Blog

Get to know your May election candidates: District 9

Voting is a vital part of our democracy and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce encourages all residents to educate themselves and cast ballots for city council and mayoral candidates.

We sent out a questionnaire to all candidates running in municipal elections this year. In the questionnaire, we asked candidates about the city’s relationship with the business community, transportation, and the Climate Action and Adaption Plan.

For the District 9 seat, incumbent John Courage faces challenges from Richard Versace and Patrick Von Dohlen. Here’s what they had to say:

John Courage

  1. Please introduce yourself and share why you are seeking a seat on the San Antonio City Council, including why you feel you are the best candidate for the position.

I’m John Courage, the current councilmember representing District 9 on the San Antonio City Council. I’m a retired educator, having spent most of my career in special education at Jefferson High School. I’ve lived in San Antonio for over 40 years, having originally arrived by way of the United States Air Force where I served for 4 years as a Military Police Officer. I have previously served as an Alamo Community Colleges District Trustee. I’m a husband, dad, and grandpa, but most importantly I treat my service as simply being a good neighbor on the City Council.

I think I’m the best candidate now quite frankly because of my record and my work in the community. I’ve proven to be an independent voice on Council that’s been responsible for transforming public engagement in District 9. I’m a full-time councilmember and have the time to really understand and address the needs of our community.

Our office’s participatory budgeting initiative, now called the People’s Budget, has allocated over $2M to a process that is by and for the residents. You can see more about this initiative at D9PB.org.

I’ve authored two separate ordinances that are now part of our municipal campaign finance code that allow for better residency verification of our municipal candidates and provide for employer / occupation disclosure for high-dollar donors.

As chair of the Audit & Accountability committee, I helped initiate a process where our municipal court system now reports domestic violence convictions to the Department of Public Safety. San Antonio is the only city in Texas that does this, and we have reported over 90 such convictions since the program’s start.

I used my office’s City Council project fund to help supply every NEISD middle and elementary school in District 9 with traffic safety supplies.

West Avenue, Evans Road, Starcrest, Stone Oak Parkway, Larkspur Avenue, W. Bitters, and Huebner have received or will receive major infrastructure upgrades that were not part of the City’s original maintenance plans or schedule.

Most recently, I co-authored a CCR to explore the possibility of implementing a homestead exemption with Councilman Perry and voted to keep Chick-fil-A in the San Antonio Airport because I felt a removal at the final hour would materially change the contract.

  1. What steps would you take as a city council member to strengthen the City’s business environment?

I think the City could do a better job of including the business community in its decision-making process, and that’s a concern I’ve heard echoed in the community. The economic engine of our City needs to be aware of what’s going on and shouldn’t be caught off guard or surprised by issues we bring up at Council. Whether we agree or disagree, there should always be more transparency and inclusion on our discussions.

I’m also a huge proponent of having our City be a better supporter of K-12 education. Developing the San Antonio of tomorrow starts in our schools. As a former educator, I know how important it is to train the future of our City as early as possible. The better educated our workforce is, the stronger our City and economy will be.

I think you might be able to argue that affordable housing is in fact economic development. The ability for all residents to affordably live and work with a minimal commute is important in driving the success of our City.

Last, I think supporting public transportation is mandatory. We can’t afford to have residents sitting in their car for an hour to drive 10-15 miles. It isn’t tenable going forward. Ultimately we need to figure out how to move the people in our City as its growth continues to surge.

  1. What are your thoughts on municipal government adopting policies to regulate employer operations regarding wages, compensation and scheduling?

While the idea of paid sick leave seemed to be a reasonable approach to affording San Antonio workers time off in their times of need, I certainly understand the business community’s need to govern themselves. By and large, government doesn’t exist to tell people what to do and should serve to be an engine to improve the quality of life for all residents.

  1. How would you encourage the City of San Antonio to develop safe, effective and efficient multi-modal transportation systems that moves people throughout San Antonio and this region?

This is a passion of mine. The City is growing faster than our roads can manage. It’s time for the City to invest in VIA to provide for more rapid transit and Primo lines in addition to supporting ConnectSA’s vision to provide dedicated mass transit for our residents. People in this City would take the bus if the difference in their commute was only 10-15 minutes slower. With dedicated lanes, though? We might be talking about commutes that are 30 minutes FASTER. That to me is so exciting and I’m so privileged to have a megaphone in this arena to promote the future of San Antonio’s transportation options. Recently VIA opened up the Stone Oak Park & Ride and I was proud to fight for a line that went from Stone Oak to the Medical Center in District 8 along Huebner. Providing our residents with improved and more frequent options will change the way our City moves.

