Prop B paves the way for a mayor-council form of government

November 24, 2018

San Antonio voters spoke “loudly and clearly” on Nov. 6, according to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, regarding two out of the three propositions appearing on the recent ballot. I previously wrote in support of the passage of all three. In particular, Proposition B passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote, potentially moving San Antonio one step closer to a mayor-council system of government.

The adoption of Proposition B limits the tenure of San Antonio’s future city managers to eight years in office, as well as circumscribing compensation for the job to approximately $300,000 per annum.

Technically, this proposition does not affect current City Manager Sheryl Sculley, yet passage of Proposition B is an implicit denouncement of her reign and tacit demand for her dismissal. San Antonio voters expect her to leave soon and will hold Nirenberg and the City Council accountable if she does not.

In the eyes of the business community, Nirenberg demonstrated weakness and bad economic judgment by failing to even consider a bid for the2020 Republican National Convention. The convention would have resulted in an estimated $200 million in economic impact for San Antonio.

Whether or not you agree with that decision, in doing so, he alienated many key figures in the business community whose support he needs if he hopes to continue in his current office.

Then Nirenberg unsuccessfully became the figurehead and lightning rod for the Go Vote No campaign.

While the business community contributed millions of dollars to back the opposition campaign, many of those same business figures likely voted in favor of Proposition B. Such a large margin of votes in favor would not have been possible otherwise.

It’s logical that some of them would vote “yes” while contributing money to Go Vote No in an effort to hedge their bets against a mayor and city manager to whom they are ambivalent.

However, Mayor Nirenberg’s job as the principal elected figure in San Antonio is to lead this city and all of its residents.

Nevertheless, Nirenberg has thus far been a mere follower, a lapdog for the city manager, in order to plot his aspirational career in politics.

The problem with Nirenberg playing it safe now is that he’s already been weakened by these two fatal flaws (i.e., no bid on the RNC and leader of the failed Go Vote No campaign).

If he doesn’t follow the lead and the message of the voters, Nirenberg will lose his re- election bid. He’s lost the luxury of playing it safe if he wants to secure his next term. Nirenberg must make a bold move. The decision he ought to make is leading the effort to remove Sculley, following the expiration of her contract at the end of 2018.

While the mayor and council can choose to keep Sculley on, doing so would be at their collective political peril. Instead, they ought to use her ouster as an opportunity to move toward a mayor-council system of government.

The council-manager system of government with a powerful city manager was necessary when we didn’t compensate council members more than a few dollars per session. That payless, antiquated vestige of past eras reserved elected positions for only those who could already afford to occupy them. The council-manager system (without pay for mayor and council) relegated council and the mayor to positions analogous to unpaid board members of a company, vesting executive authority in the city manager herself.

In a mayor-council system, the mayor and council, who now receive salaries, could then exercise their inherent executive authority, and the position of city manager, if needed, becomes more ministerial and administrative. Under this latter system, we would certainly find the requisite talent to fulfill the city manager position, and that person would then truly work at the direction of the mayor and council. Even those who opposed Proposition B agree we now are unable to obtain the best talent for the city in a council-manager system.

In conclusion, Nirenberg has a choice: He can do nothing like he has been doing, play it “safe” politically, and procrastinate on the inevitable departure of Sculley. Meanwhile, the business community remains suspicious of his abilities, and voters await her ouster. Or he can be bold, cut his umbilical cord to Sculley on Dec. 31 when her contract expires and lead the effort for governmental reform in the city charter for our future: a mayor-council system of government.

What will the mayor choose to do, and how will the remainder of City Council react?

Blayne Tucker is a lawyer and small-business owner. He is the founder and president of the North St. Mary’s Business Owners Association, a board member of the Tobin Hill Community Association, and a former Tricentennial commissioner, appointed by then-Councilman Ron Nirenberg.

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