When trying to decide whether to create a new bureaucracy, we need to carefully consider the best and worst possible outcomes, especially if the proposal would create a permanent new apparatus, as the proposed “neighborhood commission” would. Far too often in the face of reactionary anger or crisis, we respond by creating new agencies, new bureaucracies, new committees, adding more weight to the problem without actually solving anything.
The goal of the proposed neighborhood commission would be “addressing the concerns of various neighborhoods” within San Marcos. The current proposal recommends dividing up 11 of the seats into the sectors under the Horizons Master Plan, which is now 14 years old. The sectoring plan, in addition to clumping and dividing neighborhoods, leaves eastern San Marcos poorly represented. While a stopgap measure of doubling the number of seats east of Interstate 35 (from 2 to 4) has been added (and may draw ire from other parts of San Marcos, who will see their clout diminished), the commission will most certainly need to be partially revised as soon as the 2010 Census data is available in April. In addition, two seats will be given to Texas State University by way of Student Affairs and Associated Student Government (ASG). While I appreciate the plan to give students a voice, there are accountability concerns that will need to be addressed.
The best case scenario with the neighborhood commission is that it creates a forum for citizens to raise long-term concerns over the future of their neighborhood, and have that passed along to the city council with meaning and force. The neighborhood commission should have integrity and be open and available to all citizens with concerns or suggestions. While the commission will be mostly appointed by members of the City Council, it should not be a rubber stamp for anyone’s agenda and should not begin meetings with pre-desired outcomes. While I hope this vision may one day come true I fear it is nothing more than a pipe dream.
The more likely case will be that the proposed commission will fail in a number of ways. There are already legitimate concerns that such a commission will have quorum issues, and that the commission could sunset as a result. The board could be formed with little direction and no legitimacy, so that even if there are regular meetings, few will waste their time with a commission that has no respect or political clout and the board will fall defunct due to lack of interest. By far the worst possible outcome is that the board will become nothing more than a rubber stamp, giving councilmembers political cover to support “Buie Tract style” developments in the future by allowing them to reference the commission as “proof that the neighborhoods support the project”. Alternatively, the board could be used to push aside important issues the council doesn’t want to address by having them remanded to the neighborhood commission, where they could sit in limbo for months, possibly forever.
While San Marcos continues to grow, we are nowhere near the point where community activism places too heavy of a burden upon city leaders (at least no more than they signed up for when they first filed for office). Placing another wall between the citizens and the City Council is neither necessary nor desired. At best, the proposed neighborhood commission will do little more than what is already being done by groups like CONA. At worse, it will become a political tool of the ruling bloc on the council, a commission with no real power whose name is only trumpeted when it serves a particular agenda. I urge members of the San Marcos City Council not to create a neighborhood commission. Instead, work with non-governmental groups that already exist, and work on a personal level to restore trust in our local government and local leaders, not just pass the buck to another committee. We the People didn’t elect you just to sit at the dais and spend money.