Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review of Advisory Committees

San Angelo has a remarkably open government. We have 20 advisory committees, from Airport Advisory Board to Zoning Board of Adjustment. In between the alphabetic listing, we have everything from Ft Concho to a Fairmount Cemetary Board to a Senior Citizens Advisory Board.

For comparison, I had a correspondent in Coleman a few years back who related to me that Coleman City meetings were held at a more convenient time of 7:00 PM. Meetings were open to the public, but no comments from mere citizens were allowed. Made for shorter meetings I'm sure, but brevity and transparency are not co-equal goals.

We will see a discussion on instituting a Council review of existing advisory committees, one such board called out at each Council meeting. The result of such a review might range from sunsetting some which have outlived their usefulness, to a pat on the back for useful advice, to "so what have you done for us lately".

I have served on one such, a City Charter Review Committee. Let me make clear, I commend anyone willing to serve as an unpaid volunteer on any committee the city creates. I promise you, every hour of attendance requires 3-4 hours minimum of homework and constituent phone calls. Maybe you think your single vote doesn't count much, but all these advisory committees are open to public comment, and any voter can expand on his/her voting issue by being heard.

The idea of having Council review a committees' work is not to second guess the work product so much as to assure that there has BEEN a product. Council is always free to accept or reject any committees' recommendations. The proposed review might abolish some committees which seldom meet for lack of business. It might insist that others become more efficient at doing the work assigned them. A review might even point up the need for a new committee not hitherto found to be useful.

I would not want to see the review process limit citizen input; quite the opposite, I want the doors of local gov't open. I would hope a review by Council would hand out deserved pats on the back, provide committees with advice on how better to serve their stated functions, and further the notion of opening gov't to input by encouraging input from individual voters.

One thing I intend to press for: City has a really good website, gobs of little known info available online at 3:00 AM online. Each advisory board has, or should have, its own website page. The individual members should be listed with contact info. I welcomed my neighbors' input. Some I argued against one on one; some I incorporated into my arguements before the committee I served on. I thought it part of the job I had volunteered for to listen to all.

Groundhogs Day people, February 2, that's the next Council meeting. See you there if you care.

Oh and almost forgot to mention; GO NAWLINS! Confess, I backed the "old man" and Minn, but still won that by a half point. Superbowl, I have to go with New Orleans.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Census Time

The ten year census is upon us. With it come employment opportunities, always a plus. Also comes the decennial deluge of questions and misinformation.

The Census has Constitutional roots in Article 1, Sec. 2. Crafted in a time with slavery, and exempting "untaxed Indians", the Constitutional language is hardly an exact guide. Its original purpose was to apportion the members of the House of Representatives in Congress according to reasonably accurate population the members represented.

The debate over what this Constitutional "enumeration" ought to contain goes back to the beginning. The Census was Statute 2 of the very first Congress in 1790. This gives us a clue it is of great importance. Even then, the questions to be asked were debated. Livermore of New Hampshire complained that questions as to "profession" would be hard on his constituents, as many held more than one, changing seasonally. Sedgewick, of the more industrial Connecticut, wanted the questions to "extend further" and give a better picture of the economy.

I actually worked evenings on the 1980 Census in North Carolina, so though a bit dated, I have seen both sides. I hear the complaints of the right wing as to intrusive none-of-your-business questions. I understand the fear of residents whose legal status may be questionable. I strongly advise both: Fill out the form!

As to the first question, if you get the "long form" it will have questions about bathrooms, vehicles, all sorts of nonsense that you might consider none of the government's concern. The cover letter will tell you it must be completed under penalties of 13 USC 221. PLEASE go ahead and respond to the first ten or so questions (I have not seen the current questionaire) and if you choose, leave the nosy questions blank. It may well be a violation, but I have been unable to find any case where failure to complete everything resulted in criminal or even civil action. The Census Bureau itself describes the penalty section as "psychological encouragement".

On the second, one part of the Federal Government I trust is Census in this respect. They want numbers. The information, the names and addresses will be bundled into district info, but NOTHING you send Census will be shared with Homeland Security, ICE, INS, La Migra, whatever you want to call it.

It is very important that everyone gets counted. This Census result will determine each state's number of Congressmen, for instance, Texas will gain 2-3; California will lose at least that many. Also, the Census numbers will be used in determining grants and federal aid for all sorts of programs, everything from housing to education to health care, to public safety, to libraries, ad infinitum.

We know from reasonable "eyeball surveys" that San Angelo was under-counted in 2000. We lost tens of millions of dollars over a decade due to that undercount. We will not get another chance for ten years, we must make the best of this one. We want to count EVERYONE! You live under a bridge; I want you counted. You are "undocumented?"; on this I don't care, if you live here, I want you counted. Folks, on this states and even intrastate districts go to court and fight over which body gets to count prisoners, one group claiming they count where sentenced, another that they count where they serve the sentence!

Census has been a nuisance of some degree for at least as long as one forced the baby Jesus to be born in a manger in Bethlehem. Ours is considerably less troublesome than that of Mary and Joseph. Please follow their biblical example and respond to this Census. It is good for our city, and long run, good for you.