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

May 4th, 2009
Freethought San Marcos: Maybe we need a Community Bill of Rights

Freethought San Marcos: A column

Now that it has become clear that the San Marcos City Council is dominated by a mayor and a majority (and sometimes all council members) who are beholden to and a part of the economic development cabal that has developed over the past twenty years, perhaps the citizens should find a way to make some changes before any more of the city’s tax revenues are given away to carpetbagging developers with their hands out.

The first solution to this problem that comes to mind is to find some candidates who oppose the giveaways that have dominated our political life these past two decades. That, of course, is easier said than done. There are problems with finding candidates who can make the time commitments necessary to run and serve, contending with various personalities, fund-raising for campaigns, and watching out for the slick tricks (such as last-minute withdrawals of candidates from certain races) that make this approach less than satisfying, though it is necessary.

Another idea that is gaining support in home-rule cities all over the country is the adoption of a Community Bill of Rights into a city’s charter. This can be done by agreement with a city council, not a likely proposition in San Marcos, or by referendum. Implementing this idea is not an easy process, but it focuses entirely on issues and purpose, rather than on specific candidates.

Another major benefit to this approach is that it helps stimulate grassroots organizing among all segments of the population to develop the Community Bill of Rights, gather the needed signatures on a referendum petition, and get out the vote in support of the Community Bill of Rights.

A Community Bill of Rights would focus on the issues most important to San Marcos residents. For instance, after living here for 25 years and going through two master plan projects, I have some sense about the issues that are important to large segments of our community, some of which are addressed occasionally by the city council, but most of which are shunted aside when they conflict with the projects important to the economic development cabal.

Once passed and included in the city charter, a Community Bill of Rights gives citizens enforceable rights, rather than just (sometimes) vague policies and goals found in most master plans.
While it is not my place to say what a Community Bill of Rights for the citizens of San Marcos should include (the specifics must be developed by the citizens), I will offer some ideas gleaned from around the country to give the reader a better understanding of how a Community Bill of Rights might work.

Some issues that could be included in a Community Bill of Rights are the right of our natural environment to exist and flourish; the right of affordable and safe housing; the right of affordable and renewable energy; the right of residents to determine the future of their neighborhoods; the right to affordable preventive health care; the right to a locally-based economy; the right of workers to be paid the prevailing wage or a living wage, and the right to work as apprentices on certain construction projects; the right of workers to employer neutrality when unionizing, and to constitutional protections within the workplace; and the right of residents, workers, neighborhoods, neighborhood councils, and the city to enforce the Community Bill of Rights.

Each Community Bill of Rights issue should be debated, discussed, explored, and studied until a coherent statement of what it encompasses can be set down in writing to be considered by the citizens as part of the Community Bill of Rights. While no individual may be concerned with every issue, groups and organizations and citizens can join together in agreement on a wide range of concerns, supporting one another to achieve the overall goal of citizen empowerment.

By way of example, following is an explanation of the “right to a locally-based economy” as formulated by citizens in Spokane, Washington:

“It is a simple but powerful fact — the more money you keep locally, the more stable your community will be economically. This means we need to spend locally, reinvest locally, lend locally, produce locally and create incentives for local business.”

“Residents have the right to a locally-based economy to ensure local job creation and enhance local business opportunities. The right shall include the right to have local monies reinvested locally by lending institutions, and the right to equal access to capital, credit, contracts, incentives, and services for businesses owned by Spokane residents.”
Questions and answers

“Don’t Residents Already Have This Right by Choosing to Buy Locally?”

“No. Everyone can choose to purchase goods and services from local businesses, but no one can exercise that choice if there are no locally produced goods and services. An individual’s right to decide where to spend money, therefore, may become meaningless unless an environment is created in which locally-owned businesses can exist and flourish. This Right seeks to create that environment by requiring a re-circulation of local capital locally, and by providing an equal playing field for competition by locally owned businesses.”

“Wouldn’t the City be Required to Enforce this Right?”

“No. Under these Charter changes, the City could choose to take action to guarantee this right, but is not mandated to do so. City government, however, would be forced to respect this right, and if City officials violated the right by creating an unequal playing field for locally-owned businesses – by establishing conditions through contracting, bidding, or tax incentives that favor non-locally owned businesses – then owners of locally owned businesses could force the City to eliminate those policies by using this provision.”

