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San Antonio City Council District 9 Runoff Election 2021

Note: Names are listed in order of appearance on the ballot according to the city clerks' office. Answers from candidates have not been edited or fact-checked.

For TPR's full Voter Guide, click here.

To listen to their candidate forum on TPR's "The Source":

District 9 incumbent John Courage faces his most successful primary challenger, Patrick Von Dohlen, in the June 5 runoff election.

*Denotes that the candidate did not respond to TPR's runoff candidate survey. These are the answers provided to TPR's original survey, which was sent to candidates in April.

**Denotes that the candidate did not respond to either TPR survey.

Patrick Von Dohlen*

Q: What is your experience with city government? For instance, have you ever served on a city board or commission?

A: I have been a community advocate for over twenty years and, during that time, have led many community efforts to stop taxpayer waste and to increase transparency at city hall including countless hours spent helping pass ordinances that protect residential neighborhoods.

Q: What is an issue relevant to your specific district that you would like to change or address?

A: As an investment adviser, I believe the city’s $6.4B debt is one of the most unsettling issues facing residents. This debt limits our city’s ability to provide core services to residents citywide and in D9, especially when it comes to police protection and infrastructure. Consequently, when I am elected, I will work to encourage the city to do the following:

A. Avoid accumulating unnecessary debt --- look for efficiency opportunities

B. Avoid spending more revenue than it receives from taxpayers

C. Create additional revenue streams without new government mandates or taxes

D. Work toward property owner tax relief to assist people with escalating property values instead of creating social welfare mitigation funds

E. Use this time of growth to minimize the city debt placed on the backs of taxpayers

F. Avoid putting all of our “eggs in one basket” by going “carbon neutral” for vehicles or for buildings. (We need to keep our energy sources diversified.)

G. Utilize and encourage technological development to promote more efficient and cleaner systems.

H. Promote economic development and job growth by encouraging traditional energy sectors and energy industries to prosper. San Antonio is a great place to live, work and flourish because we value the contributions of a thriving economy.

Q: If you are challenging an incumbent, why do you feel there needs to be a change in leadership and why are you the right person for that change?

A: I believe D9 residents lack a councilman who consistently works in favor of common-sense strategies. Quality of life issues like small business development, infrastructure and public safety have all taken a back seat to the current councilman’s progressive agenda. In fact, I believe the city council has become progressively agenda-driven and are pushing many issues they have no business addressing. D9 is not getting its equal portion of district proceeds. These distractions are leading our city away from core services and are adding an exorbitant tax burden on residents. We cannot sustain this experiment in our local government and need to work toward smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.

Q: Voters will decide on Proposition B this May — a potential repeal of collective bargaining rights for the San Antonio Police Officers Association. Do you support repealing collective bargaining or do you believe it should remain in place?

A: I fully support all our brave first responders and have been actively campaigning against Prop B. I will vote AGAINST Prop B on the May ballot because police officers have the right to freely associate and collectively bargain in good faith. This proposition, if passed, would be a terrible blow to our officers who seek to serve our community. Our goal should be to continue to recruit, train and retain quality officers so they may protect and serve us with the best equipment available.

Q: Many residents have called for significant discipline reform for San Antonio Police officers in contract negotiations which are being debated right now between the city and the police union. What changes or reform — if any — would you like to see?

A: The San Antonio Police Department is one of the finest departments in the country. In fact, they have been recognized as such as recently as 2015. The groups trying to discredit this department are doing so under the guise of reform and are primarily interested in defunding police. Am I for accountability in this department? Absolutely, no police department is perfect and we should strive toward a record that adequately recruits, trains and retains quality officers. Police officers need collective bargaining however in order to do so.

I am also for accountability of City Council and will vote AGAINST Prop A.

Q: Voters passed the Ready to Work SA initiative in November which creates funding for job training and support services like childcare for people to seek new trades — especially for those who lost their job in the pandemic — using a sales tax for the next five years. Do you feel this was the right approach to addressing not only job losses but to also grow the talent pool for industries in San Antonio?

