One of the key planks of my campaign platform focused on transparency. Giving citizens easy access to the inner workings of their city government is essential to ensuring that government remains responsive, representative and accountable.
While we still have work to do, we have seen some early successes on this front. During the budget workshops held by the Jersey Village City Council in July 2017, I successfully advocated for the allocation of money in the 2017-2018 municipal budget for the broadcast of council meetings online.
Like all cities in Texas, Jersey Village collects a a 1% PEG (public, education and government) fee from cable companies for the purpose of funding public access video. In the approved 2017-2018 budget, city council agreed to set aside $6,000 of these funds for the purpose of streaming city council meetings online.
The next step we need to take in order to have meetings broadcast online is for city council to approve these broadcasts. I have requested that the agenda for the city council meeting on Monday, November 20, 2017 include an item for discussion and possible approval of online broadcasts of meetings of the Jersey Village City Council.
It would seem to be a simple case to make, but there is a possibility that some members of city council may be hesitant to allow such broadcasts. It’s easy to see why some concerns may exist. Someone may choose to select out of context portions of video from broadcasts to misrepresent council members’ positions on issues. There also exists the possibility that council members may use city council meetings to grandstand on issues because they know that a larger portion of the public may be watching (you can sometimes see members of Congress doing this on C-SPAN).
I believe, however, that these possible negatives to broadcasting city council meetings are significantly outweighed by the many benefits. Our citizens would benefit from online broadcasts of meetings of the Jersey Village City Council in the following ways:
- Council meetings will become accessible to those who cannot attend in person – This is one of the biggest obstacles that currently exist to fuller participation in city government. There are many families in Jersey Village who work outside of traditional office hours and cannot attend meetings on Monday evenings. Many others need to care for small children or elderly parents during those times. For so many, however, it’s simply a matter of the very busy lives we all lead today. If an opportunity arises to give more citizens the ability to closely follow the activities of their elected officials, we owe it to those citizens to pursue those opportunities.
- Archived video of meetings eliminates the need of citizens to rely on second-hand reports – While our local print media is generally good at reporting on what happens at meetings of the Jersey Village City Council, they don’t always report on all decisions made and they don’t always stick around until the end of the meeting. Others in attendance may attempt to provide a full recollection to their neighbors regarding what happened at a meeting, but sometimes the description might leave out important points or may inadvertently misreport on what was said. Archived videos of meetings allow all citizens to determine for themselves what was said and what happened at each meeting.
- When city government is “demystified”, citizens feel more comfortable getting involved – It’s no coincidence that those who attend city council meetings are often the same people who apply to serve on city committees or who later choose to run for city council themselves. Watching Jersey Village City Council meetings “demystifies” city government and gives citizens a better understanding of how it works. When our community increases understanding of city government, and therefore participation in that government, it continues to become more representative, more responsive and more accountable.
What can you do to ensure this proposal moves forward? Contact your city council members by e-mail. All contact information for city council can be found by clicking here. Let them know how important this is to you and to your neighbors.
Also, please make plans now, if possible, to attend the November 20th meeting of the Jersey Village City Council and speak during the public comment period in support of the proposal. All citizens are allowed to address their city council for up to five minutes on any issue. Your input can have a significant impact on those council members who are still on the fence regarding online broadcasts of our meetings.
Together, we can continue to work toward greater transparency in our city government!