Sunday, July 23, 2017

Some thoughts for the New Council

The elections are over and we finally have the full council seated and I think we have some great people on council. Still, this is basically a new City Council. Lucy Gonzales now has the longest current service with just over 2 years and Tommy Hiebert has the most council experience, having served 6 years in the early 1990’s. The majority of the council is just starting to learn the job.

There will be an adjustment period as the council and city hall culture come to grips with each other. They will both be changed. This is challenging enough but is made even more challenging because we are also in the middle of the budget cycle. New council members have to hit the ground running and deal with policies and decisions handed down by their predecessors. The draft budget online currently sits at 42 pages. By the end of September that will grow to over 300 pages of dry, boring tables and numbers and descriptions. They will have to rely on city staff and staff will do the bulk of the leg work on the budget. At the same time they will have to deal with all the little (and not so little) issues and problems that make a council persons life uniquely interesting. And they will have to learn who and what they can trust, and build that trust both inside and outside City Hall.
Most of the councils job will be balancing the wants, needs, and goals of City Hall with the community that is the City of San Angelo. The community needs to economically strong and healthy. City hall should be frugal and efficient. The community needs to grow and thrive and be livable and be a community. City hall needs to be able to support and sustain the changes that happen within the city. The city as a whole needs to be resilient. It needs to be able to adapt to those unknown events that can break a fragile community. 
City council and city hall can’t do that on their own but they have to do their part and they have to keep these broad, but seldom stated, goals in their focus. All of these goals and objectives need to be balanced so that a healthy community can be passed on to future generations. San Angelo sprang up shortly after Ft. Concho was established roughly 150 years ago. It would be wonderful if in another 150 years our descendants were living here in a prosperous, comfortable thriving community, and this is not some archaeological site where college students are busy writing papers on what went wrong.
I will expand on these thoughts more in the future. For now, I just want to welcome the new (and not quite as new) members to the city council. You’re in for quite a ride. Good luck. You’ll need it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Day ramble

Happy Independence day. The 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. An important document for a number of reasons. It was, of course, a declaration of war. Or more accurately an acknowledgment and justification of the state of rebellion that existed. But it was more than just a declaration of war. It was a brief explanation of why we have government, what the purpose of government is, why the then current government was unacceptable, and what should be done.

Right off the bat, it states that governments are created (instituted is the term they use) by mankind. They are an invention of man, not a gift from the creator. They were created for a purpose -- protection of rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness among other rights. And they expressed the radical idea that these fundamental rights were an integral part of being human by the act of creation, not something that could be granted or taken away on a whim. In the end, governments are only legitimate if they protect fundamental rights with the consent of the governed. From there, they declare that when a government is destructive of this end, the governed have the right to change the government or to start over with a new one that meets these requirements.

Then they submitted a list of then current problems as they saw them. To put just a few of them in more modern terms, the King and parliament removed many functions from local control. They created an unbearable amount of bureaucracy. They stationed an armed force that was above the law among us.They protected this armed force with mock trials. They imposed taxes without consent. They deprived us of the right of trial by jury. And the list goes on.

This declaration not only justified the war for independence, it supplied a vision of what a government should look like after the war. We won the war and started to build on that vision. Got off to a rocky start with the Articles of Confederation. Major progress with the Constitution in 1789 but there were still rough edges like slavery. Civil war brought about major changes to the character of our government. Some good, some bad. There have been many additional changes brought on by the work of activists, courts, the results of war, etc. that keep redefining our government. On the one hand, we are still a great country that has made remarkable progress towards that historic vision of better life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. More equal protection regardless of race, color, creed, sex, gender, religion or national origin. On the other hand, some of the grievances on that historic document are with us today and need to be dealt with. The vision was declared in 1776 but the work is not done. There is still a lot of clean up, heavy lifting, and fine tuning needed today.