A: No, I don’t feel this was the right approach to job losses. I would have voted against this initiative. We need to re-open and keep open the free market.

The city’s main objective should be to do two things very well: providing core services and protecting our residents. This means the city should strive to streamline a process that collects our trash, ensures our sewage is properly collected and efficiently runs recycling programs. The city should encourage our residents to be proactive in helping them do these tasks.

Our city should NOT be involved in massive government projects like job training and support services. That is the job of other entities including the thousands of worthy non-profit organizations and faith-based communities in our city. They can do this job much more efficiently and prudently than the city can, under the US and Texas constitutions, not the city charter.

Q: What changes — if any — do you feel are needed at CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System following the winter storm?

A: CPS Energy and SAWS are currently owned and managed by the City of San Antonio. I believe this places an overwhelming amount of power and influence in the hands of the Mayor and City Council. The Boards of these two entities are also full of unelected members who have no accountability to the rate payers and citizens of San Antonio. Their only job is to abide by the rules set by City Council. This needs to change.

These entities need to be audited. Board members who failed to be prepared for the Winter Storm should be held accountable. Residents should insist these entities are committed fully to service with accountability and transparency.

We need to repeal the Paris Climate Accord resolution and the CAAP. During the Winter Storm, people were freezing and some froze to death because the Deely Coal Plant wasn’t online as it should have been. Moreover, no power to SAWS pumps meant no water to people either. This is unacceptable.

Q: What is one policy or priority that you would introduce as a council consideration request that has not already been submitted or considered?

A: I would introduce a CCR to amend the referendum initiative under the City Charter that would allow citizens to reasonably respond to a bad vote by city council. Currently, if city council makes a bad or an unpopular vote, residents would only have 40 days to gather over 105,000 signatures in order to have the issue placed on a ballot. This is unreasonable requirement that is unfair to ordinary citizens.

My CCR would propose that any bad vote of the last regular city election by city council could be challenged by residents who could gather 10% of the electorate or 20,000 signatures, whichever is greater, in 90 days. This is far more reasonable and would increase the accountability and transparency of our local government.

John Courage

Q: What is your current occupation? How long have you worked in this profession?

A: City councilman District 9

Q: How long have you lived in San Antonio and in your council district?

A: 45 years San Antonio / 24 years D9

Q: What experience do you have with the City of San Antonio? Boards, Commissions, Appointments?

A: Served on the San Antonio Literacy Council in 1990’s, currently serve on the San Antonio Education Partnership Board, BioMed SA Board, Chair of the Council Audit and Accountability Committee, member Council Planning and Development Committee, member Council Innovation and Technology Committee. Member City Governance Committee, member council Culture and Neighborhood Services committee, member San Antono Housing Trust PFC/FC Board.

Q: Do you have any other government experience? Previous offices held?

A: Elected as Trustee to the ACCD Board, formerly Bexar county Junior College Board (1980)

Q: Proposition B failed by an incredibly narrow margin. This seems to indicate a large share of voters do want to see change and reform in discipline for police officers. While the city negotiators and the San Antonio Police Officers Association will decide on contract terms, it will be the City Council and union membership that ultimately approves it. Do you believe there needs to be significant change in the San Antonio Police Department? What reforms do you want to see in the next contract?

A: There are several provisions of the current City/ SAPOA Police contract that create barriers for the Police Chief to provide and enforce meaningful and effective consequences and discipline on police officers whose conduct or actions violate policies and procedures as determined by the Chief. While all officers are entitled to and deserve due process, that should not override facts and findings. The current Arbitration provision is one that needs a major overhaul as it seriously dilutes the Chiefs authority when it comes to enforcing the discipline consequences he has enacted.

Q: San Antonio has its Emergency Housing Assistance Program. While it has helped 33,000 households with an average of $2,700 each, it has limited funding and after September there is not a dedicated funding source for it. Should this program be continued after the pandemic as a lifeline for struggling residents?

