Andrew Segovia, born and raised in San Antonio, was perfect choice to be the city’s official attorney.
A graduate of Central Catholic High School, he attended the University of Notre Dame. He received his master’s degree from Texas A&M and then joined the U.S. Navy, where he served as a lieutenant for six years.
After earning his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin, he joined the in-house legal department at General Motors in Detroit. He worked at GM for 26 years as a lawyer and executive.
In August 2016, the San Antonio City Council voted to make Segovia the city’s chief legal officer.
“Andy, you have, in my judgment, the best of both worlds — a University of Texas education and an A&M degree. There’s a subtle distinction there, but it’s an important one for me to note,” San Antonio Councilman Joe Krier said when he voted to hire Segovia. “You are about to take up the business of professional cat herding.”
Texas Lawbook correspondent Nushin Huq interviewed Segovia about his time at GM, the current Texas legislative session, what he looks for in hiring outside counsel and his establishment of the city’s department of diversity, equity and inclusion, which also reports to him.
Texas Lawbook: What made you decide to join GM after law school and what did you work on there?
Andrew Segovia: I had done some internships both at GM after my first year and at law firms both in Austin and in San Antonio. The reason I went with GM was, back then, they were the Fortune One company. I didn’t want to wake up three or five years later and wonder could I have made it at the Fortune One company in the world. My thought was, I’ll go up there and work three or five years and then come back to San Antonio. The three to five years turned into 26. I really enjoyed my career at General Motors. It’s a global company with all sorts of things going on.
They moved me around quite a bit. I started in the commercial division, then went to the environmental division, then product liability. I worked in international law for some time, and then back to commercial. Before I left, I was head of the product liability team while they were going through a major recall effort in litigation. I served in the IT group for a while. I served as a general counselor for GM Mexico for a while. I had quite a variety of assignments. That really helped me in terms of applying a lot of what I learned to what I do today.
Lawbook: How did you get from GM to City of San Antonio attorney?
Segovia: At GM, I mentioned that there had been a major recall. We got a new general counsel. To put it bluntly, his main mission was to replace everyone who had been there with new people. I saw the handwriting on the wall. I saw the opening come up as city attorney for San Antonio. I knew Sheryl Sculley not just from afar, but also from visiting San Antonio. I still have family there, and we’d visit once or twice a year and I saw all the dramatic positive changes in San Antonio while she was city manager. I applied for the job even though I didn’t have any municipal law experience, and very fortunately I was able to get the job.
Lawbook: Did you have any interest in going to public service before?
Segovia: I did — only because I had served in the military. I served in the Navy for six years, and that sense of service was really fulfilling for me. I thought working for the City of San Antonio government would also be just as satisfying. It really has been. You can see a lot of the things we do have a direct impact on the community, both long-term and near-term. So, it’s been very fulfilling.
Lawbook: Tell us more about the city’s legal department.
Segovia: We have four divisions, so we have four deputy city attorneys. We have our litigation division, which handles all litigation both against the city and where we’re plaintiffs. We have the regulatory division, which helps us comply with all the various city council laws that we have to comply with like open meetings, open records [and] environmental regulations. They make sure that from a compliance standpoint the city is compliant with all the laws that we need to comply with as we conduct city business. Then we have a commercial division, which handles all our contracts, be they for landscaping all the way to buying buildings or facilities and major transactions like the barge contract that could be 10-, 12-, 15-, 20-year agreements. Last but not least, we have our prosecution division, in which we prosecute violations of our city code and our animal control codes all the way up to Class C misdemeanor.
So we have four divisions, 65 attorneys and we have the office of the city attorney, which is myself and First Assistant City Attorney Liz Provencio. She’s the second in command. Then we have support staff that help us on that. That’s 80 to 84 people, if you include all the support staff.
Lawbook: Are there certain issues or certain departments that are busier or have a heavier workload?
Segovia: Actually, it is pretty evenly divided. I like to say the city is like any other big enterprise, which is why I was able to translate a lot of the skillset from General Motors. Just like any other large enterprise, there’s different moving parts. We get sued a lot. There’s a lot of people that are driving thousands of miles a day supporting city services all the way from our waste disposal people, the public works to the police and fire. You might imagine they get involved in accidents. Sometimes we get sued on that. We have thousands of contracts that we have with construction contracts, landscaping [and] other services that sometimes there’s commercial disputes on that. We have quite a bit of information requests from citizens that we need to make sure we comply with the timing and the scope of the information act. So we have quite a workload that we feel is spread out evenly amongst the four.
Lawbook: Throughout Texas, each city has different services that is owned by the city, adding to the work of the legal department. For example, the utility in Austin. What are some services that falls under the jurisdiction of the City of San Antonio that might be privately owned in other cities?
Segovia: That’s a great question because we do have our utility for electricity and gas. Then we have SAWS (San Antonio Water System), which is our utility for water. They are separate but owned by the city. They have their separate boards and actually they have their separate legal departments. We do have the airport and we do handle the airport from our office in terms of legal matters.
