War of words: City Council members get in heated debate over SAWS trustee appointment

Councilwoman: ‘I was elected to speak when I see discrimination happening'

SAN ANTONIO – A war of words erupted at a San Antonio City Council meeting Thursday during the appointment of three new members of the San Antonio Water System board of trustees.

The mayor’s nominees — Eduardo Parra, David McGee and Amy Hardberger  — were all approved. But it was Hardberger’s nomination that brought in a heated debate between Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales and Councilman Greg Brockhouse.

Gonzales spoke in defense of Hardberger, saying Brockhouse was questioning her qualifications to serve while giving the two other appointees a pass by not asking them any questions.

“I need to make sure that I have the commentary and ask the questions about the person who is going to be representing my area. That is fair and within the bounds and by my elected office,” Brockhouse said to Gonzales and the council. “It's got nothing to do with the fact that Ms. Hardberger is a woman. And to say so is a very weak argument and it makes absolutely no sense.”

Gonzales said she calls them as she sees them, adding that this time she could not remain quiet.

“We’ve seen this time and time again, that Councilman Brockhouse makes comments that are racist. This was the first time where I felt somebody else was being targeted. And that's why I felt that I needed to say something publicly," Gonzales said.

Brockhouse said his questioning was strictly due to his concerns with Hardberger’s policies. Hardberger, the daughter of former Mayor Phil Hardberger, is an outspoken environmentalist and is associate dean of the School of Law at St. Mary’s University.

“A lot of her policies have the possibility to affect homeowners through rising costs, bills and fees,” Brockhouse said.

He said the name calling was out of line and that discussions before council should not be taken personally.

“It’s important when we in the community see something happening, sexism or racism, that we say something,” Gonzales said. “I was elected to speak when I see discrimination happening in our community, so that was the reason I felt so compelled to speak today.”

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval also chimed in, saying she thought the line of questioning was undiplomatic. She said all council members had ample time before Thursday’s vote to interview the nominees during the governance board committee or on an individual basis.

“These are people who are volunteering to serve the community who come with tremendous skill and background, and we should be grateful that they’re' putting themselves out there and be very respectful of that. And unfortunately, that's not what happened during that line of questioning,” Sandoval said.

Brockhouse said he did not interview the candidates prior to Thursday’s vote.

Hardberger did not have any comment on the council discussion but said she’s excited to get started on the board.

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