Mano a Mano: Chief Cop v. Citizen
Part of a series about fiscal corruption in city government -
San Antonio – Awareness of the grave danger of one's position comes in small ways that carry a huge impact.
John Foddrill remembers a particular conversation with a San Antonio police officer that led to a moment of mind-blowing clarity.
It hadn't been long since he had discovered that, though he rode herd on a $5 million budget as the telecommunications chief of the City of San Antonio, “my operation never had any money.”
Five million dollars? That's the wrath of God. People scratch, bite and fight for that kind of loot. Every time. Without fail. Depend on it.
“A lot of money passed through my budget, but it didn't stay there,” he recalls. In fact, at about the same time, he had been nominated as “employee of the month” to honor his ability to save the city dads big money through various innovative practices. That was what opened up the dialogue that eventually led to his future woes as a whistleblower.
“My budget was just a huge fund they used to raid for anything they needed.” Loose accounting practices, he had discovered, kept his department hamstrung.
Imagine the chilling effect which this anecdote reveals suddenly taking hold in the life of a middle-aged bureaucrat – not a gangster or a wise guy – but a man with a family, a mortgage, and a long back trail of good civic conduct.
“My life has been in danger since I first began as the City of San Antonio's Telecommunications Manager to expose the decades of fraud and theft ...especially the millions of 911 communications dollars that went missing, thus crippling the emergency system. I remember speaking with an San Antonio police officer in the parking lot of my office building when he asked me to stand up near the front door instead of by my car. He said that it would be too easy for a unit from the SAPD substation to come around the corner and take me out in an innocent traffic accident. He said that he didn't want to be collateral damage.”
Collateral damage? You're talking war talk, now. Welcome to the NFL.
As the manager who answered for the fact that a miserable performance of the emergency call system for police and fire cases had, by his own estimation, a 25 percent fail rate, he was only too aware of the kind of tensions those budgetary vagaries caused among the ranks of the men and women who rely on rapid communications to save not just the lives of crime and fire victims, but their own. That's when calls actually went through. Sometimes, the system dropped them altogether, leaving cops, firemen, citizens with imperiled lives standing, looking at a dead instrument, listening to a dial tone, and not knowing why.
Police reacted to multiple situations of waiting long, drawn-out periods for backup officers to arrive because they hadn't gotten the message. Firemen had horror stories to tell about calls in which lives and property had been lost due to slow response times. Who knew? San Antonio media of all types has long filled columns of print and made air time blossom with horror stories of hours-long waits for criminal histories of arrested suspects, response times of anywhere from 15 minutes to a half-hour in situations of dire emergency.
Property owners, business operators, apartment and home dwellers alike were beginning to question whether they were getting their money's worth.
The truth? They were not, and Foddrill did not mind saying so. He wanted to make some changes. He still does.
Long after his career with the city ended, he continued to expose corruption, and it took its toll on his emotional well-being. Picture this.
Even the happy fact that his son and his family live just around the corner carries its emotional freight, and it has an evil eye trained on not just he, but loved ones who are totally innocent.
“When City Councilman Bernal's supporters began making terroristic threats against me in the fall of 2011 in an effort to silence my reports of corruption...A law enforcement officer warned me that my son and his family should take precautions, as he lives just a few blocks from me and is John E Foddrill, Jr . It was feared that the criminals threatening me would mistake my son's home for mine and harm his family...including my little granddaughter.”
In John Foddrill's world, the paradigm is upside down; the cops and prosecutors are criminals because the DA and her staff ignore all calls for help, and the police routinely close out complaints by taking no action. In fact, for nearly four years, he wasn't able to go to city hall to inquire about a water bill or take action on any matter of household significance – by order of the Chief of Police, William McManus. A federal judge recently lifted the ban.
But that's not all. On a midnight in 2011, two uniformed police officers arrived at his home to perform a “mental health check” on Mr. and Mrs. Foddrill. In their slumber, they didn't hear the proverbial knock at the door. That's when the mythical element of the gun entered the life of the family Foddrill. The cops questioned a terrified couple who lived next door about whether he had any guns. Had they seen them? Were there any disturbances, threats involving guns?
“On the night of July 4, 2011 SAPD Chief McManus and SAPD sent two honest, ethical officers to my home to perform a mental health check. When they got my family and my neighbors out of bed, things could have gone much differently if any other of McManus's boys had been dispatched. With no outside witnesses it would have been very easy to Taser me, cuff me, and then have me die in the back of the patrol car. Thank God the officers stated that they wanted no part in the criminal cover-up and instead apologized to us for the intrusion after speaking with us for over two hours. Two hours in a bathrobe talking to the fuzz about something that in fact never happened? The neighbors? Give me a break.
“I still fear that McManus and others will not hesitate to find some excuse to arrest and jail me if I appear in a public forum. Once in his custody...behind closed doors...I fear that I would never come out alive...problem solved for McManus and criminals at the city, county, state and federal levels.”
NEXT: Documentation of the $5 million slush fund that passed for the Alamo City's phone budget