  1. In January the City of San Antonio unveiled its draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). The Chamber is concerned with that the draft plan does not address how we – as a city – are going to pay for the plan. What are your thoughts on CAAP?

In theory, CAAP should be addressing legitimate issues with our environment as our City grows at a rapid rate. Ultimately I, too, share some of the concerns of the Chamber on this issue in that it’d be nice to see some of the costs associated with a project of this magnitude. The City cannot print money like the federal government might be able to, and so asking what the costs are should be a very reasonable and thoughtful approach to working on bettering the future of San Antonio’s environment and climate.

  1. If elected, how will you work to strengthen the relationship between the city council and the business community?

I think in the earlier question related to the business environment I’d agree that the City could do a better job of bringing the business community to the table on all major issues. Ultimately, it’s a two-way street. Invite me anywhere, and I’ll be there. I hope you’ll accept my invitations, too! Our relationship should start with honest dialogue and conversations and I’m ready to continue strengthening our bonds.

Richard Versace

  1. Please introduce yourself and share why you are seeking a seat on the San Antonio City Council,including why you feel you are the best candidate for the position.

My name is Richard Reza Versace, i have always have had compaction to help my community, now I love to do it in a larger scale, i have 40 years experience as a ceo of mr gattis pizza, and then physical therapist and personal trainer, I have trained and rehab many celebrities and so on, i am honest and I am authentic , I speak to people needs.

  1. What steps would you take as a city council member to strengthen the City’s business environment?

I have friend and family all over the world my dream is to make san Antonio number 1 city in the world by inviting countries and develop relationship with middle east and European countries.

  1. What are your thoughts on municipal government adopting policies to regulate employer operations regarding wages, compensation and scheduling?

Need to research this question but I love to increase minimum wages what I called starvation wages to living wages like Seattle, to increase economic activity.

  1. How would you encourage the City of San Antonio to develop safe, effective and efficient multi-modal transportation systems that moves people throughout San Antonio and this region?

I have studied japans transportation system its perfect , jappan has has an efficient public transportation network, especially within metropolitan areas and between large cities . Japan transportation is characterized by its punctuality. its superb service, and large crowd of people using it create city subway and bullet train with conventional lines to go through Texas.

  1. In January the City of San Antonio unveiled its draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). The Chamber is concerned with that the draft plan does not address how we – as a city – are going to pay for the plan. What are your thoughts on CAAP?

I have studied where our tax dollars goes and there is lot of program that we don’t really need , we need to look at  every penny that we are spending i am excellent in adjusting the budget and create money i have a degree in business administration , climate change is absolute and is effecting every country need to be very conscious  about that .otherwise, our plant  will be destroyed by pollution and carbon dioxide

  1. If elected, how will you work to strengthen the relationship between the city council and the business community?

City council will be the bridge between people and business community . communication is key, absolutely.

Patrick Von Dohlen

  1. Please introduce yourself and share why you are seeking a seat on the San Antonio City Council, including why you feel you are the best candidate for the position. 

My name is Patrick Von Dohlen and I am a candidate for San Antonio City Council, District 9. My wife, Happy, and I have been raising our nine children in San Antonio for over 20 years and I am passionate about serving our community to improve residents’ quality of life including my children and future grandchildren.

This city was founded on hard working, family values over three hundred years ago. I am proud to be a fifth generation Texan. I am running for the District 9 seat because I believe the City Council has become progressively agenda-driven, distracted away from the core purpose of city government. When elected, I will work for smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.

Our city exists to serve the people and should do this job with professional skill. We must pursue common sense solutions for the individual and common good and we should avoid unplanned, big-ticket government price tags and government intrusion in citizens’ lives as well as business owners’ rights.

I am the most experienced, pro-business candidate in the District 9 race. I have been a community advocate for over twenty years and, during that time, have led many community efforts to stop taxpayer waste and to increase transparency at city hall. In addition, I have been a small business owner for over twenty years. I am a partner in a boutique, fee-based financial planning firm that is a registered investment adviser of which I am an investment adviser representative.

I believe that numbers tell the truth. I am an advocate for avoiding spending more than one has and I will always, charitably, ask the objectively based, tough questions before a vote is made.