“Doesn’t this Require Banks to (Lend) Locally?”

“Yes. The Right would require lending institutions to reinvest “local monies” into the local economy. What constitutes “local monies” and “local investment” would be determined if a dispute arose over a refusal by a lending institution to keep local capital local. Those terms have been left vague in the Charter provisions so that their definitions can be determined on a case-by-case basis in concrete disputes, and so that those definitions can change to keep pace with economic developments. The Right would not require banks to abandon existing lending requirements – such as ability to pay and credit worthiness – but it would require banks to place an emphasis on local re-circulation of local capital.”

“Would a Private Business Have to Ask for Bids from Locally-Owned Businesses?”

“Yes, but only if there were locally-owned businesses that satisfy the needs of the private business.

This provision wouldn’t require the private business to re-design their request for bids, or request for proposals, just to qualify locally-owned businesses for the bidding process, but it would require that the private business open their bidding and proposal process to locally-owned businesses that would satisfy their needs. The Right establishes an equal opportunity playing field, which enables locally-owned businesses to compete openly, equally, and fairly with non-local businesses.”

I hope this gives the reader an idea about how a Community Bill of Rights can work in a community like San Marcos. It could be developed through a process that would be expected to take two to three years, but the most important aspect is that it would be a project of, by, and for local citizens, their organizations, their neighborhoods, and their groups, unhampered by the controlling influence of politicians and San Marcos’s economic development cabal.

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7 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Maybe we need a Community Bill of Rights

  1. If you’re setting yourself up for a run for office I appreciate the transparency. I’ll be sure to thow my entire support behind your opponent.

  2. If you think I am interested in running for city council (or any other office), you must not be a regular reader of my column. Nevertheless, I have no idea what you read in this column that would even hint at such a ludicrous idea. I’ve said it before, and I will repeat it for you: I sat through 5 1/2 years of council meetings and workshops when I was city attorney in the 1980s. I have no desire ever again to sit through an entire city council meeting, though I may attend on occasion or watch parts of them on the cable channel.

  3. 1. Since council members are elected, you can excercise your influence through your vote. Seems to me people are always looking for a way to overcome an election they dont like the results of.
    2. I look around and San Marcos is doing just fine compared to many communities that are hobbled by uneccessary debate on what usually turns out to be just another version of a special interest.

  4. I look for my rights in the US Constitution. These new rights that are proposed sound really expensive.
    We don’t need to event new rights which we all have to pay for.

  5. Before dismissing a Community Bill of Rights out of hand as too expensive, we should at least discuss the details. As to finding all of your rights in the US Constitution, remember that Amendment 9 provides that:

    “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

    And Amendment 10:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    So, the first ten amendments to the Constitution (referred to as the Bill of Rights) were not the last word on the rights that the people can enjoy.

  6. I like to read your articles and find them very thoughtful. Sometimes, however, you go off the deep end. The first ten amendments to the Constitution deal with limiting the government’s power over American citizens. The “rights” you list don’t exist anymore than a right can be created for me to force you to work for me. There is no right we can demand from each other(the government) for health or affordable housing.

    You can limit government’s authority to confiscate your money that is used to give to other individuals (called Economic Development) by changing the Charter to prohibit the Council from that authority.

    Your suggestion is way so Soviet Union!

  7. Even if the Soviet Union still existed, it would not have permitted citizens to have the rights we have in our Constitution or any additional rights that may be adopted by the people locally or nationally. Both our Constitution and the city Charter can be amended to afford citizens additional rights.

    The Community Bill of Rights movement is a populist development, not a Soviet Union-type communist effort.

    One of the purposes of the Community Bill of Rights is to give citizens a way to counter the influence of the corporations that have begun instituting a form of state socialism, which is essential for fascism to develop. Just ask who is the primary beneficiary of the financial bailouts? It is the corporations who were the main culprits in creating the financial disaster that we are now in. It is a great (but not unexpected) disappointment that our new president put some of the people who created this crisis in charge of fixing it. The Community Bill of Rights gives ordinary citizens a way to fight back more effectively.

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