Times Editorial Board
In the private sector, sitting on a corporate board that oversees a $75 million budget would be a very big deal. Being on the governing board of an entity with the power to tax, prosecute, maintain various monopolies and take on public debt is an immense — even sacred — responsibility.
The two new Kerrville City Council members who will take their oaths of office this evening may reflect on this, as well as on how they will approach their roles.
Taking office isn’t just about the one-time act of gaining a plurality of the vote in a given election. At a time when trust in government seems at an all-time low, people want to know that their elected officials are receptive to taking their interests and concerns into account.
To this end, there are several things we’d encourage this newly assembled council to take to heart as they begin to work together.
Maintaining civility, transparency and resident buy-in and engagement will be key.
Much was said over the course of the recent election about establishing civility and maintaining respectful discourse. It’s no secret that the two candidates leaving office this week were often among the only dissenting votes on a variety of issues.
While we certainly are not promoting dissension for its own sake, we do believe it’s vital that council members view one another as colleagues with whom disagreement is not just inevitable, but positive. Conflict can be an opportunity to potentially learn something new and build trust.
But these opportunities are missed when council members vote without significant discussion. At some point, you’ve probably had a math teacher instruct you to “show your work.” Council members should do the same.
No doubt, much research and learning goes into adequately preparing for council meetings. Meetings would be long and inefficient if council members didn’t do their homework first. But many residents aren’t privy to or don’t have the time to spend reading the background information many officials do before meetings.
Council members, it’s important residents see not just how you vote on issues but have a sense as to how you came to your conclusions.
Although there’s no legal requirement for each council member to preface his or her vote with an explanation, residents notice when actions are taken in ways that seem overly predetermined and non-deliberative.
Seeing council members deliberate openly about a topic fosters a sense among people that their elected representatives aren’t just rubber-stamping staff recommendations or implementing policies formulated in advance behind closed doors.
New council members, as you take office, we encourage you to ask questions publicly and explain how you came to your conclusions and what factors you considered in getting there.
And remember that, even then, not all of those you represent are following the meetings or reading about them in this newspaper.
For those, we encourage you to keep reaching out just as you did during your campaigns, helping others understand the issues at hand and inviting them to participate.
Kim Clarkson and Gary Cochrane, we congratulate you on your wins, and we thank you for your service to our community.