SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg and his challenger, city councilman Greg Brockhouse, met for their first debate in the KTSA Alamo Lounge Friday morning moderated by KTSA’s Trey Ware.
Nirenberg opened the debate stating that the city’s growth had stalled two years ago before he became mayor. He also lauded a booming local economy, city crime sitting at 30-year lows, the fastest growth of any city in the country and the doubling of resources to fix roads
Brockhouse discussed the need to talk about the future of San Antonio, the growing gap between city hall and the local residents, the need for more jobs with higher wages, and the need for lower property taxes and reduced city fees. He also said Nirenberg’s leadership has become stale and said the stalled growth the mayor had mentioned before his tenure is still stalled through his tenure.
WHY ARE YOU RIGHT FOR THE JOB
Nirenberg responded that “the proof is in the pudding.” He said the city is better at addressing neighborhood concerns, as well as street maintenance issues and reducing economic segregation. He called out Brockhouse for being against all those measures.
Brockhouse said he was okay being the one of the few votes that runs against the grain. He also stated he often voted against some of the measures the mayor lauded because those measures brought no benefit to the district he served: District 6. The councilman then stated the current mayor does not understand San Antonio because he is not from San Antonio.
Nirenberg retorted that Brockhouse has a demonstrated lack of economics, noting that everyone looking for a job in San Antonio can find one.
Brockhouse countered that the San Antonio Express-News stated the mayor only brought 11,000 jobs to the city after promising 70,000 during his term. He also said the current mayor thinks he has all the answers, but argued the people actually have all the answers.
The city council voted Thursday to approve a new seven-year contract with a new contractor that brings more local brands like Smoke Shack and Sip to San Antonio International Airport, but explicitly excluded Chick-fil-A after city staff sought to include it.
Brockhouse stated he was one of the four city council members who voted against it because he said Nirenberg allowed the contract process to be destroyed and it has been forced to restart because of the vote. The councilman stated it was wrong for the council to materially change the contract over faith issues at the last minute. He finished his comment by saying the city should be dreaming big not not pushing people, or brands, away from the city.
Nirenberg said Chick-fil-A was not part of the original deal and the staff switched in the popular chicken chain. He argued it was bad that the chain was closed on Sundays, which is commonly the most popular day of the week for travel at the airport. The mayor stated there are lots of reason why city staff needs to be thoughtful about the deal.
The councilman countered that he sees being closed on Sundays as being honorable. The city cannot change deals last minute and the council changed the deal again on the dais.
The mayor responded the council was right in making sure the staff had discretion on the matter to make changes when negotiating the deal. He said Thursday’s vote to approve the overall deal with amendments meant no policy change to the contract itself.
WHY SHOULD A VOTER FROM THE WEST SIDE VOTE FOR YOU?
The mayor was the first to respond and stated the city council has stood united in making sure everyone is treated fairly and services are provided equally to everyone. Nirenberg stated Brockhouse has stood in the way of those efforts.
Brockhouse responded that Nirenberg has never been to Old U.S. Highway 90 on the West Side. The challenger said he would not push for grand-scale change, but make San Antonio the best version of who we are. He said the city is missing the chances for better wages. He finished by stating he the city council should not be trying to make itself more like Portland, Austin and Boston.
WHY ARE YOU PANDERING TO SPECIAL GROUPS IN OUR CITY?
Brockhouse responded to the KTSA listener’s question by stating his special interest is the residents of the city and his district — and in neighborhoods. He noted he would rather be loyal to police officers and firefighters than to now-former city manager Sheryl Sculley or former mayor Phil Hardberger.
Nirenberg responded, noting Brockhouse’s persistence that city council does not give District 6 the same resources and attention as it does other parts of town, that the councilman’s claims are “patently false.” He stated the council made sure the district has received more than enough resources to meet its needs. He also stated that Brockhouse received $478,000 from the fire union.
The councilman stated that he loves police and fire. He stated he did marketing and contracting work and fought for the fire department as one of his clients.
The mayor snapped back that Brockhouse got $478,000 in his pocket to be in the fire union’s pocket. He went further and stated Brockhouse has been at the front in creating an impasse with the union as the city tries to work out a new collective bargaining agreement. Nirenberg says Brockhouse “has been a puppet since day 1.”
IMPROVING LOW-INCOME HOUSING
Brockhouse said the city needs to consider the costs of building in San Antonio, saying it has become too expensive to build within the city limits. He said he wants to focus on improving wages and jobs in the city, plus encourage builders to come back into the city. Brockhouse said Nirenberg has given incentives for downtown, but more of a push should be given to the whole city.
Nirenberg said he had no idea what the councilman said. He said Brockhouse argued against abatements, then for. The mayor said a million people are coming to the area, creating a housing supply imbalance. Nirenberg said Brockhouse has voted to do nothing to improving the housing situation, saying San Antonio would end up being like Seattle or Los Angeles. The mayor said the city needs to build homes that people can actually afford.
CLOSED DOOR MEETINGS
Nirenberg stated that some matters the city council discusses need to be handled in executive session. For public disclosure, the mayor argued that the resident’s representatives — the council members — should have be present in those meetings to give the people a voice.
Brockhouse countered that happy to not break the law, choosing to instead not attend the executive sessions. He stated the city attorney briefs him on what was discussed in the meetings after the fact. He said the council can talk in public, but it must vote in public on issues like declining to host the Republican National Convention or deciding Sculley’s bonus.