  1. What steps would you take as a city council member to strengthen the City’s business environment?

As a small business owner, I believe there are many things the City Council could do to strengthen the business environment and, therefore, improve the quality of life in our district and beyond:

  • Streamline city processes so businesses can establish their business and participate in commerce in an efficient way. Many city regulations, especially when it comes to zoning and planning, lack clarity making it difficult for many businesses to compete on the same playing field. Certainly, the complicated processes serve as a barrier to new business.
  • Limit and minimize government mandates in general and work to support the free market system.
  • Repeal government mandated paid sick leave and any other government mandates that adversely affect businesses in San Antonio and expose taxpayers to unnecessary litigation, legal fees and expenses that add to our city’s liabilities.
  1. What are your thoughts on municipal government adopting policies to regulate employer operations regarding wages, compensation and scheduling?

As a small business owner and a conservative, I believe the government should regulate business as little as possible. A local municipality certainly has limited prerogative intruding on small businesses and business owners’ rights. It is not the job of city leaders to set wages, compensation, paid vacation or scheduling for businesses in our district or in our city.

The job of City Council is to protect us and to provide basic amenities to improve our daily lives including and, most importantly, prudent and sound infrastructure and public safety. With great respect to our home-rule city, the primary authorities on these respective issues are our City Charter in cooperation with the Texas and US Constitutions, not in defiance of them.

  1. How would you encourage the City of San Antonio to develop safe, effective and efficient multi-modal transportation systems that moves people throughout San Antonio and this region?

I am an advocate for multi-modal transportation systems but I do believe we have an obligation to ONLY pursue initiatives that do not place an undue burden on residents in

the form of extra taxation. Accessible walking trails, expanded bus routes, safe and coordinated bike lanes and efficient infrastructure for our automobiles are all desirable solutions but we must devise plans that ensure we are not initiating systems that are beyond our means.

Moving forward without prudent due diligence is irresponsible and not an efficient way to meet the needs of the community.

In 2015, I helped lead the fight to stop the streetcar from coming to fruition without voter approval. Voter approval is key to any major infrastructure plan and should always be the basis of any city effort to ensure the taxpayers of San Antonio are completely informed of all the risks and benefits of the initiatives.

In my experience, the city has done everything they can to “sell” the idea of these initiatives and made much less effort to fully inform the public about the good, the bad and the ugly costs or risks involved. We need transparency in all aspects of local city government and I will work to ensure this is the basis of all they do.

Consequently, I believe the city should focus on the following as multi-modal initiatives are being discussed on a local level:

  1. Avoid accumulating unnecessary debt
  2. Avoid spending more revenue than it receives from taxpayers
  3. Create additional revenue streams without new government mandates or taxes
  4. Work toward property owner tax relief to assist people with escalating property values instead of creating social welfare mitigation funds
  5. Use this time of growth to minimize the over $5.2B of city debt placed on the backs of taxpayers
  6. Avoid putting all of our “eggs in one basket” by going “carbon neutral” for vehicles or for buildings. We need to keep our energy sources diversified.
  7. Utilize and encourage technological development to promote more efficient and cleaner systems

 

  1. In January the City of San Antonio unveiled its draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). The Chamber is concerned that the draft plan does not address how we – as a city – are going to pay for the plan. What are your thoughts on CAAP?

I am for taking care of our environment as part of our responsibility and authority over the earth. Ensuring our children and grandchildren inherit a healthy earth is critical and yet, I have serious questions for those who propose and support the implementation of CAAP.

I have read the document thoroughly and believe that many of its initiatives are dangerous to the financial well-being of our city and would negatively affect the lives of residents in San Antonio “for the sake of the climate.” The State of Texas leads the country and, certainly, the US leads the world in clean environment initiatives and I believe we should support those initiatives on a local level.

CAAP involves too much, too soon for too high a cost including the high cost of government mandates. I believe we need solutions that focus on market-driven and technological initiatives that encourage corporations and small businesses to improve production and manufacturing processes that will ultimately improve our environment through smart environment initiatives.

  1. If elected, how will you work to strengthen the relationship between the city council and the business community?

I have been involved in community advocacy for over twenty years. As a small business owner, it seems to me that the relationship between the City Council and the business community has been strained over the last decade.

The SA City Council must realize their job is to encourage business not regulate it. From government mandated paid sick leave and the labor peace agreement to refusing to pursue a national convention and banning a beloved restaurant from the airport concessions contract, the city’s actions speak volumes to the business community and suggests that City Council is not interested in free market enterprise.

We need a City Council that works everyday to encourage entrepreneurship and then gets out of the way of men and women who are the backbone of our city and country.

Want to become a member of the Chamber?