Friday, April 11, 2014
Joe Alderete was a pioneer | Last Word
In a few weeks, members of City Council will be asked to honor former Councilman Joe Alderete by naming the tennis center at Woodlawn Lake after him.
Councilman Cris Medina is pushing the honor, at the unabashed urging of Joe and his wife, Chris.
I’m against the idea, but not because Joe isn’t deserving. I just think it’s the wrong award.
Sure, as a councilman back in the 1970s and 1980s, Alderete helped find funds to upgrade Woodlawn Lake and its surrounding park.
Still, naming a tennis center is the wrong way to honor Joe. I say this for two reasons.
One is that I played tennis with Joe back when he was a councilman.
I don’t want to be unkind, but let’s just say that you wouldn’t name a dance center after Richard Nixon.
The other reason is more positive.
Joe is much more deserving of another award: as a pioneering practitioner of political entrepreneurship.
For the past 35 years or so, City Council members have whined about getting paid only $20 a week.
Joe didn’t whine. Well maybe he did. But he did something about it.
It was one of those cases where necessity was the mother of invention.
Joe quickly found himself in debt.
He was sued by the city’s own credit union for failure to repay a $5,000 loan.
The U.S. government sued him for nonpayment of a student loan.
He told a federal judge his sole income was his council pay.
Frost Bank, Texas Bank and Central Park Bank all went after him for unpaid loans ranging from $3,000 to $5,000.
North Side developer Jim Dement said he loaned Joe a couple thousand dollars as part of a group of business leaders who wanted to help Joe take care of the debts.
Dement told the San Antonio Light he never expected to be paid back.
“We were trying to help him out of a bind,” he said. “I looked at it as throwaway money.”
It must have been so humiliating to Joe.
So he came up with a better way to make money, one that would also help others.
He would raise money for charity – and take a cut.
An example: He went to the late Robert West, head of Tesoro Petroleum Corp, and collected a $5,000 check for the nonprofit San Antonio Neighborhood Youth Association, or SANYO.
According to sworn testimony, Joe was freelancing.
He didn’t tell SANYO officials ahead of time he was working for them.
I guess he wanted it to be a surprise.
Also, according to testimony, Joe at first tried to open a new account with the check, but the bank refused.
He then went to SANYO officials and asked for $4,500 as a commission.
Sure that’s excessive, but it was probably just an opening bid.
Joe ended up with $2,500.
That’s still a pretty good commission, but then Joe did have the negotiating point – stated or unstated – that City Council had to approve a major federal job training grant that SANYO relied on.
Some scolds in the media thought it was a pretty good scandal, but Joe’s conscience was clear: It was, he said, “a 5-year-old private and perfectly legal matter.”
District Attorney Sam Millsap disagreed.
He won a grand jury indictment.
But the judge presiding over the trial didn’t let the verdict go to the jury, much to the disappointment of some of the jurors.
The judge ruled that SANYO officials (who were not on trial) committed the crime by paying Joe, but that Joe was innocent as a legal matter.
I told you Joe Alderete was a pioneer.
I say name the tax collection office after him.