At the May 22, 2018 regular Town Council meeting, I made a motion (seconded by Councilor Fernandez) to amend the Open Meetings Act resolution to stream and record all public meetings of the town and to release agendas one week prior to any public meeting.
I campaigned on a platform of a more transparent local government, and I made this motion to fulfill one of my goals. Unfortunately, Councilors Evans and Hahn voted "no" resulting in a tie broken by Mayor Barrone with a vote of "no."
Although budgetary concerns were raised, the current contract for streaming and recording allows for a maximum of 100 meetings per year. For no additional cost, we could record and stream council meetings, council workshops, planning and zoning commission meetings, historic preservation committee meetings, marketing committee meetings and lodgers tax advisory board meetings.
Currently, only council meetings, planning and zoning and historic preservation committee meetings are recorded. During the meeting, Councilor Fernandez made a valid point that meetings can be streamed for free using a phone and FaceBook Live, meaning that the decision to record and stream every meeting is not a budgetary matter. It is an issue of priority.
The same can be said for releasing the agendas one week prior to any meeting. Manager Bellis cited difficulties for staff to include all the necessary supporting documentation on time. A simple solution: release preliminary agendas one week early.
The public would have to be made aware that a preliminary agenda can change up until it is finalized 72 hours prior to the meeting, but citizens would have an idea about what will be on the table for discussion and possible approval with enough time to make arrangements to attend the meeting.
I raised these issues with Mayor Barrone over two months ago and offered to make a compromise regarding the appointment of Town Manager Bellis (who has yet to be duly appointed to the position) in exchange for these two amendments among a few other items. I still have not received a response to my email.
It is clear to me now that to make our local government more transparent, I will have to take matters into my own hands. Therefore, I will be transforming my campaign website (votemaestas.com) into an information hub where I will post agendas with clear, concise, and unbiased commentary, make official documents available for download, and communicate with constituents.
Additionally, I will use my town of Taos cell phone to record, stream and post every meeting I attend that is not currently recorded (with the exception of executive sessions) to my FaceBook account. A participatory democracy is precipitated from and founded on an informed public, and I am committed to making information about your local government more readily accessible.
Unfortunately, I cannot require the Barrone administration to release preliminary agendas. I have learned very quickly that a single council member has very little power.
But you can contact your elected officials and express your desire to know what will be discussed at the next meeting without waiting until the Saturday morning prior. The record shows there are two votes in favor of more transparency. All that is needed is a third from any of the members of the governing body that voted "no."
That is true of any of the initiatives that Councilor Fernandez and I share an interest in: establishing a Home Rule charter, raising the minimum wage, diversifying the economy beyond tourism, decriminalization of cannabis and others. I believe there is great opportunity for compromise between mayor and council to vote unanimously and demonstrate a willingness to listen in a time of severe divisiveness across the country.
Pascualito Maestas is a town of Taos councilor. Follow him on FaceBook and at votemaestas.com.