Sandoval leaves City Council on her terms, while voters might send others packing – San Antonio Report

In normal times, City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) would have been a shoo-in for a fourth and final term in this year’s May 6 city election. She would have joined Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Councilmen Manny Pelaez (D8), John Courage (D9) and Clayton Perry (D10) — the so-called Class of 2017 — to seek a fourth and final term in office.

Only four former council members — Rey Saldaña (D4), Ray Lopez (D6), Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Rebecca Viagran (D3) — have served a full eight years since voters approved a change to strict term limits that previously forced incumbents out of office after two two-year terms in a charter reform election led by former Mayor Phil Hardberger before he left office in 2009.

Last week, Sandoval announced her decision to resign her council seat on Jan. 29, one day before she joins University Health in its research division, a job she seems ideally suited for given her community priorities and academic credentials. The Jefferson High School valedictorian earned undergraduate degrees in environmental engineering from Stanford and chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a graduate degree in public health from Harvard.

Sandoval always struck me as too apolitical for an extended career in elected office. Plus, she became a new mother in June and lost her father in November. She also wants to spend more time supporting her mother. A professional salary, she has noted, will be welcome after six years getting by on $45,700 annually. Council members earn far less than a first year public school teacher. 

Mayoral and council pay is overdue to be significantly increased, but that’s another column.

These are not normal times, and Sandoval’s vacant District 7 seat isn’t the only one that will be contested as a temporary replacement is appointed to serve out the final three months of her term. Two other council incumbents face uncertain political futures.

Sandoval’s sudden exit from city hall comes as District 1 hopefuls line up to challenge first-term Councilman Mario Bravo, who was issued a vote of “no confidence” by his colleagues in November after he verbally attacked Sandoval when she withdrew her support for his proposed spending of windfall millions paid to the city by CPS Energy. Bravo is seeking a second term and pointed last week to a robust fundraising quarter, which suggests many of his supporters are sticking with him. Still, he has drawn at least three opponents, and as he knows from his defeat of former Councilman Roberto Treviño, incumbency is no guarantee.

Perry, for one, should be toast if he proceeds to seek a fourth term. Friends and allies are telling him not to run, but whether Perry is listening remains to be seen. 

Facing charges of driving while intoxicated and failing to stop and give information after a collision on the night of Nov. 6, Perry has become a black eye for San Antonio. Do district voters share my view that he should have never returned to office two weeks ago after his all-too-brief leave of absence, which was incorrectly labeled a “sabbatical?” Time will tell.

Perry has fallen way short of taking full responsibility for his alleged crimes, and has been less forthcoming about what, if anything, he is doing about what appears to be a serious drinking problem.

Knocking back 14 alcoholic drinks in four hours? Most of us would fall off our stools long before the seemingly compliant bartender at Evil Olive Elixir Lounge could be waved over for round 14. It’s a miracle Perry didn’t kill anyone. Please don’t call his hit-and-run an “accident.” Dropping your smartphone in the bathroom is an accident.

After leaving the bar, Perry crossed Thousand Oaks and made a scene at the drive-in of a Bill Miller Bar-B-Q, failing to order any food while reportedly slurring his speech and attempting to hand an employee his wallet and keys. After 10 minutes, Perry drove off, and at the intersection of Jones Maltsberger and Redland roads, he reportedly failed to complete a legal turn in his Jeep Rubicon and instead crossed lanes and smashed into a Honda Civic sedan, causing major damage. Fortunately, the driver and passenger were unhurt. 

The entire episode is evidence of the lax oversight of bars that regularly over-serve customers without serious penalty, as well as the larger epidemic of drunk driving that is, unfortunately, a big part of San Antonio and Bexar County’s identity. Read the San Antonio Express-News’ investigative series on the high number of drunk drivers in Bexar County who beat the rap and live to drive drunk again. It’s hard to find a major U.S. city with a worse record.

A San Antonio police officer found Perry lying prone and bleeding in his own backyard, his trousers soiled with urine, and the councilman so disoriented he left his vehicle’s engine running after plowing into his own garage door. 

A witness who followed Perry as he fled the collision scene and drove home returned to the scene to share the information with the Honda driver and police. Without him, Perry might have evaded being held accountable. That individual should be publicly honored at a City Council meeting, with Perry having to sit through the presentation.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus later defended the officer’s use of discretion in not arresting Perry, but don’t expect the same discretion if you find yourself in similar circumstances.

Perry was finally arrested on Nov. 10, four days after fleeing the scene of the collision. You can view the SAPD video of Perry’s backyard encounter with a police officer the night of the collision. For 13 minutes on the police body camera footage, a bemused officer questions Perry about his actions that night, leading Perry to repeatedly lie to the officer, saying he had not been driving or involved in the reported collision. As he attempts to enter the back door of his home, a fumbling Perry tried in vain to use various credit cards to open the locked sliding glass door. He was unable to account for his vehicle or house keys and was left standing on his back patio as the officer departed.

He was re-arrested on Dec. 28, one week shy of two months after the events of Nov. 6, and charged with driving while intoxicated. Nirenberg has called for Perry to resign, but he returned to City Council on Jan. 12.

Let’s hope all this drama, or melodrama, inspires registered voters to actually participate in important local elections. With less than 15% usually participating, let’s hope that this spring, more citizens become civically engaged and help elect a strong council.

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