San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 3rd, 2008
Kyle council to overhaul committee structure

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

KYLE – While a growing budget and a matching tax increase hold center stage in the Kyle City Council chambers, the council is working up a re-organization of its various citizen committees.

Some on the council argue that it’s more than a mere reworking, because the proposal goes so far as to place councilmembers at the heads of all committees, thereby reducing citizen control.

The council passed the proposal for new committee bylaws on first reading Tuesday night, meaning the changes become official on a second reading scheduled for Sept. 16.

The proposal sets up seven committees, with one councilmember established as the chair for each committee. The committees are designated as Strategic Planning and Finance, Community Relations, Public Works and Service, Mobility, Parks and Recreation, Safety and Emergency Services, and Economic Development and Tourism.

The first six of those committees will be subject to open meetings posting requirements, which means each agenda must be made public three days before their meetings. The council is setting up the Economic Development and Tourism Committee to be exempt from open meetings requirements because it will be involved in business matters of the kind usually handed by council in executive session.

Among the other wrinkles in the proposal are the re-designation of the Parks and Recreation Board to committee status, and the subsumption of the library committee as, basically, a subcommittee of the Community Relations committee. Each committee will be required to convene at least once every three months.

Proponents for the changes say the new structure would make the committees more efficient, place more accountability on councilmembers and strengthen the relationships between the council and the committees.

“It’s to make the councilmembers work harder and to make the committees work better,” Kyle Mayor Miguel Gonzalez said. “We have had some committees that haven’t met since they were formed.”

By placing councilmembers in charge of committees, Gonzalez said, the committees are more likely to be more active, if for no other reason than that each councilmember will be pressed to convene her committee on a regular basis. Furthermore, said Gonzalez, the change puts someone with real authority in charge of each committee, making it more likely that a committee’s views could become city policy, and the committee will receive faster responses from staff.

Gonzalez pointed to the matter of the historic city hall, which has languished to a state of virtual disrepair in recent years simply because the issue didn’t belong to a policy committee. Though the Kyle Area Senior Zone (KASZ) and the city staff both worked on the city hall issue, Gonzalez said neither party pushed the matter into policy debate as a committee would have.

On the other side, councilmembers objected that citizens committees chaired by councilmembers are only so-called citizens committees, and that the city should use those committees to stimulate public participation.

“I feel that you limit citizens’ ability to be in leadership positions if you just have councilmembers as chairs of committees,” Councilmember Lucy Johnson said.

Said Councilmember David Salazar, “Putting a council person as a chair may not be conducive to getting as much involvement. I would like for these committees to be more citizen driven.”

During discussions to formulate the proposal, Councilmember Michelle Lopez said, the council discussed making each councilmember a co-chair of his committee, leaving another co-chair for a citizen. However, the proposal approved by council Tuesday night stipulated that each committee would be fully chaired by a councilmember.

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One thought on “Kyle council to overhaul committee structure

  1. Sounds to me like our City Council is moving towards a Commission form of government: Gonzalez says “it will put someone with real authority in charge of each committee making it more likely that a committee’s view could become city policy, and the committee will recewive faster responses from staff.” This is the basic form of the Commission form of government, whereby each elected official is in charge of one specific aspect of municipal government (public safety, finance, parks, public works, etc.) – and one of the advantages often cited of a Commission form of government is that policy decisions are quickly implemented. Unfortunately, our City Charter specifically states we ARE a council-city manager form of government. Oops.

    It is unlikely that committees will be that more active, seeing how the ordinance only requires a meeting take place only once every three months. Guess the council members know their limitations when it comes to attending meetings. Don’t get me wrong. They are very busy, and we all understand this and appreciate their hard work. Why in the world they want to add more to their plates is beyond me.

    As for the City Hall, this is a city-owned property that the City has not spent one red cent on in terms of maintenance since its last renovation in 1976. It has nothing to do with some committee not getting the City’s attention. It has to do with the City being a good steward of its own properties. The City should be budgeting money on a regular basis for the upkeep of its existing buildings. It does not. This is a policy decision made by our City Council. And choosing NOT to do something IS a choice. And an expensive one at that.

    I would like to thank Councilmembers Johnson and Salazar for recognizing the significance of citizen involvement in sustaining our democratic form of government.

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