Lawbook: Texas has been growing rapidly. You’ve had this job for seven years. What are legal issues you are seeing as a result of the growth?
Segovia: For a while, we were the fastest growing city in the country. It does provide challenges in terms of making sure our city services, both in terms of scope and quality, remain the same if not improved. The other thing that’s been impacted: the city’s ability over the last several legislatures to annex has been substantially limited. We almost don’t have any ability to annex anymore, which creates also land use issues and how you handle that. So there has been an increase of land-use issues. Probably more stress in terms of our day-to-day delivery service. What I mean by that is fire, police, public works [and] waste disposal, things like that. That can be a challenge sometimes.
Lawbook: How’s that translate into the work that the legal department does?
Segovia: As the departments try to come up with different ways to try to manage that growth and come up with more efficient ways of doing things, there are legal issues that have to be looked at or legal challenges in terms of a framework under certain laws can limit your creativity, for lack of a better term, in terms of trying to come up with different approaches. We try to help the client as best we can. The various city departments accomplish their objectives but accomplish them in a way that minimizes legal risk.
Lawbook: Do you communicate with different legal departments in other cities or counties?
Segovia: We stay involved with a national organization, International Municipal Lawyers Association, IMLA, that we participate in. Pre-pandemic, there was little coordination amongst the city attorneys in Texas. Chris Caso, who’s the [former] city attorney in Dallas, started with a pandemic weekly call because we were all facing similar challenges in terms of our local orders and complying with the governor’s orders. We’ve continued that call. It’s not as frequent; it’s not every week. It’s once a month now, but we have communications open.
We have open communications with several of our fellow city attorney offices. We work a lot with Austin, share ideas with them because they’re so close to us and have similar issues.
So … we can always improve on that, and that’s one thing that we’ll look forward doing. Having an in-person conference or meeting I think would be helpful. I think there’s a lot we can learn from each other because we do handle a lot of the same issues.
Lawbook: Can you give an example?
Segovia: Law enforcement is a big one. Always trying to balance making sure we have a safe community with the appropriate type of policing that’s community-driven. That’s something that we all are facing. Land use issues is another one, and compliance with open-meetings, open-records acts. So there’s a lot of things that we can coordinate that we’re all facing similar challenges on. Growth is one of them, and also looking at the homeless and how we handle the homeless community. That’s a big issue, particularly for the larger cities. And we all have different ordinances. We can learn how one can be more effective, for example, from one another.
Lawbook: What are some of the issues you are following in the legislature?
Segovia: The city council adopts a state legislative agenda, and so I don’t want to stray from that too much. But I will say, strictly from a legal standpoint, we do follow any changes to the open-meetings act, open-records, anything having to do with how we handle counsel. We also track anything having to do how we handle emergency response, because all those have a very thick legal overlay to them. So we do follow those. Other than that, from a policy standpoint, we follow what the council’s agenda is. The one key difference I will say is, here in the City of San Antonio, the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility reports up to me. So we’re also following any proposed changes in terms of what the state is trying to try to legislate what DEI departments can do or not do.
Lawbook: Please tell us more about the DEI department.
Segovia: Before, we had an office of equity that really was strictly focused on equity in terms of delivery of city services. I thought that we should be taking a broader view and look at diversity, look at our inclusion efforts, including language access, across the broader spectrum. I complained so much about it that I got tasked with forming a department. So we did that. We have a great DEI director, Dr. Jennifer Mata, and so that’s why they report up through my office, and the expectation is eventually that will grow… and hopefully report some days directly to the city manager. Right now they report to me, and I’m pretty passionate about it. I always have been about diversity and inclusion. So right now, it’s a good fit.
Lawbook: What are you looking for when you hire outside counsel and for what issues?
Segovia: We try to do as much as we can in-house because we recognize, as stewards of tax dollars, we have to be very careful with how we spend money. That being said, if we have an issue that requires certain expertise from a law firm that frankly sometimes we don’t find here in San Antonio, we go to those law firms. And I’ll give you a perfect example. I think it was three years ago, but we had an investigation by the FAA into the whole Chick-fil-A matter. We hired a firm out of Washington, D.C., who had a lot of experience in terms of dealing with the FAA on enforcement actions like that. So we look to firms that have the expertise on certain things. We look to firms that are willing to work with us directly, and then I also look at diversity. Are they going have women and lawyers of color working on the project?
Lawbook: Is that hard to find?
Segovia: No, not if you ask. It’s not as hard as it used to be, but you still have to ask.
Lawbook: What are some goals you have for the department?
Segovia: Some of the goals I have is to be known first and foremost as a client-driven department. The city departments don’t have a choice; they have to come to us. Our goal is that if they did have the choice, they would still would rather go to their city attorney than anybody else because we provide first-class legal services. But perhaps more importantly, we’re always driven to help them accomplish their objectives, their missions, so that we’re seen as a value- add and they call us in even when there is no legal issue yet.