By T. J. Mayes, SA2020 Ambassador in Civic Engagement
Several times a month, citizens get an opportunity to speak directly to the Mayor and City Council about whatever topic they choose. This event, called “Citizens to Be Heard,” is a direct way for individuals to weigh in on important topics considered by the City Council, and attending is also an important way to increase civic engagement in San Antonio. As a policy advisor to Councilman Ron Nirenberg, I get to watch firsthand the knowledge, experience, and passion of our citizens and governing bodies working together at these events. As an SA2020 Ambassador in Civic Engagement, I find the passionate involvement of citizens in local government inspiring, and necessary for our society to function at the highest level.
September will be a busy month for the San Antonio City Council. Next Thursday (Sept. 5th) the council will vote on a consolidated nondiscrimination ordinance that would extend legal protection to the LGBT and veteran communities. The proposed ordinance has sparked an environment of protest and controversy at City Hall.
Amidst the controversy surrounding the NDO, we need to also remember the September 12th vote on next year’s proposed budget. In the next week, the City Council will make tough decisions to remedy the reported 50 billion dollar budget shortfall. These decisions will have a direct impact on San Antonio this year and in 2020.
While the outcome of these debates will have a significant affect on our lives, municipal election turnout is still woefully low, which is especially alarming given that local governments are the most responsive to our needs. The City of San Antonio is working to engage more citizens and is committed to hearing their concerns, which is the rationale behind Citizens to Be Heard.
SA2020 is measuring Voter Turnout as an indicator of progress toward our vision for Civic Engagement, which includes midterm and municipal elections. To increase voter turnout, we need to increase citizen involvement in local government and awareness of local issues, which can start with attending and spreading the word about Citizens to Be Heard.
In 2010, the people in this city said that, in 2020, they wanted San Antonio citizens to be “deeply engaged as elected leaders, business leaders, volunteers, and voters in the process of making government more responsive and accountable to San Antonians.” This is an excellent opportunity to share with our leaders your thoughts on the nondiscrimination ordinance, the budget, or any other issue. The next Citizens to Be Heard is Wednesday, August 28th at 6:00 in the City Council Chambers (first floor of the Municipal Plaza Building located at Main and Commerce streets). It is imperative, for the success of our city, that everyone take advantage of this opportunity to speak face-to-face with our leaders and help reach our goal for the future of civic engagement in San Antonio.