Democracy Alive and Well in Small Town

Democracy is alive and well – at least in one small town in the Hill Country of Texas.

Earlier this week I found myself visiting a friend in Seguin, Texas, a small town tipping the scales north of 25,000 residents. Beautiful Town Square, picturesque Live Oak trees, and a population fired up like nest of angry hornets at the local school board over a proposed purchase of a radio station.

Angry might be an understatement for what I witnessed.

“The meeting is at noon if you’d like to go,” said my friend.

He told me about how the local school board was proposing spending nearly a half-million dollars purchasing a radio business.

“What does this have to do with advancing the education of the students? What about books?” I said.

We both looked at each other knowing there was no good answer.

A couple hours later we arrived a converted shopping mall. The first thing I noticed was a police car at the entrance and people, young and old, pouring into the building. My friend mentioned the school board had posted the minimally required notice of the meeting and the newspaper told the community. Considering the day and time, a Thursday at noon, one could see the school board was not making it easy for the community to attend.

But people were angry – and angry people in a big a way.

As the meeting time approached, hundreds of people filled the room to beyond capacity. Men stood offering their chairs to women and the elderly. Students with homemade protest signs lined the walls while others waited outside in the hallway hoping to hear what the board had to say.

Again, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a local population so angry.

The meeting came to order as if the crowd did not exist. Testimony began between members, each reading into the record their thoughts. Someone in the crowd made an unsolicited reply – and it was then I learned the board had made the rule the public would not be allowed to speak or participate. I was stunned. The attorney for the board took to the microphone and warned anyone else who spoke would be removed.

A few moments later, following a remark from another board member saying he hadn’t heard too much opposition to the proposal, brought laughter from the crowd. The board then announced the next interruption would result in the police clearing the entire room.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a tone-deaf publicly elected body in my life.

One mother, holding her two-year old son, leaned over to me and said, “this feels like a scene from the movie The Music Man, doesn’t it?”

Testimony revealed the business had lost nearly $150,000 in the past two years and the board tried to promote the education and career opportunities of operating a radio station for the students. While the board continued to try and sell the concept, the people became increasingly upset.

Unable – or lacking the courage – to reach a public decision, the board retreated into executive session, a protected format for narrow and legally specified reasons. The crowd read the move behind closed doors as hiding from the public.

In the end, the board backed off from voting in public to move forward with the purchase – but rather continue to explore.

But what I witnessed, a mass of independently energized voting public attending a meeting intentionally scheduled to keep attendance down, will forever stay with me. And all I can say is God help those elected officials if they ever need to come to the voters for help.

-30-

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Democracy Alive and Well in Small Town

  1. What a myopic, romanticized, opinionated take on the board meeting. Did the author take the time to speak to the community members in attendance who were in favor of the initiative? I suppose he didn’t. The author is a lazy opinion/editorial writer.

    His missive is one-sided and biased.

    Has he done his homework and researched the bias and slanted reporting from The Seguin Daily News and KWED in the past 12 months? Of course he hasn’t.

    Unfortunately, many Seguin residents don’t or can’t recognize the difference between editorial opines and actual unbiased news reporting. Their own emotions have clouded their eyes when they read the paper.

    Also, it’s laughable that this self-proclaimed expert says that Seguin is in the Hill Country. You get an F in Geography 101, outsider.

  2. Pedro, did you attend the meeting? How many in attendance were in favor of the district buying the radio station? Do any other districts own radio stations? How many school board meetings are held on Thursday’s at 1200 pm?

    Did you know that TLU and the Texas Hill Country website both list Seguin has being in the Hill Country? i don’t think they are outsiders do you?

  3. I have lived in Seguin all my life. I teach at Randolph High School in San Antonio. Does Pedro not find it conspiratorial in nature to schedule a meeting with the shortest possible notice, at an unorthodox time, then not allow the public to speak out? I feel there are two reasons the district pursued this:

    In a poorly orchestrated shell game it distracts the public from academic woes.

    If district controls the local media outlet, they can limit access to any opposition.

    Seguin is losing a lot of school age children to New Braunfels, Navarro, and other schools as parents seek a strong academic program. Come on Seguin, address the issue.

    Pedro, I taught here years ago when Seguin had strong academic programs but went to Randolph at the urging of a good friend. According to Wikipedia, In 2014, the school district was ranked number 1 in the rankings for the Best School Districts in the Greater San Antonio Area in a field of over 35 school districts. The district is currently ranked 27th out of 1,265 districts in the State of Texas.

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