SAN ANTONIO – In an 8 to 2 vote, San Antonio City Council members approved an ordinance proposed by Mayor Ivy Taylor that would waive her past ethics violations of conflicts of interest concerning the San Antonio Housing Authority.
As mayor, Taylor is in charge of appointing SAHA commissioners.
Taylor’s husband received income from Section 8 vouchers through SAHA.
Its an issue that has loomed over Taylor since her tight mayoral race in the summer of 2015.
Taylor said she proposed the ordinance at the request of SAHA after seeking guidance from SAHA, Housing and Urban Development and the city attorney’s office.
City Attorney Martha Sepeda said Thursday that SAHA asked Mayor Taylor to take action to ensure the legitimacy of future appointed SAHA members would not be questioned.
“I tried to follow a course of action that had been recommended to me, and again, it was requested that we go in this direction so I just want to move forward,” Taylor said.
Later during an interview Thursday, Taylor said she received conflicting information about what course of action to take.
Councilmen Rey Saldana, District 4, and Ron Nirenberg, District 8, were the only two council members to vote against the waiver Thursday.
Saldana issued a motion to postpone voting on the ordinance to allow the city attorney more time to come up with a “cleaner option.”
“I think we need to be sure that what we're doing here isn’t creating new ground for us to make exceptions for pasts,” Saldana said.
The council rejected Saldana’s motion.
Nirenberg said he could not vote for the ordinance because he felt the city’s code of ethics should not be bendable.
“It does not send the right message for us to have an ethics code that we retroactively say it doesn’t apply in certain situations to government officials,” he said. “I don’t think that that's appropriate.”
The majority of council members seemed to agree that Taylor’s past conflicts of interest were an oversight and were not ill-intended.
And they no longer exist.
As of Nov. 1, 2015, all of the Section 8 voucher contracts associated with Taylor’s husband have been moved under the umbrella of the Bexar County Housing Authority to remove any conflict of interest.
St. Mary’s Law professor, Michael Ariens, was a member of the city’s Ethics Review Board from 2002 to 2012.
He’s hopeful Taylor’s case is an unusual one which won’t create slippery slope.
“That’s always a problem when you’re talking about ethics standards,” Ariens said. “The sense that ‘well, this really isn’t that big of a deal’ can lead to ‘well, this other thing isn’t a big deal either.’”
The ordinance calls Taylor’s violations “technical.”
Mayor Taylor said she does not believe the waiving of her past ethics violations, no matter how technical, will set a precedent or erode public trust.
When asked what message Thursday’s vote sends to the community, she responded “hopefully no message other than I’m about taking care of business and moving forward."