Sunday, July 10, 2005

Message seen on a cheap crystal ball

Some time during my travels I acquired a cheap crystal ball. It was never very good, and the messages on it were mostly hazy and out of focus. I tripped across it recently and thought "what the heck", and put in a set of the latest NIMH batteries and fired it up.

This budget ball had never seen such power before, so the results were not what I expected. The images started out fuzzy, but soon I could see scenes of San Angelo from when I first arrived. Then it started flashing scenes like it was trying to catch up. It started flashing news paper headlines. Sales tax. Water meter surcharge. Sales tax Passes. Nasworthy Dredged. Twin Buttes leaks fixed. 9-11. Sales tax passes again. BRAC. Water rate debated, raised. Appointed chief proposed and defeated. Goodfellow spared and likely to grow. Water rated debated and adjusted.

Faster and faster they came. They became a blur. I saw headlines about prisons. Headlines about construction on the south-west and north-east corners of the town. Then the image froze on a headline that said "Growth causes changes in how local governments conduct business." Then the ball filled with smoke, cracked, and all the magic smoke leaked out.

This cheap ball, made before modern batteries, had done better than it ever had. Still, it didn't show anything unexpected. San Angelo has been growing over the last 16 years at an increasing rate. We are approaching two magic population numbers that will bring on major changes. San Angelo will likely break the 100,000 population mark and Tom Green County the 110,000 mark before the next census in 2010. Major commercial companies like Wal Mart, Circuit City, Best Buy, etc. have noticed that we are on the verge of becoming “metropolitan.” This is not just because of population numbers. When these two population milestones are passed, Texas law requires cities and counties with populations above these numbers to change how they do business. Election procedures change. Political candidates will have to report more. Changes will be required in court and Bail Bond procedures. Many changes will be required. These big businesses know this.

We have time to make these required changes mostly painless and transparent. We can do things like form a charter commission that will review the city charter and code of ordinances. We already know that some changes are needed from the appointed chief election. There are other changes needed even without those mandated by our growth. We need to look at all the changes needed now and in the near future and have a consolidated, coordinated, transition plan. We will likely have the chance for only two charter elections before mandated changes happen. There are choices that can be made on how we comply with the mandates. If we wait until the last minute, time pressures and big business lobbying can make good decisions difficult for our city and county to make. If we are proactive and start planning now, the transition will be painless, transparent, and will end up in the best interests of the city.

We don't need a crystal ball to see that we must start planning now for what is going to happen in the next five or six years. Still, I can hardly wait until the Best Buy opens. I've heard they carry a nice line of crystal balls.

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