A Couple of Thoughts on Transparency in City Government

Early voting starts today in Grapevine, Texas.  If you have been following along this voting season, you know that one of the things we have been highlighting here at Grapevine Texas Online is greater transparency in our City government.  We felt like today was a good day to bring some specifics to the discussion and make the word transparency a little more transparent.

Let us start by saying we believe we have one of the best (if not the best) city government in North Texas.  That is no small feat considering the area includes over 60 cities.  The results in Grapevine speak for themselves and our City Council and City government are in large part responsible for this success.  We have a high quality of life, low taxes, and a huge number of tourist attractions for a city of our size.

Our intent in bringing up transparency is not to minimize, but instead to nudge our City government to be one of the best in the state and then hopefully one of the best in the nation.  We want to have a government that we can point out to our friends and neighbors in other parts of the state as a shining example of what city government should look like.

Here are some examples of what we are referring to when we ask for greater transparency:

Get rid of all the “Vote Yes:  Keep Grapevine Safe” signs.  These signs are in reference to the Crime Control & Prevention District (CCPD) renewal vote that is now underway through May 14th.  They are intellectually misleading.  They imply a no vote is a vote to make Grapevine unsafe.  No one wants Grapevine to be unsafe.  A no vote could simply be to say we think the time period is too long.  The renewal is for 15 years.  One of the most rare and powerful things we have as voters is a vote to lower our taxes which is the case here.  A vote no could say we do not want to give up the power to lower our taxes for 15 years when shorter options are available.

One of the marketing pamphlets we received about the CCPD (and several other sources) said:  “Thanks in part to increased police patrols funded by the CCPD, the number of major crimes in Grapevine was 5% lower last year than the year prior to the CCPD.”  This statement is very likely true, but it is somewhat misleading as well.  Economists and statisticians have been debating for decades the impacts of anti-crime measures on crime rates.  Finding correlation and causation between the two is difficult if not impossible.

Did you know that crime rates in the State of Texas are down 10% over the last five reported years?  You can find detail provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety here – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009. Did you know that crime rates in the United States are down over 11% over the last five reported years?  Did you know that crime rates have been dropping in our great nation dramatically for over 20 years?

And this article is not intended to bash the CCPD renewal (even though we think it should be for a shorter time period).  The CCPD has allowed the City to do some great things over the last five years.  The City has provided a wonderful list of things that have been done that you can find right here.   These are all great things that should be commended.

But to get to an added level of transparency, would it be too much to list the costs of all the projects and initiatives that the CCPD has allowed for the last five years?  And even further, how great would it be if we could see a plan for what the city will do with the funds for the next 15 years once the CCPD renewal passes?  This is a vote for roughly $10 million per year for fifteen years.

Those types of things would take our government from one that is very good to one that is great.  It would do the very thing that we are asking for – create an open and transparent government.

In our interviews with City Council Place 6 candidates we asked about transparency in government.  We were happy to find out that all three candidates are for transparency in government.  One of the responses though rubbed us the wrong way.  The response was something to the effect of – If more people got involved in City government by being on boards and coming to City Council meetings, they would find out our government is very transparent.

Unfortunately, that is not really the way transparency works.  There is not an action that has to take place before something is transparent.  Transparency either is or is not.  Also unfortunately, there is not room for Grapevine’s population of roughly 50,000 to come to City Council meetings or sit on boards within the city.  The 99% of people in Grapevine that have never been to nor will ever go to a City Council meeting deserve transparency too.

6 Comments

  1. I support the CCPD. According to the referenced report, major crimes in Texas increased from 2008 to 2009. Grapevine’s decreased. Grapevine was 1 of only 5 of the 29 similar cities with a decrease. Pinpointing the cause of the decreases is not an exact science. It would certainly be strange to think that the CCPD and the resulting police officers, education and safety equipment, played no role in these favorable statistics.

    As for the Vote Yes signs, an epistle of information is likely not what was intended by their production, although the signs do bring awareness to this important issue.

    The CCPD is just another aspect of Grapevine that makes Grapevine one of the finest cities in Texas, as the article above readily admits.

  2. I also support the CCPD for the reasons stated. And I also agree with the article, — we do indeed have the finest city government in North Texas! Thank you Mayor Tate, thank you City Council Members, and thank you City personnel for managing our wonderful city so well. You are the best and I can’t think of anyone who could do a better job. You have created a city like no other and I am so proud to call Grapevine my home!

  3. Joe, the title of this blog addresses transparency in City Government, yet your first bone of contention has to do with signs that are produced by a group of “citizens”; not our City Government. This group of citizens has banded together for a cause that they believe in. (I understand that there is no organized group that opposes the CCPD). You back this up with your statement that the signs are “intellectually misleading”. If that is true, then perhaps you could say the same about one of the City Council candidates with signs that proclaim “Put Families First”. Are you saying that a vote for any other candidate would be Putting Families Last”?

    • Hi Carolyn,

      Thanks for the message. It is very appreciated. I understand that a group of citizens support the CCPD and they have put up a lot of signs around the city. However, I doubt it is this same group of citizens that inserted a leaflet into my water bill from the City that promotes the CCPD. Also, I don’t think they put a letter from the mayor into my copy of The Grapevine which is a City of Grapevine publication promoting voting for the CCPD renewal. Nor did they send out a marketing pamphlet that covered several pages of the benefits of the CCPD that I received. That’s three different items that arrived in my mail all produced by the city.

      I also understand that I am one man on an island here (and honestly it would be a lot easier to go along with the crowd). There are a lot of great things about this tax renewal some of which I have written about above. In fact if this thing wasn’t for 15 years but for a shorter time period, I would be in full support of it.

      But here’s the thing that I have asked time and again and still have not received an answer that makes any sense. If this is such a great tax and it does so many great things for the city, why the need to have this massive marketing effort around it both by a group of “citizens” and by the City government? And secondarily, why the need to promote it as some sort of safety initiative when it’s really not (this is the misleading part)?

      I don’t expect a clear answer to those questions. I know by now there are not clear answers.

      Thanks again for taking the time to leave a well thought out message. It’s people like you that keep this city moving forward.

      Joe

    • Where is the money coming from to post and campaign for this? I find it a tad interesting due to the number of signs. They are overpowering where I live near Lake Grapevine.

      I also think a properly staffed police department with the first task of safety, which in my opinion a huge part is patrol should be more than enough to prevent crime.

      It’s no mystery where most crimes happen in Grapevine, and when you see a patrol car generating revenue in traffic tickets instead of keeping an eye on these areas it becomes frustrating to see the city to ask for more money to prevent crime.

      • Hi Darren,

        Thanks for the comment. I think you are asking the right questions. I wish I could provide all the answers.

        The funding comes from a Political Action Committee called Citizens for a Better Grapevine. According to their Facebook page, the committee consists of nine people. I’m still searching for a full list of names, but unfortunately it is not easy to find (or more likely I just don’t know where to look).

        According to the Star-Telegram, the committee is made up of local residents and business owners.

        Thanks again for the great comment.

        Joe