Our opinion: Conversations with the Council are vitalPublished 10:17am Friday, July 19, 2013
It is vital for the city of Austin to have as much public input as possible. The city works for the people of Austin, and the people of Austin have a right and a duty to inform city staff what they want. That’s what made the Austin City Council’s idea for a monthly informal public meeting appealing to many.
Yet the Conversations with the Council could disappear, as council members are questioning how useful a meeting where the same people attend to discuss the same issues truly is.
That is the point of Conversations with the Council, and we urge council members to keep public input in mind when deciding whether to cut back or cut out those meetings.
It is no secret council members have had difficulties with the meetings. They suspended Coffee with the Council last year after several residents took to lecturing council members on issues they had no control over, in effect dominating the meetings while disrupting others from speaking to elected officials. One resident notably hijacked a meeting to campaign for public office.
We were pleased when council members decided to restart meetings in March, albeit with a little more structure. Though some residents have complained about issues out of the council’s control, it appears more residents are bringing more issues to our elected officials, which is always a good thing. That’s how the city’s current discussion on dilapidated housing and faulty landlords started, after all.
Yet we are concerned with some council members’ public disregard for the meetings. Despite what Councilman Steve King said at a recent council meeting, there is benefit to Conversations with the Council. The meetings provide another avenue for residents who may not know the best way to get in touch with their elected officials. As one resident recently pointed out, it can be difficult for Austinites to go to public meetings and know how best to discuss their issues with the council.
That’s why Conversations with the Council and other means of public input are important: They break the bureaucratic process between resident and city, which places the resident at ease and gives city staff a problem to solve for residents.
If the council decides to scrap Conversations with the Council, they need to create another means for residents to reach out to their city officials. There can never be too much public input, and we would encourage our elected officials to keep this in mind as they discuss further Conversations.