A City Council meeting aimed at discussing artificial intelligence and tractor-trailer parking regulations never happened Wednesday, waylaid by an ongoing power struggle between city staff and a group of five council members.

In the past week, that group has taken issue with the city's handling of the fire union contract, the city attorney's performance and more broadly what they see as a lack of transparency.

On Wednesday they took it a step further by giving themselves a name, and displaying a willingness to buck city staff's control.

“These people behind me, our ‘Block of Five', our goal is now — and always has been — to make sure that this government is working for the people of San Antonio,” Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) told reporters gathered outside City Hall while the policy briefing session was supposed to happen.

That “Block of Five” included council members Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), Teri Castillo (D5), Marina Alderete Gavito (D7) and Marc Whyte (D10).

Erik Walsh answers questions from the media after a last-minute executive session. From left, Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), Marc Whyte (D10) and Nirenberg look on. Credit: Bria Woods / ISF FORUM

“Our goal will continue,” Cabello Havrda said. “We're looking for transparency, we're looking for accountability. And we're going to continue this process with the city, the city manager and his office.”

Cabello Havrda called for City Attorney Andy Segovia to be fired last week, leading up to a last-minute executive session regarding his performance, which was held Wednesday. These meetings are intended to be confidential.

“We're just here to eat the popcorn like everyone else,” said Joe Jones, president of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, who attended the public part of the meeting and following press conferences. “I think what's most important to see if there's any takeaways — to see if there were any revelations.”

Few details were revealed about Segovia's future, but the day ended with nine out of 11 councilmembers, including the mayor, standing behind City Manager Erik Walsh in apparent agreement with his plan forward. Walsh said he would meet with Segovia, but was still confident in his abilities.

City department leaders tasked with presenting at the afternoon's meeting waited in the City Hall briefing room for two and a half hours, much of which was taken up by the council's executive session meeting about the city attorney's employment.

Dueling messages

As city staff waited, a power struggle broke out between the city's communications team and the council offices, which both sought to control the narrative about the day's events.

Going into the council meeting, the city's communications and engagement team announced plans to whisk reporters away for a media briefing with Walsh after it had concluded.

But before that could happen, the five council members who requested the executive session sought to get their version of the story out first.

As the executive session was concluding, Cabello Havrda's chief of staff Victor Landa summoned reporters out to the hallway to talk to the council members, but city staff cleared the hallway, calling it a “safety” hazard. So the “Block of Five” met with reporters outside before the meeting had officially ended, and before Walsh got a chance to.

After the group got its meeting with reporters outside of City Hall, council returned to the briefing room just long enough for Mayor Ron Nirenberg to adjourn the meeting. The council was up against the time constraint of a 5 p.m. public comment session.

In Walsh’s press briefing, he vowed to thoroughly review council’s concerns.

“Part of today's step was to get feedback from all the elected officials and I'll have that conversation with [Segovia],” Walsh told reporters, while joined by most of council. “I still continue to have confidence in [Segovia] and the entire city attorney's office.”

Council members dispersed with little discussion.

“I feel like the majority of us being there is my silver lining for today,” said Councilwoman Sukh Kaur (D1) as she was leaving City Hall.

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the ISF FORUM. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the ISF FORUM's...