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Voting sites, funding for classical performances top commissioners agenda

Bexar County Courthouse
Brian Kirkpatrick
Bexar County Courthouse

Bexar County has lost a second lawsuit filed against it by voting rights advocates, meaning it must still create 388 polling sites for the November 8th elections, a subject raised during Tuesday's county commissioners meeting.

The county currently has planned 259 voting sites, which a state district judge on Monday ruled is too few under state election laws.

County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, who has long been pushing Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen to create more polling sites, praised the Texas Organizing Project for its court victory during the commissioner's meeting.

"Thanks for suing the county and congratulations on the victory," Calvert told members of TOP who appeared before commissioners on Tuesday. Calvert previously predicted Calvert would be sued if the number of polling sites was not increased.

Calvert at a minimum wanted to see 302 polling sites, a number set by a state district judge in a previous successful suit against the county to boost voting sites.

Callanen has been unable to convince the commissioners or the courts the 259 "vote anywhere" sites work just as well as dozens of additional new sites would.

In other action, members of the San Antonio Philharmonic showed up at commissioners court to protest their approval of a $300,000 grant for the Classical Music Institute, resident company of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

Union members of the philharmonic, which consists of former members of the bankrupt San Antonio Symphony, told commissioners the institute cannot provide the world-class performances or education outreach it can. They asked commissioners to instead approve the grant for them.

County Judge Nelson Wolff praised the work of the institute and urged the philharmonic, also called "SA Phil," to present the court with its own request for funding.

"We never received any request for funding nor what that would go toward. What the effort would be of the philharmonic," he said. "I look forward to receiving a request."

Commissioners approved the grant for the institute. Wolff said the county needed the work of both organizations.

Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores said exposing children to classical music can help them heal from trauma, like the domestic violence she witnessed in her own childhood home.

"An escape for me was in 5th grade at my SAISD inner city school, taking my violin classes," she said.

In other action, commissioners:

  • Allocated $75 million of federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. The county hospital district will receive $40 million for new facilities, including a county public health headquarters near Texas A&M-San Antonio on the deep South Side. $25 million will go towards 130 county mental health beds and facilities. The San Antonio Independent School District received $5 million to boost mental health services at its middle and high schools for both students and their families. It's the first of five districts that will receive similar funding. Lifetime Recovery received $4 million for 60 beds to treat women for substance use.
  • Approved $15 million dollars for restoration and design of the San Pedro, Alazán, Apache, and Martinez Creeks on the West Side.
  • Approved a proposal to send the county's economic and community development director, David Marquez, to Japan on an investment mission.
  • Approved a $226,000 study using ARPA funds to see how efficiently the local court system is processing domestic violence cases, which shot up during the pandemic. The county's director of the office of criminal justice, Mike Lozito, told commissioners their recent funding and staffing increases to the courts has seen a backlog of 5,106 domestic cases, reduced by 50% in the past six months.
  • Endorsed a bond vote to increase security on school campuses in the Judson Independent School District. District representatives told commissioners the district grew by 500 students last year and 1,400 this year.