I am pleased to be able to provide a report on the Campus To Council: Building University / City Relations conference that I attended several weeks ago. The conference was held in College Station, Texas. The location of this annual conference always seems to be held in a city with a large university and one that places a great deal of importance on a positive town and gown relationship. Last year it was held in Gainesville, Florida home of the University of Florida. The mayors of College Station and Gainesville both played a major role in attracting and planning of the conference and were eager to showcase the way they interact with the university administration and the students who live in their cities.One of the best outcomes of this years meeting was the fact that San Marcos and Texas State were represented extremely well. We had Councilmember Kim Porterfield and myself for the full conference and Mayor Narvaiz and City Manager Rick Menchaca for the first day. Also attending the full event were Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison, Assistant Police Chief Lisa Dvorak, Fire Marshall Ken Bell, San Marcos Police Officer Danny Arredondo, and our Student Liaison C.J. Morgan. It is valuable that these key individuals on our city government team were present to hear all the speakers.
The conference was held on the campus of Texas A&M which is an unbelievably large and sprawling campus and made our campus seem downright cozy and compact. It also made me pleased to realize that San Marcos is already a much more walkable and compact city than College Station, with the ability to become even more so. Our downtown core is something that stands out as another difference between the two cities. The percentage of multi-family and single family housing units is about the same in both cities at around 70%-30%.
The meetings were separated into categories such as: Branding & Tourism, Campus & Community Relations, City & University Planning, Community Services, Economic Development, Neighborhood Issues, and Safety & Security. The Keynote Speakers were the President of Prairie View A&M University and the President Emeritus of Texas A&M University-Commerce. One of these speeches focused on how the University President is perhaps the most important person who can make a difference in the town & gown relationship.
Some of the innovative programs being done in other cities that were spotlighted included: Community Liaison Positions that promoted positive interaction between students and non-students. One such program at Colorado State University is a CSU employee, and the city is invoiced twice a year for their share of the position costs.
Some cities had Neighborhood Services Offices, where issues of code compliance, community mediation, and building and zoning violations were reported and handled.
Many universities held quarterly meetings between the President and university administration members and the City Council and School Board members. All at one large table openly talking about issues, concerns, and ideas. We learned about different cities public nuisance ordinances and that some cities are partially reimbursed for law enforcement and require disclosure forms that Realtors must have signed when leasing or selling property. I also sat in a very encouraging session detailing how Texas A&M student government members actually visit the Aggies that receive a noise violation as well as the neighbor who made the complaint. It is called “The Visitation” and they worked directly with the Neighborhood Services Office in College Station. There was also a Neighborhood Integrity Plan put in place by many communities.
I am glad I attended again this year. I have made some valuable friendships with other elected officials and university staff members and learned from their experiences. I believe this will help our city council as we debate these ideas and determine how our city should evolve in the future as we work to produce better results. Building a relationship that members of the community and university would describe a very good takes a great deal of effort and an ongoing commitment and can’t be accomplished by the city or the university working alone.
By JOHN THOMAIDES
Council Member Place 6