REQUEST FOR INCLUSION
The City of San Antonio's first Diversity Action Plan was approved January 11, 2013. The plan was created by the Fair Contracting Coalition with multiple City Staff departments in 2012 to change the zero dollars spent with African American business firms after the City Bond spending was criticized under then Mayor Julian Castro. In the 2013 in the City Council meeting approving the plan, the NAACP's Bill Burman said "the coalition wants a seat on the board of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation that would be filled by an African American business owner." The overall request for inclusion on San Antonio's coveted organization was one of many remedies to solve the economic discrimination felt in the 7th largest city in America. In 2018, the SAEDF has taken no action to fulfill this goal, and recently Chairman David McGee, President of Amegy Bank, provided his comments that the board would seek ways to diversify in 2019, but rejected the opportunity to enable two minority chambers a seat at the table as was afforded to two white chambers and the Hispanic chamber..
The FCC group, founded by TC Calvert, Sr., then involved his son Tommy Calvert Jr., now Bexar County Commissioner, Precinct #2 and the rank and file of the business community who were appalled at the City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s performance. The group organized minority chambers of commerce that were not courted traditionally by the Mayor as the first option to work out business challenges. Namely the SA Hispanic Chamber, the Alamo City Black Chamber, the Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce, the West San Antonio Chamber and the Neighborhoods First Alliance were the main actors that contributed to the City’s first Diversity Action Plan and the nucleus of the FCC.
SUCCESS FOR CITY DEPARTMENTS
Since 2013, the City's Economic Development Department and Transportation and Capital Improvements Departments say the diversity plan successfully removed some of the major obstacles that minority business people, specifically African Americans would experience daily. The plan has led the Finance Department, Transportation and Capital Improvements, and Economic Development Department to do business differently because the plan forced the city to consider how it was treating it's Asian, Black, and Hispanic populations. Native Americans are such a small population that results are hard to track.
$10,000.00 BOARD SEAT
One voice over the five years, that has remained consistent to monitor the Diversity Plan is Christopher Herring, a Past President of the Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce, and appointed to the City's Small Business Advocacy Committee by then Mayor Castro. Herring was elected on two occasions to Chair the SBAC and Chair the Diversity Action Plan Subcommittee by his peers. We asked him to oversee the broader reach and stories that has enabled the SA Observer to represent the community - and as the Chairman of the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce, he has an advocacy voice not compared to any other person.
We understand his work also reflects the advocacy he was recognized for from his 20 plus years of military service working diversity and inclusion issues for US Presidents, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Air Force and local base commanders.
Herring understood the lesser roles the Black and Asian chambers were provided. He questioned the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation in a series of emails to their leadership as to why Blacks and Asians were not participating in such a critical board. Back as the Alamo chamber president he asked Presidents Ramiro Cavazos and Richard Perez why the Alamo City Black Chamber was never afforded a board seat within San Antonio’s Economic Development Foundation.
The SAEDF has a strategic mission of positioning the city of San Antonio toward future economic development. Herring saw the absence of major voices from both the Black and Asian race and asked the SAEDF Executive Director to allow the chamber to participate by providing a past Chair to represent the interest of African Americans and the places where we live. The SAEDF told Herring that the chamber would need to pay for a Board seat at $10,000. The issue was dead on arrival as Herring didn’t think that inclusion should be at a pay to play option especially as chambers received funding support at various levels through the city budgets. He called this exchange of money not fair or equitable. Subsequently Herring inserted the provisional goal for the City Council members to agree into the Diversity Action Plan which they did approve in 2013 to show their support to integrate the Executive Board of SAEDF. The twelve board members who approved the Diversity Action Plan were: Mayor Julián Castro, Council members Diego Bernal, Ivy R. Taylor, Leticia Ozuna, Rey Saldaña, David L. Medina, Jr, Ray Lopez, Cris Medina, Reed Williams, Elisa Chan and Carlton Soules.
FAIR CONTRACTING COALITION STILL STANDING FOR EQUALITY
The Fair Contracting Coalition placed the topic within discussions and the city ordinance that was passed states that the City departments would discuss with the SAEDF and make the appropriate provisions within the City’s funding to the EDF. The negotiation according to the plan would start January 2013. The item read: “City of San Antonio will promote the inclusion of one (1) seat on the Economic Development Foundation board for a representative of San Antonio for Growth on the East side (SAGE) with the intent that the SAGE seat would be filled by an African American Business Owner.”
