Open San Marcos facilitator Steve Harvey works with city residents to work out a program for the new organization. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
San Marcos residents from all walks of life banded together Monday night behind a desire for transparency in government.
The gathering of about 50 residents included past and present elected officials, Planning and Zoning (P&Z) commissioners, community activists and candidates to this November’s municipal election. The group, which filled a conference room at the San Marcos Public Library, brainstormed ideas that the San Marcos city government could implement to satiate residents’ thirst for transparency in government.
San Marcos resident Steve Harvey birthed the Open San Marcos, an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit group “dedicated to promoting and defending the people’s right to know in matters of public interest and in the conduct of public business. Our driving mission is to help foster open government processes, supervised by an informed and engaged citizenry, which is the cornerstone of democracy,” as Harvey read aloud in identifying Open San Marcos’ mission.
Community members from all sides of every government argument, which in some municipal meetings can get hostile, engaged civilly in the discussion.
Harvey said transparency in government “displayed a lot of community interest,” adding that the turnout was “awesome” and “a step in the right direction.”
The list of ideas, which surpassed 120, was downsized to about 20, of which the top 10 are scheduled to be identified and presented to the community and city council.
Attendees cast ballots in the effort to compile a short list of the top 10 ideas that are actionable, cost effective, and meaningful. Presented ideas ranged from posting a record of city council votes online within 24 hours, online monthly/quarterly reports from all government departments, improved and expedited fulfillment of open records requests, and logged and recorded meetings on and off city property between city officials and interests doing city business with them.
The Open San Marcos group became the most vociferous when discussing the city council’s use of executive session, which, they said, is excessive.
Residents voiced disapproval with how the council exercises the executive session, requesting that councilmembers only enter into executive session when discussing internal personnel issues, real estate deals, and pending litigation, which are given by the state as justification for closed meetings.
“There are a lot of people who are very unhappy with how things are going at city hall,” said Open San Marcos co-creator Debbie Harvey, who is Steve Harvey’s wife. “(Residents) want to see change. People are ready for some kind of change. But a good change, not a worse one.”
Another issue gaining much attention was the possibility of the city council adopting a resolution for transparency and open government. Harvey presented different resolutions other cities have adopted for open government as a starting point in the discussion geared toward an ultimate passage of San Marcos’ own resolution.
Harvey said he toyed with the idea of forming a residents task force aimed at advocating open government after he received “great response” to a commentary he wrote and was published in San Marcos Local News. He said the commentary “seemed to resonate with a lot of people,” fueling his desire to realize transparency in municipal affairs.
Harvey said once a top ten list is compiled and proofread by those who attended the meeting, a presentation of it will be made to council, city staff, city council candidates, and various city groups. Harvey plans on facilitating a second Open San Marcos meeting in September.
“Our strategy (is to) make a solution so popular and visible that it can’t be opposed, and be so vigilant that we can’t be ignored,” Harvey said about Open San Marcos’ purpose.Email | Print
This cost the city zero dollars in consulting fees but gave the city priceless information, thank you Steve Harvey.
Many thanks for reporting on the meeting. This is the start of a great community initiative.
I posted the draft “First Ten” ideas over in the other (Letter to the Editor) thread and here is a link to it:
www. newstreamz.com /2010/07/16/letter-to-the-editor-how-to-gain-more-government-transparency/comment-page-3/#comment-224464
The “First Ten” is the result of several weeks of brainstorming, culminating in last Monday evening’s meeting where the group further brainstormed and then everybody present voted on each of the top 21 ideas.
Work in progress!
you and Debbie are so awesome. thanks so much for all your good work, Steve.
Years ago when I was still a reporter, there was a judge’s ruling that executive session agendas could not merely state conferring with attorney. If it was consulting with the attorney on a lawsuit filed against the public entity, the lawsuit had to be identified in the agenda. The same was true for a real estate transaction; the property had to be identified on the agenda. Personnel matters could remain anonymous unless the individual in question requested the issue affecting him/her be held in open session. I commend Steve, his wife and the citizens who took the time to demonstrate their concern for open government. I fought for open government for 34 years. If I didn’t have a standing Monday night commitment, I would have joined you on Aug. 16.
Our next Open San Marcos public meeting is Monday, September 27 at 7pm at the San Marcos Public Library.
The primary focus of this meeting is to “roll up our shirtsleeves” and figure out how to “divide and conquer” in getting the “First Ten” list of transparency and open government initiatives implemented here in San Marcos.
We will also (time permitting) talk about Citizen Journalism, and the Open San Marcos online discussion forums.
If you have some key things you want us to talk about in the 9-27 meeting (start time 7pm at the Library), then email or call to let me know.
I will send one email reminder when we are closer to the September 27 date, and I wanted to go ahead and send this note so you can add it to your calendar.
The public is invited, the more the merrier, everybody interesting in open government is welcome to attend and participate. It will take a lot of people working together to get our “First Ten” implemented, but we can do it!
Please feel free to forward this email to any people or groups you feel would be interested either in the meeting itself or simply in Open San Marcos.
Thank you very much,
Co-Founder, Open San Marcos
Independent / Non-Partisan / Non-Profit
steve.harvey @ opensanmarcos.org
1116 Mountain View Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666
Open San Marcos, 7pm tonight at San Marcos Public Library, public invited, open meeting, you are invited to attend!
Here is a link to the online copy of the article on Open San Marcos that was published today in The University Star:
Here is a link to the online copy of the article on Open San Marcos published in the Austin American-Statesman: