SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — San Antonio city councilman Greg Brockhouse is accusing City Manager Sheryl Sculley and the mayor’s office of inappropriately leaking internal documents to the Rivard Report for a “hit piece” on an applicant for a vacant city council seat.
And reporters aren’t happy with what Brockhouse had to say.
The subject is Dereck Hillyer, a firefighter in favor of the recently passed city charter amendments and is looking to replace William “Cruz” Shaw in the District 2 city council seat.
Brockhouse said in a news conference that he alleges Sculley conspired with Robert Rivard of the Rivard Report to circumvent the open records process to get an internal document featuring the ‘low-lights’ of Hillyer’s candidacy to replace Shaw and then use that information for an article attacking his qualifications to be on the council.
“For the record, I have not talked to Mr. Hillyer about any of this,” Brockhouse stated Tuesday, noting that he has no knowledge or interaction with him. “I guess Mr. Rivard lives in the business of speculation and tried to create some puppet-master scenario here, so I’m answering him directly by saying ‘Where did you get this information?'”
Brockhouse said he requested answers on the matter from city attorney Andy Segovia, city public information officer Jeff Coyle, the city manager and Mayor Ron Nirenberg about who compiled the information.
“Mind you, a lot of this is releasable to the public, but it’s how it’s released that matters first,” the councilman said.
He was able to come up with the following timeline:
- The District 6 councilman said that deputy city manager Erik Walsh and San Antonio fire chief Charles Hood became aware of Hillyer’s potential candidacy during the holiday break.
- During that break, Walsh requested background and personnel information on Hillyer — as is typical in a process like this — for potential questions when he was considered for appointment. Brockhouse says this was intended to be purely an internal document for only the city council to consider.
- San Antonio Express-News reporter Josh Baugh and Rivard Report reporter Iris Dimmick filed open records requests for any information on Hillyer’s personnel records last Wednesday and Thursday. The city did not formally respond to their requests until Monday.
- Some time between Thursday and Friday, Robert Rivard — the publisher of the Rivard Report — made an informal request to either the city manager or to the mayor for the information. Brockhouse said only the mayor and city manager had that document. Segovia told Brockhouse that Sculley provided the document directly to Rivard.
- Within 24 hours, “Mr. Rivard released a hit piece on Dereck Hillyer and the firefighters”.
“Everybody who is in the press — I don’t care who you are, TPR, the Express-News, doesn’t make a difference — you should find it egregious that there are pending open records requests — pending requests — and another member of the media is able utilize personal relationships to obtain information outside of the open records process,” Brockhouse sternly declared.
The city councilman said the actions were a violation of the open records process since two reporters had pending open records requests, yet the city manager chose to provide those documents not them, but to a third-party instead.
He also said that it is unfair to Hillyer that someone already has a ‘hit piece’ out against him before any of the candidates had the opportunity to speak before the city council.
“Let’s be clear: Bob Rivard and Sheryl Sculley did not want Dereck Hillyer on this council. Why? Because he’s a firefighter and he supported the charter amendments,” Brockhouse opined. He added it’s not fair that only one of these candidates instead of all 13 are under this scrutiny.
“Members of the media and a lot of us have often joked that the city manager controlled media flow and information. She had her favorites, she had who she dealt with. This is proof — this has been verified by the city attorney.”
One thing Brockhouse said he didn’t know for sure was who Rivard asked first for the information — whether he directly asked Sculley or asked Nirenberg.
The councilman said Nirenberg was using the same information to give to people in the District 2 community saying that Hillyer may be disqualified for the seat.
“I am calling for an immediate suspension of all business, marketing and advertising relationships with the Rivard Report. They received city funding for marketing and other items. To me, that needs to end until these inappropriate relationships are identified and stopped between Robert Rivard and the city manager and/or the mayor,” Brockhouse continued at his news event.
He also wants to know to what extend the city manager or the mayor have been wrongly slipping information to Rivard.
Brockhouse wants every open records request to be publicly displayed to show the progress of that request being fulfilled.
“What’s kind of crazy is Iris, one of Bob’s own reporters had an open records request in and Bob backdoor relationship to get data to write his own piece,” the elected official said.
Brockhouse also wants the District 2 appointment process to be suspended one week, saying it is unfair to give all the candidates three minutes to discuss their qualification in the midst of this concern.
“Sheryl Sculley should be suspended until we can determine how many times she has manipulated the press or the process with regards to this appointment and regards to wherever other things she has done where she has taken sensitive information and leaked it out.”
Some reporters at the event — notably two Express-News reporters — did not see eye-to-eye with Brockhouse’s issue.
In response to a question from Baugh, Brockhouse said, “Political leaks happen all the time. But what concerned me about this the most was that there were two pending open record requests, so there was clearly somebody — two media members — trying to obtain this and the city manager took the personal preference and delivered it to a known friend, who has an extensive relationship with the city manager — Robert Rivard does — and then he took that information and wrote a hit piece on it. It exceeds the process because we knew there were open record requests available. Why was that information not given? So, I’d ask you Josh, did you receive the documents yourself?”
“Uh, on Monday night,” the reporter responded.
“Monday night, you received it,” Brockhouse said back. “It had already been compiled for a couple of weeks at that point. Bob Rivard had already posted it and you had not received it. That to me is a violation of basic free press and ethics. You want to talk about people talking fake news? This is fake news.”
Then Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff chimed in, saying he doesn’t see how an opinion writer using information from an inside source is considered corruption.
Brockhouse responded to him saying the government should be open to the press and public figures should not be picking favorites.
Chasnoff countered that Rivard is a member of the media and received factual information from the government.
“Sheryl Sculley — her charge is to deal with policy. Her charge is to enact our guidance,” Brockhouse stated. “The problem is she stepped into a political fight and that’s another issue I have with it. If she is dirtying up the reputation — she’s putting that information, ceding it to a known reporter who is going to write a hit piece — because the hit piece came out, within 24 hours, here comes the hit piece — she has then stepped her toe into the political side. It’s none of her business to give that information on anything to do with the appointment process. She doesn’t have that right. That is a political process that she needs to remove herself from.”
A Texas Public Radio reporter also tried to get into the fray with Brockhouse, but was drowned out by the print reporters arguing with the councilman.
The city government simply responded with the correspondence Brockhouse had with the city attorney.
“The media requested and received factually releasable information about a City employee,” Jeff Coyle, director of Government & Public Affairs, told KTSA News in a statement.
“I wish Councilman Brockhouse cared as much about a well-informed public and the competency of City Council candidates as he does about protecting his fire union cronies,” said Robert Rivard, editor & publisher of the Rivard Report. “The aim of my weekly column is to inform and connect engaged citizens in San Antonio, and my my most recent column showed how utterly unqualified Dereck Hillyer is to pursue appointment by City Council to the vacant District 2 seat. Councilman Brockhouse is more interested in curbing a free press than facing the truth about the union’s hand-picked candidate. ”
Updated to include comments and documents from the City of San Antonio and Rivard’s response to the councilman. Additional reporting by KTSA’s Don Morgan.