Call it a win for public discourse.
Last October, when Bryan City Council member John Betts proposed legislation seeking a public vote on dissolving the city’s Board of Public Affairs, it seemed to be a very sudden development with potentially very wide-reaching effects for city government.
Certainly the idea was nothing new — those on either side of the issue agree reduction or elimination of the BPA has been considered from time to time virtually since it was established in 1906. But after council unanimously voted to support Betts’ request to have the city attorney draft legislation to put the issue to a vote in the upcoming primary election, it quickly became apparent that further consideration was needed.
To Betts’ credit, he wasn’t content to hem and haw about the issue. Too often, important topics are discussed at length by legislators until both sides grow fatigued, the subject is dropped and the status quo maintained.
In fact, it is my understanding that has been the case with this exact topic in years past.
And to council’s collective credit, the resulting legislation drafted by City Attorney Rhonda Fischer was not fast-tracked into passage. They opted for a deliberate three-reading process and encouraged members of the public to come before council to share their thoughts on the topic.
And to the public’s credit, some people did speak up. Maybe only a handful of residents came to address council, but their remarks were, with little exception, well-formulated, well-researched and well-spoken.
There was disagreement about how much money such a move could save the city, and whether it would accomplish Betts’ stated goal of better communication among the city’s and Bryan Municipal Utilities’ departments, and those disagreements remain a point of contention.
But the two most common complaints were that the process was moving too fast and that five council members could not replace the five BPA members’ knowledge and experience.
When Betts revisited the issue and proposed a much revamped plan last week, he showed that he took these concerns to heart. In fact, in a response to a question from BPA member Karen Ford, Betts said the fast pace of the initial plan and the loss of BPA members’ experience were the driving forces behind his revisions.
The new plan would put the issue up for vote in the November general election, which always has better turnout than the spring primary, especially given that 2020 includes a presidential election. Betts also called for a joint BPA-council meeting, at a date yet to be determined, to further consider the issue.
And the new plan also retains BPA members’ experience, with all five members potentially joining the city council for a year and at least two members retaining their seats for the following year.
Whether you feel the BPA is an invaluable asset for the city or an unnecessary entity that makes government more cumbersome, residents should be pleased that cooler heads have prevailed on this particular topic and a better plan has been proposed.
Whether or not that plan is indeed best for the future of the City of Bryan is yet to be seen, and the answer may ultimately rest where Betts wants it — in the hands of the city’s voters.
Max Reinhart covers Bryan city government and is the night editor of The Bryan Times.