A: The EHAP program remains a valuable tool to prevent families from being evicted and becoming homelesd while at the same time putting payments for past due rents directly into the hands of the rental property owners which benefits both tenant and property owner. There now are additional State and Federal dollars recently set aside to continue helping struggling residents. This program should be continued till the end of this year.

Q: With eviction moratoriums ending, there could be a wave of evictions for people who fell behind during the pandemic even with assistance. What do you propose the city could do to get ahead of a potential eviction tsunami?

A: The continuing delivery of rental assistance through the EHAP Emergency Housing Assistance Program and state of Texas Rent Relief Program should help reduce potential evictions. At the same time we need to assist residents through the SA JOBS program to upgrade their skills to find meaningful employment to establish financial stability and ensure the security of their housing.

Q: CPS Energy is owed more than $100 million from more than 170,000 accounts that are more than 30 days past due. CPS Energy plans to resume disconnections for non-payment in the coming months. Do you support CPS Energy resuming disconnections and what do believe should be done about the overdue accounts?

A: I think CPS Energy should require that residents that have been unable or unwilling to pay their energy bills resume paying for their energy. I think that requirement needs to include reasonable processes that recognizes because of the pandemic, many customers may still have significant barriers to make the total payments each month. At the same time a reasonable process needs to be established to enable people to repay their arrears over time with sensible, reasonable, repayment plan options. Another consideration is that the City has funding for utility assistance that people having financial hardships should be utilizing to help pay their energy bills. If with such processes available some people refuse to seek assistance, pay or work out a repayment plan, then their energy should be disconnected.

Q: San Antonio’s City budget is expected to be balanced for 2022. However, the next four years after — from 2023 to 2026 — see a combined projected deficit of $147 million as cuts made during the pandemic are restored starting this October. The new city council will decide on the 2022 and 2023 budgets. There will be some help from the American Recovery Plan, but the impact it will have is not clear. What do you feel the city should do to address the potential deficits?

A: The City council made significant cuts, reductions and modifications last year to create a balanced financial basis to continue to provide the services needed and demanded by our citizens. We should maintain that same level of financial balance and provision of city services and not begin considering any significant service expansion or new major project initiatives until our revenue rebounds and stabilized. The $326 million American Recovery Plan funding may be able to provide that financial rebound and stability, but that remains to be determined.

Q: The City will ask voters to approve a new bond package in 2022. This bond could reach close to $1 billion. The current 2017-2022 bond is $850 million. The bonds in the past have typically focused on infrastructure and major projects that the city would not otherwise have funded in the general fund budget. What are some major projects that you believe need immediate attention in the upcoming bond? Please consider projects outside of the normal street repair and drainage issue unless you believe that there is a road or flood project that needs considerable updates that have gone ignored for too long.

A: Our city is beginning to experience a serious housing affordability problem. Whether it is due to rising new home costs, rising home tax valuations, gentrification or poor existing housing stock, it is becoming more unaffordable to buy, own, or rent a safe, secure, efficient residence. The recent Charter change with the passage of Proposition A on May 1 by the voters, provides the citizens the opportunity to make housing affordability a new component for consideration in the 2022 City Bond proposal.

Q: What is an issue in your council district that you feel needs city intervention that other council districts may not experience. What would you propose to fix that issue?

A: Increasing Airport/airplane noise levels are disturbing and disruptive to the peace and safety of thousands of District 9 residents that live near or around our international airport. Strict adherence to predetermined flight takeoff and landing patterns must be more stringently enforced and additional noise level evaluations and potential noise mitigation efforts must be employed to remediate the problem. City Council and SAT Airport staff must resolve this problem in partnership with airlines and the FAA.

Q: What do you appreciate most about your council district?

A: The willingness of the residents to roll up their sleeves and get involved with efforts to work collaboratively on neighborhood and community needs, problems, and concerns.

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