San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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October 14th, 2008
This Martian Life: Automatic (hopefully) for the people

I’m going to do something profoundly dumb here and I’m going to do it for profoundly selfish reasons. I think we need to create a new position in county government. It seems we have all the basics covered, law enforcement, taxes, roads…we already take care of these things (depending on your point of view). Here’s the thing though. Who do I call if something breaks or if I need to know something? As a citizen, I suppose I can go online, find the number, call it, etc…

What if I need to know something though?

Like many of you I have endured the Hays County Commissioners Court in all its glory. For those who have not seen the court at work imagine you’re taken up to an alien planet to watch their favorite sport. The game is incomprehensible, the explanations only make it more confusing and what passes for the seventh inning stretch can go on for hours. Once the game resumes, a game that has no innings, quarters, halves or timekeeping of any kind by the way, hardly anything was won and everything needs to be studied more. The game of perpetual study resumes next week and can have absolutely nothing to do with last weeks game. It might as well be a new season. Meanwhile you’re looking desperately for a little green guy with a probe because anything is better than watching this.

Covering this cacophony of citizenship is nigh impossible too. When I covered the court over the summer we were given a huge 5-inch clipped together packet with everything we needed to know for the meeting. The problem is this packet was given to us right before the meeting started. Imagine having to do your homework while taking a test at the same time. They talk fast at that dais and in a language incomprehensible to most of us. Not trying to sound too whiny here but a day to look it over so we know what we’re writing about would be nice.

See, we really want to do our job and tell you what’s going on there. Some members of the court are more forthcoming than others. I won’t say which, but we’re thankful. However, it’s a strange land on the 3rd floor of the courthouse. If we don’t know, we can’t report. If we can’t report then hypothetically that’s when folks get clever because they know they can “get away with it”. Nobody is watching. Nobody knows how to watch.

An old and true saw of journalism is that sunshine is the best disinfectant. The best way to keep the sun shining is to hire a public information officer for Hays County that does not serve at the pleasure of the presiding authority. It needs to be independent and devoted not only to providing the media with what we need to do our job, but for you, the citizen as well. One stop shopping for Hays County services and information would be nice for everyone. In the case of a disaster there would be one voice, one office, to coordinate information and get it out to whoever needs it the most. Agencies could filter what they need through it.

Plus, if open government is your thing, it just makes sense.

County Judges and Commissioners have more power than you might think. It is one of the most important legislative bodies in Texas. They have a say in where bond money goes and who gets it (Just ask San Marcos). We need to know everything we can and hiring a public information officer would be a great step for the county to show how committed they are to conducting business in the full light of day. That’s not an accusation either…just a hope.

There are other concerns too. Given the county’s growing love of open and green space let’s think of the trees that are slaughtered for this bureaucratic holocaust of the Tolstoy sized press packets. Going paperless could be coordinated through a public information office.

All I’m saying is this. If we can find the cash to maybe give county officials a raise (great timing on that one by the way) we can find a way to create a position in county government that can do some real good, cut waste, and handle our image from the lens of a communication professional.

There are a lot of questions about county government right now. We’ll do our jobs but unless there’s not just transparency, but convenient and reliable transparency, the business of the people can take a little longer than usual. So, if you have the insane notion of creating another government job, consider this one.

Why…because, once again, sunshine is always the best disinfectant.

By: Sean Wardwell

(Note: the opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author and are not the position of or its staff)

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0 thoughts on “This Martian Life: Automatic (hopefully) for the people

  1. Sean=right.
    and thanks for the chuckle.
    Televising Court meetings (like city council and P&Z)would go a long way towards fixing that illusive transparency problem. The raises they just gave themselves probably would have covered much of the cost.

  2. I think you’re on to something, however I do see a couple of flaws in having a position such as a “public information officer.” the first is the high possibility of corruption. Even if the position were created as non-partisan, it is likely to still be heavily influenced by elected officials, specifically commissioners and the Judge. Think about it. This is a person who the media relies on almost completely for all of their information. Don’t you think there would be extreme pressure on that individual from elected officials to “spin” the “facts” in a direction that would benefit those elected officials?

    Also, I would fear a substantial drop in the number of journalists actually doing enough research to get all angles of a story since they could get most of the information from this one source. Of course no reporters here at Newstreamz would be guilty of this, but others at less prestigious news outlets might. Of course, I do not know much about this and cannot give much insight on it because I am not a journalist.

    All in all, I think it has potential, but also potential to corrupt the system even more.

  3. you’re right. they do, but Chris was saying that they don’t televise Commissioners court meetings.

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