SCULLEY IS ON THE SAEDF BOARD
One fact is the City Manager, Sheryl Sculley serves on San Antonio’s EDF. "She
understands the nature of the request", says TC Calvert. "It appears that City leaders to include public utility companies that tax payers support have not had the will power to make this one change. The preverbal question is Why?" Calvert adds. "When majority of the Sister City programs are with Asian Cities, you would think the Asian chamber would have representation on the SAEDF Board?", said Calvert.
Over the last month, the San Antonio Observer asked the question," why are Blacks and Asian chambers being excluded from the SAEDF when the Hispanic Chamber, North Chamber and Greater San Antonio Chamber past chairs have Executive Board seats?”
FCC member Greg Jackson says clearly, “the City Manager is not serious about living the equity or fairness the Mayor has preached as his goal. Since the Diversity Action Plan is the law of the City, why haven't the City Council done more to ensure this one provision was addressed?"
In the plan to be voted on Thursday, October 11, at City Hall, the provision to add an African American business person to the SAEDF is not on the plan. The FCC would like to know why the provision was removed and by whom?" asked Jane Gonzalez, Co-Chair of the FCC.
Christopher Herring met with the SAEDF Executive Director Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, CPS Energy Paula Gold Williams, and SAEDF Chairman – Amegy Bank President David McGee, with members from the FCC. Herring wrote a number of emails that provided the very simple request to add two chamber seats for the Alamo Asian Chamber of Commerce past chair Elisa Chan (as recommended by the Alamo Asian Chamber) and one past chair from the Alamo City Black Chamber or the African American Chamber of San Antonio. Based on the criteria that the past chair be someone in business that reflects his/her community, Lou Miller and Deborah Omowale, were the two names that fit the same criteria being used by the SAEDF. The SAEDF could in-fact choose between the two choices.
Herring has chaired the city’s Diversity Action Plan Subcommittee for five years, and stated "for years the systematic exclusion of our voices on strategic matters is a form of apartheid. They make the decisions, and expect for their Black and Asian business sectors not to have a thought, different thoughts or to add value to the overall opportunity to promote our city. It's really absurd. When I look at the members on the EDF, and you look at the businesses or agencies they oversee, the majority do not have African Americans or Asians within their executive leadership. The fact is their blindspot is the same blindspot for Diversity and Inclusion. I believe the City Manager has the biggest voice on this issue and it really hasn’t been heard. Bexar County did write to the SAEDF and copied me about what they value. Sad to say in the place we call Military City USA, as a Veteran, I am saddened that racial discrimination is being played out. In our respective services we value true inclusion. As I have a 20-year career managing those diversity and equal opportunity programs, I know we are not being treated fairly. I really expect more from our executive leaders who really should know better in 2018. I have not tried to shame anyone on the issue, but when young leaders with half the career that I have, make diversity of experience and occupation synonymous with improving racial discrimination, they need some mentoring and a changed attitude. We have been asking for this change in one way or form since 2012, we have to ask why are these leaders on the SAEDF not moving the issue forward? I know some people think I talk too much or use my experience inappropriately but God gave me a purpose and I won't stop. If I'm fired (from the SBAC) for speaking the truth, then I'll wear the badge of honor for doing what I know is right. Asking for two board seats is really nothing that the SAEDF is sacrificing for two chamber communities."
FORMER COUNCILWOMAN SPEAKS OUT
Former City Councilwoman of District 9 and current Tri-Chair of the FCC, Elisa Chan says “Since the creation of the Diversity Action Plan, the City of San Antonio has done an exceptional job in leveling the playing field for small/minority businesses to access City contracts. Many of the practices should be models for other governmental agencies. Since the City of San Antonio contributes to EDF’s funding, we encourage the City to further the spirit of equal access and equal opportunity by adding Black and Asian Chambers of Commerce to EDF leadership, along with Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, North Chamber of Commerce, and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.”
The Fair Contracting Coalition asked the question to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff to the opportunity to integrate the SAEDF with Black citizens and Asian business citizens. He stated it is time. He thought the position the FCC held was right. County Manager David Smith confirmed to the FCC that Bexar County has provided millions of tax payer dollars with the City's millions of tax payer dollars to manage this sacred SAEDF. Calvert adds, "This is not a private country club where important people punch their passports and wine and dine to create the opportunities they value and call it strategic."
JUDGE WOLFF SAID HE WOULD
The FCC recommended a County Diversity Action Plan that Judge Wolff stated he would put before the Commissioners before election. As the last meeting of the Court has been set before the election, there is no Bexar County Diversity Action Plan on the agenda which reflects another broken campaign promise.
