The incredible Witte Museum hosted the Chamber’s first ever hybrid Board of Director’s meeting on Thursday, June 24. After Chamber Chair of the Board Hope Andrade welcomed Board members who attended the meeting in person or virtually, Kim Biffle, Chief Business Officer for the Witte Museum, introduced Heather Russo, Chief of Advancement for the Witte, who gave the Board an overview of exciting things happening at the Witte. After the global pandemic, the Witte, which was closed for nine weeks, has pivoted from survival to revival and is now featuring the Extreme Creatures Life at the Limits exhibit, highlighting an array of living creatures with surprising ways of thriving in harsh environments. From this October through March 2022, the museum will be featuring The Secret World Inside You exhibit, exploring the good and bad bacteria that live throughout our bodies. This exhibit will allow the Witte to highlight the Biomed industry and related programs here in San Antonio.
Next, Deputy City Manager María Villagómez presented an update on the Police Services Review project. This review was a direct result of feedback from community members who expressed concern about police reform and City Manager Erik Walsh’s desire to take a deliberate approach to address the concerns. The City developed a framework around four pillars:
- Foundational Issues: The City has already made changes in this area, including the use of force policy and in the frequency of training our police officers receive. Other projects that the City is working on in this area include the arbitration process and the transparency of the information they communicate to the community.
- Expectation: This includes what the community thinks the role of the police should be and what services may be able to be provided by other departments, providers, or resources. The City conducted scientific surveys and held community meetings to gather public input to inform this pillar.
- Input: Feedback and information gathered from the community was briefed to the City Council, Public Safety Committee, neighborhood associations, and stakeholder groups.
- Response Alternatives & Funding: This pillar involves evaluating police responses to mental health, domestic violence, and homelessness. The City is investigating how the police can team up with other City departments or providers in response to the key areas identified.
Next steps in the process are to brief the plan to City Council, gather feedback and recommendations during the month of July, and incorporate recommendations in the city budget in August.
City Manager Erik Walsh then briefed the Board on the collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Erik stressed that the City’s priority is to rebalance the disciplinary system to ensure final discipline is not overturned or replaced by an arbitrator’s decision. Additionally, Erik discussed the City’s FY 2022 trial budget projected at $2.9 billion. Critical updates for the Five-Year Forecast include:
- San Antonio’s economy continues to improve, but uncertainty on pace of recovery remains.
- Sales tax revenue has performed better than projected at mid-year budget review.
- Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) collections have improved since mid-year review.
- General Fund position has improved since Forecast presentation in May.
He also presented the City’s plan for allocating funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The strategy focuses on financial stability, revenue loss recovery, and immediate community. Next Steps for the COSA Budget are:
- Goal Setting Session – June 25
- Budget Proposal – August 12
- Council and Community Input – (August – September)
- Budget and Adoption – September 15
Next, JD Salinas, the Chamber’s Public Policy Chair and Assistant Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs for AT&T, presented a proposed amendment to the Chamber’s Federal Legislative Agenda. The Board voted unanimously to include the following statement: The Chamber supports the passage and adoption of the Victim of Crimes Act Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act (H.R. 1652 / S. 611).
This priority was submitted by BCFS Health and Human Services. The Crime Victims’ Fund, established by the Victim of Crimes Act (VOCA) supports important victim assistance and compensation programs that make our communities safer. These funds go toward prevention, interdiction, and restoration for survivors of atrocities such as human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse. Funds are generated by people or corporations convicted of federal crimes and ordered to pay fines, penalties, forfeited bail bonds, and special assessments. These are not taxpayer dollars. Reserves from the Crime Victims’ Fund shrunk significantly in recent years, as high-dollar federal court decisions declined with the increasing trend toward out-of-court settlements. As a result, the fund’s year-end balance shrunk by nearly two-thirds in three years, from $13.1 billion in FY 2017 to an estimated $4.4 billion in FY 2020. The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act would appropriately redirect fines and penalties from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, which are forms of out-of-court settlements, into the Crime Victims’ Fund.
Following JD’s presentation, Senator Leticia Van de Putte provided an update of the 87th Legislative Session, highlighting the Chamber’s Top Business Priorities:
- SB6: Pandemic Liability Bill. Effective 6/14/2021.
- HB5: Expands broadband across Texas. Effective 6/15/2021.
- HB19: The Keep Texas Trucking Initiative protects businesses with commercial vehicles from abusive lawsuits. Effective 9/1/2021.
- SB14: The Business Freedom and Uniformity Act, relating to the regulation by a municipality or county of certain employment benefits and policies. Failed.
Senator Van de Putte also shared that H1556, which would have reformed and expended Chapter 313, failed; however, every single military affairs bill that the Chamber advocated for passed during the session. She also discussed the passing of the SB1, the $250 billion budget, which included $50 million to preserve, maintain, and restore the Alamo and its surrounding complex and $152 million for the State Hospital and spent some time discussing the Governor’s veto of funding for the Legislative Branch of the Government, which will be addressed during the upcoming special session.
Finally, Richard Perez, the Chamber’s President and CEO, presented his President’s Update, touching on the 2021 City Council Election results. He shared that the Chamber is in the process of meeting with all City Council members to build relationships and share priorities. Richard then asked Board Members to send a letter to Governor Abbott asking him to place SB14, also known as the Business Freedom and Uniformity Act, as an item for action on the Special Session(s). This bill will prevent local governments from imposing rules on such things as employee benefits, the imposition of rules regarding scheduling, also known as predictive scheduling, that has been pushed by unions here locally and nationally, and the potential for changes in wages. We believe that instead of concentrating on regulations like these, city councils should be focusing on fixing potholes, picking up stray animals, and making sure that we have a strong police department that is fighting crime. Richard also discussed a recent visit from the Tampa Bay Chamber, who is interested in learning more about San Antonio and our relationship with our military community. They are bringing more than 100 business leaders to San Antonio to learn even more on October 24 -26.
In his personnel update, Richard explained that our Vice President of Finance Rose Deveraux recently left the organization, and we have found an individual to replace her. Santos Alarcon, who currently serves as the Director of Finance for the city of Pearsall, will start at the Chamber on July 6 and assume the role of our Vice President of Finance.
To wrap up, Richard reviewed upcoming events and invited the Board to join us for all of them, but specifically the New City Council Reception, which is an excellent opportunity for us to get to know all of our City Council members.