San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro appears to have brazenly violated the City Charter last week. As did Mayor Phil Hardberger before him. And almost certainly several mayors before them.
And I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the Charter I have a problem with.
The provision of the City Charter they violated is Section 47.
Members of the council shall not direct or request the city manager or any of his subordinates to appoint to or remove from office or employment, or in any manner take part in the appointment or removal of officers or employees in the administrative service of the city….
The Charter makes any infraction a serious matter.
It says any violations “shall constitute official misconduct” and can lead to removal from office by a two-thirds vote of the council.
One thing you need to understand about our 60-year-old Charter: It was part of a national movement that wanted to fight corruption and inefficiency by trying to take politics out of City Hall.
The Charter provides for a City Council that is part-time and paid practically nothing.
Before the Justice Department pressured the city to adopt council districts in 1977, all members were elected at-large, assuring dominance by affluent Northside voters.
It authorizes the council to hire a city manager “who shall be chosen on the basis of his executive and administrative qualifications.” It provides for the city manager to select virtually every department head, including such important ones as the police and fire chiefs and the city attorney, although the city attorney must be approved by the council.
The charter especially focuses on the city attorney, requiring that he “is a practicing attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Texas, duly licensed, and who shall have practiced law for at least five (5) years immediately preceding his or her appointment.”
They didn’t want just any hack who happened to be a favorite of the mayor to become city attorney.
Yet City Manager Sheryl Sculley, having assessed the 43 applicants to replace Michael Bernard, recommended Mayor Castro’s chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum.
What’s more, Greenblum hasn’t practiced law full-time since joining Castro’s staff in 2009.
As late as a week ago, he was listed on the State Bar’s web site this way: “Occupation: Non-Law-Related Employment.”
Asked by Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff about this, Greenblum said his duties included being “inside general counsel” for the mayor.
He cited a number of legal issues on which he had worked.
But the framers of the charter would have scoffed at the mayor’s having his own “general counsel,” or even his own chief of staff.
The charter provides specifically that the city attorney “shall serve as chief legal advisor to the Council, the City Manager and all city departments….”
Greenblum’s area of specialty, incidentally, was immigration law.
That doesn’t bother me either.
His predecessor, Bernard, had practiced criminal law. He had, however, proved himself capable of handling a large staff as District Attorney Susan Reed’s first assistant.
Bernard was smart enough to hire and rely on experienced municipal law practitioners and I expect Greenblum to do the same.
I think he, like Bernard, will prove to be an excellent choice, even if the mayor does say so.
The city is not a business where a part-time board of directors oversees a company that has a clear goal of making a profit.
A city is a collection of varying constituencies with legitimately competing claims.
And San Antonio is the nation’s seventh largest.
We can’t expect the mayor and even council members to do their jobs well without their own staffs, which themselves violate the charter.
And the mayor should have a strong say in selecting the city attorney.
After all, we elect the mayor – and we want him to lead, not just to preside.