Bexar County Executive Director David Marquez wrote the SAEDF to reinforce the ideas Herring espoused requesting for Sauceda to provide an account on the recommendations. Instead the SAEDF Chairman, David McGee provided Herring with an email on October 5, 2018 stating “you’ll see an invigorated commitment to diversity in our slated executive committee for 2019, but at this time that will not include additional Chamber representation.”
After a long delay in providing feedback, the FCC leaders reject McGee’s promise and will force the issue publicly on October 11, 2018. Some are even asking the FCC to consider asking the entire minority community in San Antonio to stop doing business with Amegy Bank, the Chairman's bank, until this situation is resolved. The public boycott of Amegy could signal the next movement to address equity and fairness and when the Board chairs signals the change of his position, the chambers minority business community will respond favorably.
"We have waited for action and as we go into the next phase of the Diversity Action Plan, we demand accountability from the SAEDF board to effect change." says Greg Jackson, FCC member.
5 YEARS OF WAITING
Herring said “after five years of waiting for an integration of the SAEDF why should we accept this response that further delays the standing question? It is important the SAEDF do it our recommended way because we want accountability from the person appointed. The chambers send their representative and they provide valuable information to their respective business communities which grows their communities financially. With Blacks, the SAEDF wants to pick and choose who they are comfortable with and who they can control. Typically, the person is a true token and not valuable to the cause of advancing the needs of the community from which they came. Even as a look at the SAEDF operational staff, African Americans and Asians are excluded and so it doesn’t surprise me that the Board is the same way. I protested the Visit San Antonio Department in the same way by asking for a meeting. I was granted the meeting, made the case, and now we have an African American on the board. When leaders, especially those paid with taxpayer dollars learn of the problem, they must fix it or be fired.”
AFRICAN AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE CHAIRMAN,
XAVIER TOSON, SPEAKS OUT
When the agenda item is voted upon, the Council should expect vigorous debate and conversations of the one provision that has not been reached by the City leadership. “We know that the SAEDF receives tax payer dollars with private dollars to fund the mission. I don’t want to see another dime of the City or the County be used towards a group that chooses to do nothing when the problem is old, and time has run out. The Diversity law of the city hasn’t been a priority of the department or manager or mayor…nor the county judge. How can the city say vote NO to a charter amendment debate, when the leaders continue to alienate the very citizens it seeks support?” says Xavier Toson, Chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of San Antonio.
FORMER CITY COUNCILMAN KEITH TONEY SPEAKS OUT
Former City Councilman Keith Toney, District 2, says "the Council must have the situational awareness not to drop the item of integrating the SAEDF as they adopt the newly revised plan. The City Manager can address the situation and meet with her board peers, and create the change that we have been asking for."
CHRIS STEELE ON 'LACK OF ACTION' BY SHERYL SCULLEY
Chris Steele heard of the lack of action taken by the City Manager who serves on the SAEDF Executive Board and states "this one issue really shows the City leadership as being disconnected from taking care of the needs of the people. Since when has it been wrong or a bad thing for people who are smart, highly skilled and passionate about furthering our city be a threat? We value the contributions of all people and we are saddened the African American and the Asian American chambers are not considered to be strategic thinkers and have the ability to think with the elitist group of the SAEDF. This makes the case simple why the people should Vote YES and support the campaign to stop corruption at city hall and give the people more voice".
CHARTER AMENDMENTS- CITY OF SAN ANTONIO VOTE NO CAMPAIGN
I had a chance to meet with representatives working for the City’s VOTE NO campaign on the proposed Fire Union Charter Amendments. As we spoke of the then up coming rally to kick off the campaign, it was explained to me that the city and the VOTE NO campaign is not spending money with Blacks because there are not enough of us to make a difference in the vote (thank you for telling us how you think which explains a lot of the aforementioned).
How does that make you feel? Worthless to the leaders is probably the answer and all the supporting history and present claims only give great foundation for an explanation of the city’s VOTE NO campaign- ‘we aren’t inviting Blacks to the rally because there are not enough of you to make a difference’. That really is the bottom line, it’s how they all feel and they tell you, I may be white which is why they tell me freely, but how unnerving that a campaign being run by a city for ‘ALL’ runs on that divisive racism. I am not sure what else to call it as I was floored that it came out of someone’s mouth so fluidly.
Now is the time to show the city who we really are, we are people, we have a voice and we will be heard.
This story is developing and will be updated daily here at www.saobserver.com.