The mayor said if council broke the law, then Brockhouse would also be in trouble since he was in the meeting regarding the Republican National Convention. Nirenberg said the idea of running organizations out of San Antonio over politics is laughable. He said he takes responsibility seriously and was not willing to put millions on the line to being the convention to the city.
The councilman said the mayor has a great record of outsourcing leadership. He argued the mayor and council should be leading and directing city staff, not be led by that staff.
BROCKHOUSE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CLAIMS
The San Antonio Express-News this week reported about domestic violence reports involving Greg Brockhouse.
Brockhouse refuted the Express-News’ claims. He further stated that he would not use the debate platform to bab-mouth his ex-wife, but stated his current wife will be putting out her own statement soon. He also said the story’s author, Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff, is a political tool and Nirenberg, along with others in city government, feed him information to leak like this.
Nirenberg stated Brockhouse is not the victim. He said it raises serious questions about the councilman’s ability to serve, especially with domestic violence being a big problem in San Antonio.
Brockhouse countered, stating he was the one who filed the report and that he was the one who was attacked. “Whatever happened happened, but I filed the report. I’m the complainant.”
The mayor then said the councilman was the only one talking about there story and that there were two reports that Brockhouse needed to explain. He also told Brockhouse, “Do not play the victim.”
The councilman said he never said he was playing the victim and told Nirenberg that he needed to be careful. He said Nirenberg was trying to drag family into the political fray.
BOND RATING, SPENDING
Nirenberg said he is representing the whole city, not the unions, and the city will work out a fair, but responsible deal for the firefighters. He stated there is not unlimited money and that Brockhouse lacks financial discipline.
Brockhouse said the city should be concerned about more than just the city’s bond rating — it should be concerned about the lack of the RNC and other issues. He said the rating change by Fitch had no effect on the city’s debt load. Brockhouse also stated the rate change was specifically tied a change in the way the city negotiates with the fire union. He rhetorically asked if the city is borrowing too much. He then said the city’s policies are driving business out of the city.
The mayor said the councilman was lying about the rating and that the rating cut is specifically tied to Prop C. He said Brockhouse championed for Prop C and single-handedly dropped the city’s bond rating.
The councilman followed up, saying the mayor ignored the fact it was the voted who approved Prop C.
Brockhouse said mental health becomes a top priority issue to address when he takes office on June 1st. The city’s police department is top notch in handling mental health.
Nirenberg said his goal is to continue making San Antonio the gold standard in mental health care. He said he has also improved access to city council and staff, making over how public meetings are handled and said residents must elect people who do not lie to them.
CLIMATE ACTION AND ADAPTATION PLAN
Nirenberg said the plan recognizes that the climate is changing. CAAP is a road map on how to deal with the future while maintaining the economy. He stated there are no statutes or mandates, but there is a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Brockhouse said he agreed we need a better planet, but CAAP is not what the mayor described. The councilman called it a potential spending plan with each part of it having a secret dollar sign attached to it. He said it will run local companies like Valero out of town. He said the technology continues to get better and the market takes care of itself without the need for the city to get involved. Brockhouse said Nirenberg doesn’t say there are a bunch of dollar signs behind each effort, but we don’t know the costs.
Nirenberg countered that the entire argument put forward by Brockhouse was just one big contradictions.
Brockhouse said we need to know more and everything about the plan to give the public a chance to fully evaluate it.
Nirenberg said the city is currently working on a more comprehensive plan to address affordable housing and homelessness. He said the city needs to recognize homelessness is a symptom and not a cause. The city will be targeting veterans with a goal of ending veteran homelessness.
Brockhouse said District 6 has been leading the way on fixing homelessness. A big assistance would come from the faith community, which Brockhouse said Nirenberg does not meet with.
COST OF LIVING AND TAXES
Nirenberg said he, too, struggles with increasing property taxes, with his own bill climbing over 50 percent. He said he has been working with the stated and school districts to find ways to lower taxes. He also noted San Antonio has a strong senior tax exemption and is working to correct the appraisals process. The mayor said the biggest tax increases are actually coming from school districts and not the city.
Brockhouse said Nirenberg is all a bunch of talk, but no action. He said he and Councilman Clayton Perry have fought to lower the tax rate. Brockhouse also said BCAD needs to be fixed and the city needs to budget better. He said Nirenberg voted twice against a homestead tax exemption.
The mayor countered that he is the only candidate who has actually passed a tax rate reduction. He said Brockhouse has not given any plan for relief, while the rest of the council is working on that effort. Nirenberg also noted that he actually pays taxes, inferring Brockhouse doesn’t.
Brockhouse said Nirenberg has voted against the recent efforts to lower taxes and fees.
The mayor, accusing the councilman of having loose financial standards when it comes to compensating first responders, stated that unless you have a strong standing of financial discipline, the whole conversation is moot.
KTSA’s Trey Ware followed up on a point Nirenberg raised regarding paying property taxes, Brockhouse said he rents so he could have been closer to his former employer.
Brockhouse stated that the city is working to revamp the bike master plan and has learned a lot about the process. He stated that a leader learns a lot in any process they undertake.
Nirenberg said Brockhouse is against committee yet brings up their benefit. He said efforts like ConnectSA are working to make it easier to get around the city, including a vote in 2020 on mass transit.