City seeks increased citizen involvement

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City council regularly debates issues with long term consequences for the city and its residents. Many of their choices are guided to some degree on recommendations from citizen committees. The Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) is perhaps the most influential in affecting council decisions as they analyze and consider most every plan and program submitted by citizens and developers who are looking to construct some form of improvement, be it a small home extension or a multi-home development. PD&Z is also instrumental in the development and revision of the city’s various guiding plans that lay out a vision for future growth and development. Significant documents such as a Comprehensive Plan, a Master Thoroughfare Plan, a Master Drainage Plan, and other similarly important documents are in place largely due to PD&Z efforts. Volunteer citizen involvement is a critical cog in the practice of a more enlightened city council.

Historically it has proven difficult to get qualified residents of Manvel to volunteer their time and service. Part of an explanation is due to a general sense of malaise that seems to have infected US citizens from coast to coast. Manvel seems an embodiment of that malaise as voter turnout traditionally hovers around 10%. In the most recent election last May to place two council seats, less than 5% of registered voters took time to exercise their privilege to vote. Manvel citizens turned out just 271 voters from 5,466 registered. Another part of an explanation is that Manvel residents are pretty much the embodiment of a “leave me alone” mentality. Rarely do citizens take time to familiarize themselves with on-going issues. Many are unaware that a city newspaper even exists. Attendance at city council meetings is scant save for a hot-button issue such as annexations. Then will citizens decide to involve themselves in the process. The problem with being a reactive citizen is that often it is too late to change an action that has already been put in motion. The time to effectively influence decisions and have a real impact on the city’s actions is to be involved in the process as matters are being discussed. Serving as a city volunteer on one of its commissions or boards is an excellent way to be proactive in influencing council actions.

Long-time council member Melody Hanson says she “firmly believes that citizen involvement is key to strong government.” She wonders if the lack of involvement on city boards is due to apathy or ignorance in not knowing what the position entails or when there is a vacancy. “Our city is growing and changing as new residents move into the community. We need to draw from the experiences and qualifications of a wider base, and bring some fresh faces and new ideas to our meetings,” she says.

Manvel Mayor Delores Martin requested city council last week to consider amendments to the process of selecting and approving citizens volunteering to serve on the Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z). The mayor said the current process has not been reviewed since 2006 and feels “it is always good to go back to see if the best purpose is being served and if it is still functioning as well as it should.” Changes to that process will likely filter through the other boards and commissions as well.

City Manager Kyle Jung explained four requirements currently in place for a new appointee to the PD&Z commission: a prospective new members will be required to attend two consecutive PD&Z meetings, submit a resume to the city secretary (though a city produced application has been used in place of a resume), allow for a background check, and be favorably recommended by PD&Z and subsequently approved by city council. If a prospective member does not receive a recommendation by PD&Z, city council is unable to appoint them. Council member Adrian Gaspar feels city council should be able to consider an appointment irrespective of a recommendation by the sitting commission. Additional qualifications to be considered for appointment to PD&Z include being a citizen of Manvel, have no outstanding debts owed to the city, over 18 years of age, and be a registered voter. A felony conviction precludes any involvement in city business.

A background check is not done routinely but is allowed should sufficient reason present itself. Tammy Bell, Manvel’s city secretary, explained that the application asks the applicant to affirm they have no felony convictions. She says the cost for a background check can run several hundred dollars and many applicants do not want their private records, even if no felony is present, to be open for anyone to see just for the privilege of sitting on a city commission as an unpaid volunteer. City Attorney Bobby Gervais added that applicants are aware that signing the official application knowing it contains false information can result in a charge of tampering with a government document and could result in criminal penalties.

The City of Manvel is always looking for volunteers to serve. Applications are currently being accepted for the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Planning, Development and Zoning Commission (PD&Z), Zoning Board of Adjustment and Appeals, and the newly established Parks Board. Appointments are made annually and as vacancies occur and most terms are for 2 years. Volunteers play a key role in keeping the City government close to the people it serves by providing ideas, feedback and suggestions and serving as a sounding board for proposed policy. Manvel City Council depends on the input from residents serving on boards, commissions and committees which advise the City Council, City Manager and City Staff.

If you are interested in volunteering your services, please print a Volunteer Application (PDF) from the city’s website, or pick one up from the city secretary’s office during regular office hours. More information can be acquired from the city secretary at 281-489-0630, ext. 4.

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