I don’t know if you remember the television show, “The Biggest Loser” but the question is being raised in the San Antonio business community after the “Biggest Contract” was awarded to a local minority company, Go Rio San Antonio. The City Council voted 10 to 1, on May 25, 2017, to award the 10 year River Barge contract to the team of former Secretary of State Hope Andrade, Restaurant Owner - Lisa Wong, and Houston based - Landry’s Seafood.
On the Winner’s side: Mayor Ivy Taylor, District 2 City Councilman Alan Warrick, Mayor’s appointee to Business - Christopher Herring, TC Calvert & the Fair Contractor Coalition, and Entrepreneur Robert Melvin, Esq.
On the Loser’s side: City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Former Mayor and Attorney Phil Hardberger, Councilman Ron Nirenberg, Tony Gradney, CEO of Tony G’s Soul Food and Chelsea’s Catering and Bar Service – also campaign treasurer of William “Cruz” Shaw, Joe Linson, and Chef Johnny Hernandez.
As you see the names, you can also see many of the people listed are a part of the heated political run-offs with Mayor Taylor and Ron Nirenberg leading the pack, followed by District 2 race of Councilman Warrick versus William “Cruz” Shaw.
Ron Nirenberg released a statement, “It is shameful that politics won out over the public interest today.” “Although I remain hopeful that Go Rio San Antonio will be able to create a quality experience, these actions (by the mayor) diminish public trust and have a chilling effect on businesses and individuals looking to invest in San Antonio,” Nirenberg said in his release.
TC Calvert Sr. who was not present at the City Council but commented, “It was a good decision. The Fair Contractor Coalition, which represents San Antonio’s minority chambers of commerce and Neighborhood First Alliance, have always stood on the side of protecting minority rights provided by the City’s SBEDA Ordinance. In this case, the only tool designed to help all minority small businesses to advance, was being challenged by the poor logic of the City Manager and her staff to say we don’t value our local minority people.”
In this case, the City Manager, Sheryl Sculley attempted to remove points or not considering points awarded to the local small, minority, women and Veteran owned businesses in favor of Entertainment Cruises proposal. Herring adds, “This would undermine the years of work the Small Business Advocacy Committee have fought for and was amended last summer.”
Joe Linson, a business partner to Tony Gradney gave a passionate speech and went to work on social media trying to make the case that the city’s local preference was the deciding factor. He wrote, “Moreover, the city’s SBEDA program, includes: small, women, Hispanic, veteran, local, Asian-and African American firms. The only firm that captures all of the SBEDA requirements, is the Chicago based, San Antonio River Cruises team. On their team, with signed partnership agreements are: Chef Johnny Hernandez, a world renowned culinary personality and Tony Gradney, CEO of Tony G’s Soul Food and Chelsea’s Catering and Bar Service, the exclusive beverage provider for the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Both of these gentlemen are known for next level hospitality and integrity. That is a combination that’s hard to beat.”
Well, they were beat with the following votes: Mayor Ivy Taylor, Councilman Joe Krier, Mike Gallagher, Rey Saldana, Shirley Gonzalez, Rebecca Viagran, Cris Medina, Ray Lopez, Alan Warrick, and Robert Trevino. The vote symbolized the campaign thoughts of Taylor when she says, Nirenberg has not been able to rally his Council peers to do anything under a single vote. She was right on this day. The Vote tally 10 to 1.
Herring clarified, “When you look at the City’s score sheet, the Chicago company, using the San Antonio name, received zero SBEDA or Affirmative Action points. Despite what was said about the partnership agreements made to Tony G’s and Johnny Hernandez, their agreements were drawn up in the last days before City Council presentations. These were not ownership agreements – this is what the City looks for to know that minority businesses have a real stake. I asked if Entertainment Cruises was open to that in a private meeting and was told no. More importantly if the Chicago company were awarded the $110 million contract, it would have created a future possible retreat from the city policy to fix past discrimination. The decision was a good decision as SBEDA was used as intended.”
District 2 Councilman Alan Warrick, spoke to the owners of Tony G’s Soul Food and Chef Johnny Hernandez from the City Council microphone, and reminded both that they have been awarded contracts under SBEDA and should not have tried to undermine the opportunity for personal gains. Warrick said, “We just passed an $800 Million dollar bond, I hope the City will utilize local minority firms. Giving this contract to an out of town company, with no minority ownership, doesn’t help us to reinforce the need to grow our own local businesses.”
Robert Melvin, an African American attorney who served with Hope Andrade says, “As the former Texas Small Business Advocate, and a current small minority owned business, I am constantly inspired by individuals such as Hope Andrade and Lisa Wong. They epitomize the Entrepreneurial Spirit of San Antonio and the never give up attitude of our city. As the former Secretary of State Hope Andrade represented the Business community of the State of Texas. Small Businesses represented over 85% of all businesses within the State and her passion to see them prosper was always at the forefront of her dialogue.
“Yes, we are local” said Andrade, a well-known Republican politician who served as Texas secretary of state. “My business partner Lisa Wong and I — we’re lifelong residents, and along with our operational partner Landry’s, the Go Rio team provides the city of San Antonio the highest guaranteed financial term by a margin of over $28 million,” she said. “We clearly understand the tremendous financial, operational and cultural responsibility that we have undertaken.”
Melvin adds, “I am of the opinion, that Go Rio San Antonio is committed to the small business community of City Of San Antonio, all of San Antonio. As small business owners Hope Andrade and Lisa Wong understand what it takes to start and grow a business and are committed to providing opportunities for those businesses whom embody the standards of excellence and commitment to customer service for the citizens and visitors of our great city. I believe Go Rio San Antonio will be an example of how we should conduct business as a city and transformative for the business community!”
Herring continues, “I spoke to Hope Andrade with Deborah Omowale, Chair of the Alamo City Black Chamber, prior to the decision, and Hope gave me her word that she will meet with Black business owners to see what products and services they can offer to be a part of the River Barge operation. In fact, she texted me on Saturday morning, informing me she stopped by Dreamweaver Florist. This is as a good symbol that she will stand by her word. While the partnerships may not come through Tony G’s, they may be seen in other Black businesses – so I wouldn’t give up hope. The idea that we do not have African American business participation on the River Walk is not lost, believe me.”