Members of the Cedar Park City Council and city staff hosted a first-ever ‘Council Chat,’ taking off-the-agenda questions from residents and providing answers to any who attended the Sept. 4 event at the Cedar Park Recreation Center.
Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale was joined by council members Anne Duffy and Michael Guevara to lead the event with assistance from members of city staff.
In a release, the city said that the event was formed after a request from council members and residents who said they’d like to see increased engagement beyond public comment period at regular city council meetings.
All topics were welcome and council members answered more than ten questions from citizens in attendance and watching on a live video stream of the event.
“Thank you all for coming out,” Van Arsdale said to open the meeting. “We haven’t really done anything like this since I’ve been on city council. We don’t see a lot of town hall meetings on this side of the county from elected officials. The idea here is to have an open setting where we can be real transparent and open, get questions from you all and answer them.”
Van Arsdale also said in his beginning remarks that the council plans to hold similar chats twice a year.
“One of the big things I ran on when I first got onto the council, and it has been a priority of this council, is being transparent and authentic,” the mayor explained. “We’re trying to do everything to the state standards and ethics of transparency. Our plan is to have these a couple of times every year. There’s not an agenda, there’s not structure because our council meetings are very structured and very much subject to the Open Meetings Act, but this meeting is not.”
Questions to the council members ranged from budget to transportation to city projects to construction.
One attendee asked what council members believed to be the most important issue facing the city and its residents.
Council Member Duffy began the discussion by referencing a range of topics the council is deliberating.
“For the top issue, we’ve already got some things in motion that are really near and dear to me,” said Duffy. “We looked at a way that we can bring back healthcare retirement benefits for our public city officials. So for us being able to move forward and look at how we can do that, that’s very important to me.”
Duffy also referenced what she called some “simple things” that could have a positive impact on the environment, such as water filling stations and the overuse of styrofoam and even the paper used to write questions for council members during meetings.
“Over the course of the meeting, especially if you had a hot ticket item, you’d have like ten of those cards. You sit there and things about how many agenda items, how many meetings… that’s a lot of cards to throw away. That’s a lot of paper,” Duffy said. “So I started asking, ‘how can we get away from this? Is there any way to make this electronic?’ So now we have iPads. When you come to a meeting, you can now log your question in. It may seem pretty trite but just those little efforts help.”
Another citizen asked about the city’s plans for future development.
Council Member Guevara answered that he sees the city’s future development being focused on the needs of employers.
“With regards to development, I wish we had a crystal ball and could tell but I would like to see employers come here,” Guevara said. “I want to see a situation where people can not only have an office in Cedar Park but can live, eat and shop in Cedar Park. That’s my main goal. Whether it’s local, whether it’s a multinational/international company, I don’t care. Whether it’s government coming in and having an office here, that would be fine as well. As for the quality of life in the city, that has been a big topic at our council meetings. We’re talking about the Bell Boulevard project and other developments like Indigo Ridge North. What can we bring to the city other than just rooftops? I think that’s something that’s really important to us.”
The Cedar Park City Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Thursday, Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. at 450 Cypress Creek Road, Bldg. 4, Cedar Park.