Reader calls for more transparency in city’s plans for Dana Peak Park
To the Editor:
The strongest safeguard in Texas government, beside voting itself, is the safeguard of transparency: the Open Meetings Act under Texas Government Code.
The law is clear: Every regular, special, or called meeting of a governmental body shall be open to the public, except as provided by this chapter.
And nowhere is there an exception for the Harker Heights mayor and city council to mask their direction to city staff to take over Dana Peak Park from the Corps of Engineers.
So when two directly posed questions to the council at the tax rate public hearing, “Did this council direct any action to city staff to take over the park?” and “Is the $25,000 in this budget evidence of a plan to in fact take over the park?”, questions that in their most elemental form are “yes” or “no” questions, go unanswered, it is not because Open Meetings law prevented an answer, as the law allows for factual responses and restatements of policy. The law, despite the mayor’s weekly statement to the contrary, does not prevent answering citizen questions.
A “yes” or “no” would have been appropriate and more importantly, the right thing. For if a citizen cannot ask why for two years in a row, tax money has been budgeted for a park takeover that has not been on a single council agenda for decision nor any minutes recording such decision, then what can be answered?
More than Harker Heights residents should want the answer to this. If Harker Heights takes over this park, city staff has indicated it would need to put in place access fees for hikers, mountain bikers, boaters and equestrians where now there is no fee. And the first and only indication they may receive is when they see Corps of Engineers signs replaced by Harker Heights signs, with a new fee schedule.
It’s time for the mayor to stop hiding behind a law that he misinterprets as a mechanism to not answer citizen questions and answer the question, “Is the council you lead planning to take over Dana Peak Park and turn it into a city-funded park?”