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

July 7th, 2010
San Marcos council gives first pass to neighborhood commission

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San Marcos resident Jean Baggett advises the city council that members of a proposed neighborhood commission should be chosen by neighorhoods. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

San Marcos is one step closer to creating a neighborhood commission tasked with advising the city council on how to increase the quality of neighborhoods and improve relations between residents and Texas State.

City councilmembers voted 4-2 Tuesday to approve an ordinance creating a neighborhood commission, the 13 members of which would be appointed by the council. Councilmembers John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose voted against the ordinance, and Councilmember Chris Jones was not present at the meeting.

Thomaides and Bose said the existence of the San Marcos Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) makes the proposed neighborhood commission unnecessary.

Councilmembers must approve the ordinance again at a future meeting before the law can take effect.

The proposed neighborhood commission would be composed of 11 residents representing nine city master plan-defined sectors, along with two Texas State representatives. The seats on the commission would be apportioned as follows:

• One resident each from Sectors 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9.
• Two residents each from Sectors 5 and 6.
• One representative nominated by Texas State’s Division of Student Affairs.
• One representative nominated by Texas State’s Associated Student Government (ASG).

On June 1, the council directed staff to propose an ordinance specifying more representation for Sector 5 and 6, which lie mostly on the east side of Interstate-35. The east side of I-35 is generally a lower income, more racially and ethnically-diverse region of the city than the west side. Councilmembers Jones and Kim Porterfield and Chris Jones suggested that more representation be secured for Sectors 5 and 6.

According to the federal government’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey (ACS), 5.2 percent of San Marcos residents are African-American, 57.9 percent are non-Hispanic White, and and 34.6 percent are Hispanic or Latino.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents Jean Baggett, Amy Kirwin, Gayle Ramsey, Polly Wright and Ollie Giles voiced opposition to the neighborhood commission described by the ordinance. No resident spoke in favor of the commission as proposed.

Kirwin and Giles opposed the neighborhood commission, while Baggett, Ramsey and Wright said any such advisory body should be composed of representatives chosen by neighborhoods instead of the city council.

The ordinance approved by councilmembers on first reading does not specify a process by which neighborhoods would be involved in choosing sector representatives.

“We don’t need a commission in our neighborhoods — someone to dictate to us what to do and what not to do,” Giles said. “We can come to you ourselves and let you know what the neighborhoods need. We’ve come all these years to let you know what the neighborhoods need. We don’t need a commission for that. Who would serve on this commission?”

Giles said CONA already fulfills the neighborhood-related goals set for the proposed commission.

The neighborhood commission concept plan presented to the city council states that the commission would consider issues relevant to overall neighborhood quality, provide guidance for city programs, advise the city about code enforcement, and collaborate with other boards, commissions and neighborhood groups to seek solutions to problems and issues involving beautification, transportation, parking, traffic calming, and relations between students and homeowners.

Said Kirwin, CONA’s president, to the council, “We have been here working and partnering with the community and the city for over 30 years, and we’d appreciate it if you would work with us right now instead of trying to do another layer that’s another step between the council and the city and the neighborhoods.”

City of San Marcos Director of Development Services Chuck Swallow said each city sector contains an average of three and a half to four neighborhood associations. Swallow said there are approximately 35 neighborhood organizations in the city.

The council may reapportion the neighborhood commission seats after April 1, 2011, when the 2010 census data is released, and after the city creates a new master plan.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said the proposed ordinance does not prohibit neighborhood associations from suggesting representatives to sit on the commission, adding that it would be ideal if neighborhoods were to recommend commission members. Narvaiz expressed a willingness to eventually adopt a process whereby neighborhoods nominate representatives to the commission, but said the such a process should be formulated later through a collaborative process.

Councilmember Ryan Thomason said it is unlikely that people will be clamoring to be on the neighborhood commission, given the difficulty of filling existing boards and commissions.

Last month, Kirwin said CONA effectively addresses neighborhood concerns at the staff level, though she said her organization’s relationship with the city is not what it used to be.

Said City of San Marcos Community Initiatives Administrator Janis Hendrix, the city’s liaison to CONA, “I feel like I have a very good relationship with all the CONA representatives, and I’m not aware of anyone who feels any intimidation in calling me if they’ve got a question. I’ve been with the city so long, they pretty much think, ‘If I call Janis, she’ll at least know who to direct me to.’”

Hendrix and San Marcos Assistant City Manager Collette Jamison said there used to be a city staff position designated as liaison to CONA about seven or eight years ago, but budget pressures resulted in the elimination of the position. Being a liaison to CONA is one of several hats Hendrix wears. She also runs the city’s Community Development Block Grant program.

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0 thoughts on “San Marcos council gives first pass to neighborhood commission

  1. Why do we need this new bureaucratic layer? The mission outlined for this new group is broad and deep. Where did this idea come from? Good luck getting all the seats filled, or a consistent quorum with this new commission. Shouldn’t our Mayor and Council spend more time on controlling our runaway long-term debt / financial obligations? Many citizens would like to see more transparency displayed by our city leadership.

  2. One more move toward the inside and the top. Next, we might consider private meetings, dismantling the City Charter, and just assuming that most initiatives, including those that affect taxpayers in their “castles,” to use a term of art from Magna Carta, should pass because geniuses think them up. What is a poor, unconnected dolt to do?

    Maybe I should watch “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” again. Or maybe it’s back to “Alice in Wonderland,” which is a pretty reliable resource for 21st Century civic affairs. ( At least Mr. Bose seems to be still there for regular people; is he a slow learner, or what?) Poor Ryan doesn’t understand that non-participation is the object of the charade, or that CONA will still be there, no matter which way the final vote goes–they being serious and dedicated people, if occasionally a little pushy or disagreeable . To whom does the proposed Commission take its recommendations, aside from the College of Cardinals? Planning and other ordinance suggestions to P&Z, or Command Central?

    Could this be another go at single-member districts in our non-partisan elections, by the back door as usual?

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