Revolution at City Hall Diehl

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Revolution at City Hall Diehl - page 50-t Sunday, Oct. 10, ivo» EXPRESS and...
page 50-t Sunday, Oct. 10, ivo» EXPRESS and MEWS . A REVOLUTION AT CITY HALL if * if The 1950s Brought By KEMPER DIEHL (EDITOR'S MOTE: This article Is o summary oj local political developnoents from I9S0 to 1965, concluding o Mries of accounts surveying political haw5enln9» since 1865.) For many years in San Antonio politics revolved around the courthouse. The Democratic primaries for county offices drew much more attention than city elections. And the courthouse was the great proving ground for ambitious office-holders. Even such titans of city politics as Bryan Callaghan, Clinton Brown, John Tobin, C.M. Chambers and Maury Maverick first won their spurs in county campaigns. But with the decade of the 1950s the emphasis switched to City Hall where a revolution in government was underway. Backers of the businesslike council-manager system of government were on the march and they made City Hall the center of action during a crucial period. And it was at City Hall that the great figures of contemporary San Antonio politics made their mark. U.S. Rep. Henry Gonzalez and Mayors W.W. McAllister and A.C. (Jack) White all reached the political summit via City Hall. (County Clerk James Knight, the brainiest of courthouse officeholders, won his first major race at City Hall, and even County Judge Charles Grace served a hitch as an attorney at City Hall before winning office at the courthouse.) THE REVOLUTION in government at City Hall started with the regime of White, who won the mayor’s office in a whirlwind independent campaign on a council-manager platform in 1949. White had tremendous backing outside City Hall. Dist. Atty. William N. Hensley had contributed much to his campaign and also providing heavy support was the Citizens Committee for Council-Manager Government, popularly known as the Citizens Committee. In office, White carried on a running feud with the city commissioners; Street Commissioner Knight, Police Conunissioner Ra^ond South, Parks Commissioner Henry Hein and Tax Commissioner C. Ray Davis. Davis and White became familiar adversaries in council meeting clashes. At the same time White had trouble proceeding with plans for a council-manager charter. An attempt was made in an election on May 9, 1950. White backed a plan dubbed “the 13 amendments.” But an influential segment of the Citizens Committee balked at a plan for council districts which would have insured representation for Latin Americans and Negroes. This group proposed a second plan. And still a third plan was produced for the ballot by a committee backed by the commissioners. All three plans went before the voters and all three lost. Closest race was that produced by the 13 amendments which fell 24,000 to 18,000. The charter vote all but overshadowed the summer Democratic primary which featured the final clashes between Hensley and Sheriff Owen Kilday. Once again Hensley won, defeating John Peace, who had been sponsored by Kilday. And Kilday again defeated Charles Bond, backed by Hensley. THE FEUDING at City Hall then resumed and set the stage for a showdown May 8,1951. This time White led a fuU Citizens Committee ticket featuring T.N. Tucker, Alvin Schmidt, George Roper and Sam BeU Steves. And in a sdmulianeous election on the question, “Shall a Charter Commission Be Elected?”, W.W. McAllister headed a slate of council-manager-pledged candidates for a charter-writing commission. The White ticket swept to victory with the mayor defeating John Zeller by 2S,738-17,714. ★ ★ A * * * Council-Manager Rule, and an Important Switch in Political Emphasis CHANGE FOR CITY HALL — Three men prominent in the introduction of council-monoger city government In Son Antonio were pictured os the new order went into effect Jon. 1, 1952. From left, they ore then Moyor A. C. (Jock) White, first City Manager C. A. Harrell, and Councilman Sam Bell Steves. McAllister scored a 5-1 victory over Grover Morris to lead his slate to victory, and voters called for creation of the charter commission by a 3-1 margin. With McAllister as chairman and Ed Conroy of the Research and Plannirg Council as chief technician, the commission worked swiftly and on Oct. 2, 1951, voters approved a new council-manager government plan by a margin of 19,062 to 10,251. This led to the first election under the new plan on Nov. 13, 1951, in which White defeated RS. Menefee, a former school board president, by 15,992 to 6,023. Joining White on the new council which began operations Jan. 1, 1952, were Ruben Lozano, Schmidt, Harold Keller, Tucker, Roper, Mike Cassidy, Nelson Greeman and Steves. The new council searched the United States for San Antonio’s first city manager and finally appointed C.A. Harrell, the city manager of Norfolk, Va. It was Harrell who laid the vital ^ound- work for the administrative system that is stiU in operation at City Hall. He installed the personnel system, working under civU service regulations which have eliminated politics from city jobholding. DESPITE THE large majority won by his council, Harrell faced chaotic conditions when he took over. The new charter had made no provisions for financing of the city government during the interim period between the charter election and the launching of the new system. Harrell later recalled that one of his big initial problems was getting up three separately published budgets within a space of a few weeks. Foes of the new system, of course, were waiting for an opening to counter-attack, and it was soon provided by the council. Following up on a campaign pledge to provide fair taxation, the