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Council votes down proposed transparency rules

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The San Marcos City Council approved an amended Council Committee Rules of Procedure during its regular meeting Tuesday. 

The item was accompanied by several proposed amendments by Councilmembers Maxfield Baker and Alyssa Garza to increase transparency and accessibility to council policy discussions. 

The only amendment that was passed was a suggestion by Garza that changed a required unanimous vote of a committee to call upon members of the public to attend a future committee meeting for a presentation. It now only requires a majority of the committee to call upon members of the public. 

Baker proposed an amendment that would make an online meeting link required for all committee meeting invitations, in an effort to make meetings more accessible to the public. 

“If we always had these online meeting links, it would mean greater access and transparency for the members of our community,” Baker said.

Mayor Jane Hughson felt the effort would be futile, looking ahead to days when meetings would be held in person again, in a world without COVID-19..

“Why, even post covid, should we get all gussied up and go down to a meeting somewhere when we can just meet online and be more fluid with the technology we have at our fingertips,” Baker said. 

The motion failed with only Baker and Garza voting in its favor. Other councilmembers felt that the privacy of a committee meeting was necessary to kick ideas around and come better prepared to have an efficient discussion at a council meeting, should an item be sent there. 

“It's not my intention to vote this way in order to have less transparency,” said Derrick. “It's just that we put everything out there and we try to engage and sometimes the sausage needs to be made without a lot of public input and whatever. We always love people to attend meetings. I think in the day of social media, the more we can't talk freely about how we might compromise with each other without being flayed by the other side.

“We aren't doing backroom deals. We are just trying to figure out what to do ... we have this huge chasm that needs to be solved in SM and we do that by compromising.” 

Garza countered saying that she welcomed criticism for considering opposing views, “I'm down to be flayed, I don’t think we get flayed enough.”

Baker also attempted an amendment that would make committee meetings open to the public. He proposed the amendment noting that meeting minutes are always made publicly available anyways, but Hughson pointed out that the minutes are notes, not a transcript. 

Baker, Garza and Councilmember Saul Gonzales voted in favor of that amendment, but it ultimately failed.

Baker’s last proposed amendment was to allow the chair of a council committee to add an item to the agenda, instead of the required two committee members, reasoning that the council committee chair has to sign off on an agenda regardless and the bureaucracy results in time lost on sensitive issues. 

“We are creating layers of bureaucracy here that do not serve innovative communities,” Baker said.

All councilmembers except Garza and Baker supported the two-person process, saying collaboration was necessary in agenda setting. 

“I think that it takes two members to put something on the agenda for council to discuss and then council can decide by majority whether that is something they want to pursue or not,” Derrick said. “That is what democracy is.”

“We don’t do anything by ourselves,” added Hughson. 

San Marcos Record

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