The value of citizen participation

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, November 18, 2017

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Earlier this week I attended a Bridgeport City Council meeting with a very important vote on the agenda – one for which I assumed I already knew the final outcome.

The city had been working on an annexation plan since early September, with a proposal to bring in 1,300 acres along U.S. 380 and Texas 101. A lot of that acreage along U.S. 380 is farmland, with more commercial plots on 101. Many of those landowners were unhappy with the idea of being added to another tax roll, and they quickly formed an anti-annexation group called Wise Citizens for Property Rights.

Racey Burden

Long story short, my read on the council was they would vote to bring in the plots on 101, but they didn’t. They didn’t even take a vote. Mayor Randy Singleton announced at the beginning of the meeting the city had decided to not go through with any of the annexations, not even for the landowners who volunteered to be brought into the city, and that was that. The citizens cheered.

It wasn’t the outcome I expected, but that makes for more entertaining news. See, we here at the Messenger cover these meetings all the time. I sometimes have four or more city council or school board meetings per week, often with two or more on the same day. After two years of covering these meetings, I can tell you that two things remain true: for most meetings, the citizen turnout is low, and even the most controversial votes are fairly predictable – the councils usually do what they want.

There are some exceptions to that first rule – Rhome and Runaway Bay have unusually high citizen turnout for meetings – but there aren’t so many exceptions to the second rule.

Even if the Bridgeport City Council wanted to annex, and I think they must have to go this far with the plan, the citizens did finally show up. Most of them lived outside the city in the ETJ, in the areas that would be annexed, but some were from town. With one exception, everyone who spoke about annexation during the public hearings was against it, and I think they changed some minds on the council by being a loud and constant presence.

So here’s a tip for those of you who live in local municipalities and even in the county: you don’t like something that’s happening where you live? You have to show up.

I’ve seen issues dismissed because no one was there to speak on them. If you want to get something done, don’t expect your council or commissioners court to do it without any public input – you have to do it yourself.

Racey Burden is a Messenger reporter.

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