As we round the corner toward the New Year with renewed hope and faith in our future, mine is that our local government officials will be more transparent with their constituents. Many feel invisible due to language and cultural barriers, but above all, because of officials who easily forget who they are in office to serve.
It’s easier to make important decisions that affect a multitude of residents when those residents aren’t around to give their opinions. But that’s not democracy.
Meetings and hearings that are open to the public are fine, but they are only as effective as the number of people who attend, or nowadays, watch the meetings via streaming video. Instead of talking inside baseball and tossing out acronyms such as RFP, IOI, IBWC, MOU, IGA, EMS, NOV, OLN, SFB and M&O, politicians need to speak so that constituents understand. In this community, that means in English and Spanish.
When it comes to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, they don’t even offer the video option. They have staunchly refused to livestream or video record their meetings for online viewng.
In September, Chairman Bruce Bracker with a straight face told the NI: “We’ve been working the last two months trying to come up with a way to have our board meetings available online.” Still nothing. My 8-year-old nephew can help, Mr. Bracker – for a fee.
Bracker said that there are concerns over the possibility of people hacking into the county’s system. Get real. Russian, Chinese and Iranian operatives could care less about the intricacies of your MOU for the EMS IGA with NPD and RRFD. Hacking has not been an issue at the City of Nogales, where meetings have been live-streamed and archived on YouTube for at least five years. Could the real fear be that constituents will hack into the realities that there is no comprehensive development plan, clear strategies to address the ravishes of COVID on small businesses and the local economy, and above all, no vision?
Since the pandemic started, many local government agencies have essentially stopped reaching out to the Nogales International, or the rest of the public for that matter, with pertinent information. (Sorry, but repeatedly posting generic social media reminders to wash your hands and maintain a six-foot distance doesn’t count.) This not only goes for the county, it goes for the city, the fire districts and others.
Sure, most will make some degree of effort to answer questions that we pose to them. But proactive outreach by government officials who want to keep the citizenry informed via the county’s newspaper of record is practically non-existent. The Nogales Unified School District and Sheriff Antonio Estrada have been refreshing exceptions.
Meanwhile the phone calls, texts and emails come into our office from people with inquiries concerning local government that they want us to look into. But there are only three people in the newsroom and trying to get answers from some in local government these days can be like pulling teeth. For example, reporter Genesis Lara was working on a story about erosion mitigation that the county did on the Santa Cruz River in Rio Rico. River advocates were very pleased about it and reached out to her to suggest a story. But while the advocates were effusive and available, it took her several days of emails and calls to various county officials before getting a brief, non-illuminative response from the public works director.
If we run into this lack of responsiveness for good news, imagine the troubles we have getting straight answers when the issues are contentious or deemed controversial.
In the New Year, we urge our elected officials to be forthcoming and proactive when it comes to informing the public of what they are up to. Lately, we’ve often heard the phrase, “We’re all in this together.” Local pols need to internalize this and understand they don’t work for a few influential folks, but also for everyone else in our community from the good people living on Bostwick Court and N. West Street in downtown Nogales, to residents on Willow Drive in Rio Rico, Pennsylvania Avenue in Patagonia and the hard-working ranchers in Sonoita.
Here’s hoping for a happy and more transparent New Year.
(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)