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