Converse councilwoman labels attempt to remove her a political witch hunt

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Converse City Councilwoman Kate Silvas told The Texas Monitor on Sunday that the attempt to boot her from that panel was a “witch hunt” instigated by Mayor Al Suarez as a political ploy to put a damper on her campaign to replace him. 

The city election is Tuesday. Silvas and council colleague Deborah James are running against Suarez to be mayor of the small city in Bexar County. 

“This is not a small coincidence that this witch hunt is happening in the middle of a mayoral election against a 12-year incumbent,” Silvas told The Texas Monitor. 

“No sir, the evidence on her violation of the city charter was overwhelming,” Silvas wrote The Texas Monitor in an email when asked if the attempted removal was a political move.

In voting to oust Silvas from the council on Oct. 22, her colleagues said she violated the city charter by making requests for public information directly to city staff members rather than through City Manager Le Ann Piatt.

District Judge Martha Tanner temporarily blocked the council from replacing Silvas. A hearing will take place Wednesday, the day after the election, on a motion for a longer delay until Silvas’ suit challenging her removal can be heard.

The discussion of Silvas’ dismissal was initially on the Oct. 22 agenda for the executive session portion of the meeting, but the talk was held in public at her request.

In addition to the issue of who fielded the requests, council members expressed concerns about their volume — more than 5,000 pages of city budgets and audits and Converse Economic Development Corporation budgets going back two decades, as well as text and email messages sent and received by Piatt since April 2018.

At the meeting, Councilwoman Kathy Richel, who brought the motion to remove Silvas, said Piatt was essentially serving as Silvas’ “personal secretary” in fulfilling the records requests.

Silvas did not attend that meeting, in part because of concerns that it was illegal because only two council members – rather than a majority of the six-member panel – requested it. 

Although the San Antonio Express-News continues to report that James also voted to oust Silvas (as was subsequently reported by The Texas Monitor in summarizing that newspaper’s accounts), city officials on Monday pointed out a video of the meeting on the city website that shows James was not in attendance. 

The other four council members voted to remove Silvas while Suarez abstained, although he often votes on city matters.

Silvas said Suarez had a majority so he didn’t vote “to keep his powder dry.”

Suarez told The Texas Monitor he agrees with the actions of the council. 

“Although I did not vote (abstained), I do support the actions of the majority of the council (4-0),” he wrote. “It’s a matter of accountability for everyone concerned. No one is above the law.”

Suarez said he does not attack his political opponents.

I do not ever consider running against any opponents, I merely run for the people of Converse,” he wrote.

Silvas explained during a special council meeting Friday night that she sought the records to get a better understanding of city operations, the Express-News wrote.

That newspaper previously reported that only two of the more than two dozen requests for that information were made directly to city staff members.

Silvas reiterated to The Texas Monitor that she needs to be aware of past decisions to help move the city forward.

“I can’t make decisions without information,” she said. “It was a simple fact-finding process to be sure I know what I’m talking about.”

She also said that several of the approximately 150 Converse city employees have complained to her about their working conditions. Silvas said some long-time employees have left city employment because “they were in a situation that was stressful.”

One request was for copies of any complaints filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the city, she said.

“As part of my uncomfortable questions, I received an uncomfortable response,” she said of the attempt to remove her.

Silvas’ campaign platform includes an emphasis on fiscal responsibility and public transparency.

“No one else is asking questions. It’s an interesting dilemma to be in a position of responsibility and to be hemmed in from doing that job,” she said.

Silvas moved to Converse in 2011 to direct the EDC. She quit that post last June in part, she said, out of frustration at what she perceived to be Suarez’s lack of commitment to economic development. She was elected to the council last November.

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