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New Committee Formed To Help Reduce Ethical Conflicts In City Contracts

Ryan Loyd
TPR News

In a memo to the San Antonio City Council and city staff, Mayor Julián Castro announced the appointments of the council to the various council sub-committees. Each committee hears issues before they reach the full city council.

The memo included the announcement of a new committee called the High Profile Contracts Accountability, which will check over high-profile contracts and monitor vendor performance on those contracts.

The addition of an ethics-based committee is a reinforcement by Castro in light of recent ethics lapses inside City Hall.

Last year, former Deputy City Manager Pat DiGiovanni was in the middle of what he labeled a misunderstanding when he helped negotiate the multi-million dollar convention center expansion project.

At the same time DiGiovanni was in talks about a new job with Centro Partnership, which has a focus of creating a vibrant downtown, and David Zachry, who is a board member at Centro, owns the construction company who won the joint bid to expand the convention center.

In April, the city council had negotiated and voted on a deal that would build a new branch library in Elisa Chan’s District 9. But she owns land near the site, a fact that did not arise until later even though city staff working on the deal knew it.

The council, including District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, gave Capital Improvements Management Services director Mike Frisbie a tongue-lashing during a council meeting.

"I can understand a slip by one person, or two people, or three people. I think the number of people who were aware of this particular situation and didn't tell us is larger than I'm comfortable with," Bernal said.

Frisbie admitted the information should have been given to the council.

"Mayor and Council, in hindsight, we should have disclosed this information, clearly,” said Frisbie.

Bernal will chair the new committee, largely borne out of a strategy to strengthen the ethics code at City Hall.

"The council needs to play a larger role in the development of contracts and watching them evolve and making sure that we're all on the same page – the city staff, the city attorney, the applicants," said Bernal.

The civil rights attorney has a background in fighting for equality and helping further community cohesiveness, but Bernal said the new committee encompasses the nature of his district.

"District 1 reaches all the way up close to the airport, you've got tremendous economic activity downtown, you've got emerging areas like the Pearl area," he said. "I think that there's so many different things that happen in District 1 that it's a very, very good preparation for something like this committee because you've sort of seen it all and you're prepared to deal with it all."

Asked if he feels pressure to now be on top of any potential conflicts before they reach the council, or to iron out the kinks 100 percent of the time, Bernal said there could be.

"But that's true with any committee," he said. "Any committee that deals with anything that's high profile or potentially controversial or that large, they're going to get a lot of attention. This committee is no different."

In May, the council also voted to increase ethical standards by creating a Compliance Auditor position that will work under the Ethics Review Board. The position alters the duties of the City Attorney.

The council also agreed that an ethics training program could mitigate ethical lapses. Changes regarding staff and training take effect at the start of the city’s new fiscal year, which is in October.

Members of the new High Profile Contracts Accountability Committee include District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez, and District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña.