Our Opinion: Public should be involved in honoring community

Published 10:26 am Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Austin City Council has embarked on a new effort to honor Austin’s past by placing citizens who have helped the community grow on one of 76 pillars of the city’s new flood wall in the downtown area.

Though we support the council’s decision to honor residents, we are concerned with the way the council will choose a nine-person committee to review nominees for the flood wall.

The council has made it clear they want to suggest who serves on the nomination committee for the flood wall plaques. They have suggested people who are knowledgeable about Austin’s history to serve.

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Yet the council has forgotten a key component in all this: By not making the process more open to the public, they run the risk of failing to get public support behind the new plaque program.

It doesn’t matter how qualified those who serve on the committee are. If the city doesn’t open up the committee, odds are people won’t buy in to the committee’s nominees once the flood wall plaque program kicks off.

The city should take a lesson from Austin Public Schools. In many cases, the district asks for volunteers to serve on a committee whenever officials want to examine a large issue. They did it several years ago, when a task force found a new school in Austin was necessary to keep the district running smoothly. The district did it again last year, when officials asked for volunteers to serve on a committee to discuss whether the district should research a new school calendar.

The district understands the power of buy-in. The Austin City Council needs to do the same. Several council members have said a committee to honor former and current Austin citizens for their work improving the city is “too important” to leave to a volunteer committee.

We disagree. The citizens of Austin should be allowed to volunteer on the committee, if nothing else to show residents that anyone can help their city by stepping forward and working on a public project. Mayor Tom Stiehm has already said he would take volunteer suggestions from the public, but we believe the council needs to formally open the committee to volunteers. After all, if we’re to honor residents who made Austin great, we should give everyone a chance to continue their legacy.