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David Stanowski
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The Blog


A Government
Watchdog Group!

by David Stanowski
15 September 2009

The first two articles in this series tried to demonstrate that local government has become an enormous burden to the residents, and an obstacle to their prosperity. This article will offer some possible solutions.

The ultimate answer is to abandon the city-manager form of government in favor of a mayoral form of government, so that the person who actually runs the City can only continue to do so with the consent of the voters, every two years; and is limited to three terms. This, by itself, would create a whole new level of accountability that has been missing for years!

Ideally, part of this process would include paying the Council Members, which would open up the position to more people, and also place greater expectations on the time and effort that they should dedicate to the office.

Finally, the functions of the Wharves Board and Park Board need to become departments of city government, so that a “strong Mayor” would be responsible to the voters for their performance, too.

The final piece of the puzzle will be convincing the Galveston County DA to start investigating and prosecuting public corruption in City government. The common theme to all of these suggested reforms is increased accountability and oversight.

Even if a consensus could be formed tomorrow that the reforms outlined above are badly needed, it could take several years to actually implement them. What can be done right now to deal with the current situation?

With a city manager running the City, the only oversight available to voters is the election of Council Members, but they have learned that this indirect method simply does not work. Voters have wisely determined that the fate of their Council Member makes very little difference, and see little reason to turn out for elections.

There have always been a few brave souls "making an effort to change things", while our major institutions, civic groups, and influential citizens have watched from a safe distance, and remained silent. However, the efforts of these unpaid volunteers simply had little chance against the powerful machine entrenched at City Hall. Elections come and go, but the City staff is always there protecting its turf, and its $2 million per year feast provided by the taxpayers.

It’s time for a new strategy!

On 03 September, a local government watchdog group, known as the Galveston Open Government Project, was formed by a group seeking real changes. After it raises the money, it will file for 501(c)(3) status which will allow it to receive grants to hire a staff, as well as investigators and lawyers, which should give it a much better chance of achieving results than volunteer groups.

The GOGP will investigate all branches of City government, and inform the public on what it finds. It also plans to help civic groups to obtain grants to improve the City. Much of its efforts will be directed at advising the public of the benefits of the changes suggested above.

Is it the right time for the type of reforms that are necessary in this city, or do things have to get much worse before people wake up from their current cocktail of choice: apathy, cynicism, denial, and fear?

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