Feb 1, 2024 - News

San Antonio Council adopts code of conduct after scandals

Photo illustration of the San Antonio city hall with lines radiating from it.

Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of the City of San Antonio

The San Antonio City Council adopted an internal code of conduct Thursday in an 8-2 vote despite concerns from some members that its language is too vague and could be politically weaponized.

Why it matters: The code comes after three high-profile City Council scandals since the fall of 2022 led members to take votes censuring and expressing no confidence in colleagues.

  • Before those votes, some council members said the city didn't have clear guidelines for when to punish colleagues.

Context: An independent report found former District 1 Councilmember Mario Bravo violated workplace violence policy when he was overheard publicly berating a fellow councilmember in September 2022.

Details: The code lays out eight expectations for council members to behave professionally and with respect. It also outlines a process for complaints and enforcement should a member violate the code.

  • Nothing in the code explicitly addresses driving while intoxicated. But, depending on the case, the council could still address it under the code, city attorney Andy Segovia said.
  • "Councilmembers should avoid discussion of personalities and profane language, and refrain from personal attacks, verbal abuse or language that explicitly or implicitly threatens physical harm toward another person," the code reads.
  • It also prohibits intimate relationships with aides (unless the relationship began before employment) and requires disclosure of any relationships between council members and city staff.

Zoom in: After the city attorney reviews a complaint, a council majority will decide on any discipline, which could be a letter of reprimand, censure or a call for resignation.

The intrigue: Bravo spoke to the council Thursday as a member of the public opposed to the code.

  • He told his former colleagues he agrees they should meet a high standard of conduct but that the new code sets up "a separate legal system for future trials of your peers."

State of play: Progressive Councilmembers Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and Teri Castillo cast the only two votes against the code.

  • Castillo said the language was too vague and open to interpretation, and that censure has been used elsewhere to punish politicians who challenge the status quo.
  • She pointed to the Texas GOP's decision last year to censure Rep. Tony Gonzales for votes that split with the party.
  • Whyte voted for the code of conduct but agreed with Castillo that the language is vague.

What they're saying: Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who supports the code, said he was "totally perplexed" by Thursday's discussion.

  • "There should be nothing controversial here," Nirenberg said.
  • There's already an expectation of behavior when council members take their oaths of office, Nirenberg said. The code simply puts it in writing, he argued.

The bottom line: District 4 Councilmember Adriana Rocha Garcia has long been a proponent of a code of conduct.

  • "We will be able to change this as needed if we see that something is being weaponized in an irresponsible manner," she said.
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