administration began a tax resurvey. And it also madte a crucial de- ciaon to annex a wide swath of territoiy to block a new wave of suburban incorporaUons. Harrell inherited a city government that was down-at-the-heel to the point of near collapse. Equipment was ancient, street main­ tenance had for years fallen behind needs and chugholes were rampant. The sewage disposal plant was overloaded. But, as HarreU recalled later, “the simple analysis of San Antonio’s needs, translated into what would be required in terms of bond issues, provoked a public uproar.” He continued: “Even though no specific bond Issues had been recommended, the mere mention of the extent of San Antonio’s needs was made one basis for the now-historic rffort to recall most of the council members.” Trouble for the new regime began almost as soon as the council-manager charter went into effect. Within less than 90 days Mayor White had broken with other councilmen. He resigned as mayor on March 1, staying on the council where Iw joined with Schmidt in an opposition role. Steves became mayor, following in the footsteps of three of his forebears. A GROUP led by Jack Davis, who had been city attorney under White, began circulation of recall petitions against all councilmen except White and Schmidt as soon as they had served a necessary three months in office. The recall gained strength when two wealthy residents of the annexed area, A1 Jergitts and Strauder Nelson, irate of having been taken into the city, threw their financial backing to City HaU’s opponents. The Citizens Committee countered and was prepared to provide legal and investigative backing to councilmen when the petitions were finaHy filed on Oct. 28. By that time, Tucker and Roper had resigned and been r^laced by the city’s first councilwoman, Mrs. Manfred Gerhardt, and by William Spivey. A Houston handwriting expert George Lacy produced evidence that the sanie handwriting had written more than one signature in a number of cases — including those of husbands signing their wives* names—and whole pages of signatures were thus invalidated. aty Clerk J. Frank Gallagher proceeded to find both the original petitions and supplemental petitions filed by Davis to be insufficient. But the anti-City Hall forces had won their objecUve, using the recaU campaign to generate issues against the Citizens Committee administration. In a campaign which proved the most heavily financed on both sides in city history, a San Antonian ticket, backed by Jergins and Nelson and led by White, swept into office in 1953. The issues were simple: The San Antonians promised to de-annex the annexed area; they pounded at the tax equalization program which had resulted In many increased assessments; and they promised to remove Harrell. HARRELL, who after leaving San Antonio was selected for the No. 1 U.S. city manager post, that of Cincinnati, later wrote a friend regarding the election: “I have, time and again, thought through the entire situation in San Antonio, and under the circumstances, no other answers and results seem forthcoming. Often the first city manager is expendable, and in this particular case, it happened to be true.” If Harrell had his troubles in establishing the city manager government in San Antonio, his successors had even greater problems. During two chaotic years in office, the new group employed no l^s than four city managers. Resignations from the council under threat of recall or political pressure were common. An attempt to “deannex” was found illegal by the courts. So much opposition did the council provoke with its actions that it was necessaiy for its foes to endorse an expressway bond issue to get it past the voters. White served as mayor for more than a year of the new regime, but within a short time he again found himself at odds with the city manager, Ralph Winton (the third manager selected by the council). In poor health after suffering a stroke, he resigned in August, 1954—a short time after the resignation of Councilman H.J. Shearer, who had been critically injured in an auto accident. Winton was removed as manager at the same time and this provoked a new recall movement which swiftly produced enough signatures to force an election. Those under fire resigned. A largely reconstituted council under Mayor R.N. White Sr., appointed during the fall of 1954, limped through the remainder of the term. The shape of the future was already evident. On Dec. 7, 1954, a group of 50 civic leaders met at the Plaza Hotel and formed the new “Good Government League” with Frank Gillespie Sr. as chairman. THE GGL HAS dominated city politics ever since. It’s first ticket listed seven men new to city politics, added Winton to them and left Councilman Henry B. Gonzalez un- oppored. Elected first with the San Antonians, Gonzalez had proved to be an independent who was highly critical of acticHis of the administration majority. The GGL ticket rolled to victory in 1955 by top-heavy margins. Taking office, the new administration searched the state before selecting Stephen Matthews, city manager of Lubbock, as its new chief administrator. Matthews brought Lynn Andrews with him as his assistant manager. He swiftly soothed political waters, worldng overtime at public appearances to explain City Hall activities. The GGL began passage of a series of improvement bcmd issues which corrected years of neglect and changed the face of the city in many ways. It instituted a sewer charge which has enabled a vast expansion of treatment facilities to meet the needs of a swift-growing See CITY HALL, Page 52

Clipped from
  1. San Antonio Express,
  2. 10 Oct 1965, Sun,
  3. Page 139

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