s been a lot of work done not only with my transition on the court but also a transition team as far as my business is concerned. Rest assured, I have built a business and also reputation on being a very moral and a very ethical person, especially when it comes to business. I think the strategy that I have in place regarding the business will give that firewall of separation between me and the business and allowing the business to continue to handle [City of San Antonio] contracts.”
Later that day, Constable Kathryn Brown, the first Black woman to serve as Precinct 4 constable, took her own oath of office. Surrounded by friends, family, and her deputy constables in the Precinct 4 justice of the peace courtroom, Brown recounted her journey from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and surviving cancer twice.
“My medical struggles enabled me to embrace my internal strength, modesty, and courage,” she said. “I had the courage to complete 19 years with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. I have the modesty to never forget where I started from … this uniform does not define who we are, it’s who we are without this uniform that makes a difference. And the strength to lead with dignity, integrity, and pride for Precinct 4.”
Brown chose to wear a skirt with her uniform Friday – a nod not only to her femininity, but also to the former requirement that female law enforcement officers wear skirts, she said. She remains the only woman who works full-time in her office, as the 13 full-time deputy constables in Precinct 4 are men, according to Arthur Burford, captain of the precinct.
Commissioner Tommy Calvert, who also represents the county’s eastern precinct, introduced Brown on Friday and said her election fulfilled a dream of not only her own, but of her family and her community. Precinct 4 was a “pioneering” community, he said, as they elected the first female commissioner in 1991. Brown’s election helped push the community forward again.
“It is not just the work of the constable’s office, but it’s the work of making all of law enforcement a more inclusive place for women and women of color to add to the honorable work of protecting and serving,” he said.
Clay-Flores shared similar sentiments on Friday. There needs to be more work done before gender equality is achieved on Commissioners Court, she said, as three of the five seats are still held by men.
“We are still underrepresented,” she said. “The Commissioners Court has been a culture of ‘old boys network’ and it’s going to take some work on behalf of myself and Commissioner DeBerry as well as our other colleagues to make sure we are representing our community.”