The City Council is the primary legislative body of the city of Corpus Christi. The mayor and eight council members who make up the council guide local policy and make decisions that affect every city resident in both the short and long term, Del Mar students and staff included.
In a county with an average voter turnout of 41.81% and where council seats are commonly uncompetitive, the value of residents being able to comment and voice their concerns to the council cannot be overstated. If voters cannot mobilize to hold local officials accountable at the ballot box, then they must be able to hold them accountable in the council chambers and at public hearings. The city itself shares a similar sentiment on its website, stating: “The Council wants to assure that any citizen may speak in support or against any item on the agenda and encourages the expression of all views before action is taken.”
With this in mind, the City Council’s current meetings have a severe accessibility issue, one that primarily affects residents who are working-class and/or students. Their meetings fall during a time when most residents are either at work or in class, and thus unable to participate in the legislative process.
The City Council meets two Tuesdays every month at 11:30 a.m. and is open to public comment at noon and during the first hearing of any proposal. The city provides multiple avenues for residents to comment during these times; they can attend the council’s bi-monthly meetings in-person, sign up to attend by video conference using WebEx or sign up to comment by way of a WebEx phone call. Residents can also make comments in written form. All of these can be accessed through the city’s website.
Virtual options make public meetings more accessible to residents who might be unable to attend physically due to illness or lack of transportation, but all of them still require the person in question to be available at the time of the meeting. If you are at work or in class during the time of the City Council meeting, virtual options are still unavailable for you.
Submitting a comment in writing doesn’t require the resident to be present or available at the time of the meeting, but written comments are not read aloud during the meeting or posted, and thus concerns that might be voiced in them are not available to other attendees.
To make City Council meetings more accessible to those residents who work or have class at noon on a Tuesday, the city should consider and act toward moving council meeting times outside of standard business hours.
The city has a stated desire for resident participation and has already taken multiple important steps to encourage that participation. Residents have a desire for a responsive, accountable government that can only truly be maintained through participation. Both parties can have their desires met by shifting public hearing times to 6 or 7 p.m., rather than noon.
The Foghorn News recently reported on a semi-formal hearing lead by councilor Jim Klein and held at Del Mar College. This hearing allowed residents and local activists to voice their concerns and opinions on the recently proposed changes to the drought contingency plan. These meetings lacked the decorum of a City Council meeting and the city’s participation consisted of Klein and three officials from Corpus Christi Water, but they were valuable in opening a channel of communication between residents and their elected officials. During the meeting, it was implied that the hearings held by Klein were only the first in a series of others, likely held by other council members.
The fact these hearings are being held and the number of residents attending these hearings show that both sides want to communicate. So, instead of having impromptu semi-formal public hearings held by individual councilors, why not have the council itself meet during these times. That way, residents from every district can come together at the same time and voice their concerns to the whole council all at once. Individual public hearings can and should still be held, but moving formal hearings to a more accessible time will lessen the responsibility of individual councilors, and in the case a councilor does not desire to hold any public hearings with their constituents, the regular City Council meetings could offer a chance for those residents to have their say.
Making the change would take some time, and it would require councilors to stay up a little later on a Tuesday evening, but when they chose to run for office, they chose to serve their communities. It is only reasonable to expect them to accommodate the community’s schedule.
Corpus Christi residents and students seeking to learn more about the public comment procedures during council meetings can find more information at https://www.cctexas.com/departments/mayor-and-city-council. To view the city council meeting schedules and agendas, visit https://corpuschristi.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.