The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Michael Bernard, Crony Or Qualified?

Man you peeps commented alot yesterday. It took me all night to read and respond to those. That's why we're a little late on the posting today, but hey, whatcha gonna do 'bout it huh (in my best wiseguy impersonation)?

Another San Antonio blog put up a post yesterday decrying the city's selection of first assistant District Attorney Michael Bernard as San Antonio's new city attorney:

If you think cronyism is only a national trend, one need look no further to our own gilded city to learn about the recent appointment of Hardberger hack and family friend, Michael Bernard,to City Attorney (a job that pays $150,000 plus). Besides being a personal friend of the Hardberger family, good ol' Michael was there for Phil during the campaign, a loyal and trusty sidekick of DA Reed. Yes, my friends, despite their ideological differences, Phil is not that different from his fellow Texan governor-turned-president when it comes to rewarding close family friends, wealthy donors, and loyalists with plum patronage positions.

Besides the cronyism, Bernard's appointment is highly troubling because of his (1) ACLU ties and opposition to anti-gang efforts and (2) his failure to prosecute the DEA killers of an innocent San Antonio teenager years back. Apparently, the Council does not believe in investigating a nominee's record throughly before appointment

Here was my response (as a comment on his/her blog):

See, here's the problem with the argument: First, the City Attorney is not an appointed position. Just like most other senior city employees, the application process is opened, people submit their applications, the city manager goes out and sorts through the resumes and interviews and comes up with a finalist.

Was Bernard the mayor's first choice? Absolutely, the guy only applied after Hardberger urged him to. However, he was one of twenty applicants. City Manager Rolando Bono could've chosen someone else if he found that person to be more qualified. But he couldn't so he didn't. Not only that, Bono went to bat for his choice, making a compelling argument of Bernard as a 'change agent' that was able to sway Councilman Perez over.

And actually, Council did think they should look into Bernard's record prior to their unanimous vote. Councilman Chip Haass asked about Bernard's ACLU history, citing his conversations with several constituents.

Here's the reply as reported by the Express-News:

"Bernard said it wouldn't and noted that he played a role in implementing Reed's gang injunction plan — using civil court orders to bar alleged gang members from participating in numerous activities within a defined "safety zone." Nationally, the ACLU has come down against similar policies."

If you're highly critical of Hardberger on this issue, you should also be equally critical of our City Council for unanimously approving- in a group that ranges from Patti Radle to Kevin Wolff, that's not a small feat- Bernard, maybe even going so far as to advocate for the replacement of the five City Councilpersons who will be seeking re-election in 2007.

And today, his/her response:

One problem that was still not addressed by the posters (or by Benard in response to questioning), is Bernard/Reed's failure to fully investigate/prosecute DEA agents for the killing of a 14 year old San Antonio teenager, Ashley Villareal, in February 2003. Many organizations have called for a thorough investigation to this matter, but to this date, there is still a high level of critique of and dissatisfaction with Reed/Bernard's handling of this matter .

Responding to another posting, the problem with the argument presented belies the fact that this "selection" process was anything but tradidiontal in the sense that it is the city manager who is supposed to conduct the search independently, without pressure or suggestion from anyone, especially the mayor. By advancing the candidacy of Bernard to the manager, the mayor put pressure on him to favor the choice. If you're the city manager, you're not very likely to go against the wishes of the mayor.

Now my response to the response. The critique that has not been addressed by anyone is the Bexar County DA's response to a fatal, mistaken-identity shooting during a stakeout by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2003. Here's some background, and here's an early 2005 update on the matter. The DA's office has stated that they cannot prosecute the agent because federal law generally shields federal agents from prosecution by local entities. State prosecutors have not gone forward because they have not been able to find definitive evidence that the agent did not shoot in self-defense.

Ashley Villarreal's death was certainly a tragic one, but in committing a crime there must generally be action AND intent. There's no doubt that the DEA agent shot and killed the teenager, but was it his intent to fire at the car even as he knew that their suspect was not in it (as some suggest)? Or was it an act of self-defense as the car was being driven towards him? I don't know. If anyone has more information on this incident please sent it over to me, but at this point and time, to fault the DA's office for failing to prosecute what seems to be a case filled with holes doesn't hold water on my end.

Finally, yes, it is true that Hardberger made his feeling's known about who he wanted to be San Antonio's next city attorney. And yes, initially Hardberger did pressure the city manager to choose Bernard, and choose him quickly. However, the statement that a city manager is not likely to go against the mayor is patently false:

In their first meeting after Hardberger's election, Bono said, the mayor highlighted the need for a permanent city attorney and identified Bernard as his preferred choice.

Later, during the council's June 23 meeting, Hardberger tried to give Bono just two weeks to come up with a finalist. But Bono balked and the council agreed to a 60-day search, which eventually was delayed by the municipal budget and the city's response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


Bono said he clearly knew where the mayor stood, but that he didn't hear from Hardberger about Bernard after the search started.

"The fact of the matter is," Bono said, "I'm glad he brought (Bernard's) name up. ... I've got a good, strong person to recommend, and I'm ready to go."

And while the argument that a mayor could railroad a city manager may have been true in the past, it's certainly not true right now, nor will it be true for our next city manager, Sheryl Sculley. Bono actually did go against the mayor when he turned down his expedited search process, which would've . Furthermore, Bono is about a month away from retirement, if there's any point and time in his career when he could truly be independent, it would be right now. And Sculley ain't gonna take no crap from nobody.

Is it too hard to think that Bernard is actually the best qualified candidate to take this seat? I know the Castro-nistas are going to try and do whatever it takes to get their man back into a '07 rematch, but with Hardberger holding a 67% approval rating right now, it's going to take alot of gaffes and misteps on Hardberger's part over the next twelve months to put him in a position weak enough to lose. And with the way he's started- although I'm not saying it's not possible- I just don't see him doing this.