CONVERSE — There’s one thing Councilwoman Deborah James wants folks to know — she’s no quitter.
During the last several months, her determination has been tested in battles with City Council colleagues.
In 2018, James was removed from her seat by a 3-2 vote after missing consecutive sessions from March to June. The 63-year-old councilwoman was recovering from several medical procedures for a heart ailment after falling ill at a Feb. 20 meeting.
Nevertheless, her return to the dais comes after winning re-election Nov. 6 with 60 percent of the vote.
She credits “the grace of God” for a return to health and public service.
Even after the ballot-box victory, James became embroiled in another controversy with fellow leaders Dec. 4 after they censured her for an animated conversation she had with some police officers at City Hall during the Feb. 20 session.
The 6-0-1 decision, with James abstaining, followed a more than 45-minute review of the February incident involving what council members said constituted interference with a city official.
Video footage showed James making gestures during an exchange with Police Chief Fidel Villegas and two other officers. At the heart of the discussion, according to James, was her displeasure with the city’s decision the same month to assign its law-enforcement dispatch services to Bexar County.
James said she simply used her hands to communicate her reasons for being against the move.
“I am a French person and French people talk with their hands,” said the 26-year Converse resident. “Never did I point my finger in (Villegas’ face). I am verbal and I talk with my hands; that is not meaning any disrespect.”
Her grandson, Isiah Roper, was killed by gunfire last September. She contends that his life would’ve been saved if medical personnel arrived quicker.
“I did not know that when I was fighting for the rights for 911, that I was fighting for the rights for my grandson,” James said.
Lynette Perez, James’ attorney, spoke for her client during the December meeting. She asked whether the other council members had ever spoken with department officials in similar circumstances.
“We are left to draw conclusions from documents that would never be entered as evidence into a court of law because they’re hearsay,” she said. “Ms. James doesn’t believe she has anything to apologize for.”
City officials, however, admonished James for not taking her concerns through proper channels.
“Council members need to realize their position carries a lot of weight with employees, and it makes them nervous,” said Mayor Al Suarez. “You make a comment and they could take it as instruction. Give them the resources and let them do their job.”
Despite the challenges, James said she ran for re-election because she wants to ensure commerce gets a boost and is conducted properly in Converse.
“We need more businesses,” she said. “We need to look at surrounding cities like Live Oak and Universal City — they are bringing in businesses and all we have are tire shops and gas stations. We need restaurants, clothing stores and other businesses that will make our city prosper.”
During James’ council hiatus, officials announced a 51-acre mixed-use project called Santé 51 would be built near Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. According to planners, a variety of mercantile enterprises such as retail shops, restaurants and car dealerships will be attracted to the site.
James questions the federal government’s support in the long run of such encroaching development near the Air Force pilots’ training facility.
Her concerns match those of other officials in the greater San Antonio area worried the military will move if housing and retail developments adversely affect the armed forces’ mission. A pullout could cost the area billions in revenue.
“The government cares about the citizens’ safety, and when you start (building too close to the base), they are going to look (at) whether they are providing safety to the citizens as (development) gets closer and closer,” she said.