San Benito to hold town hall meetings to hear resident concerns

Only have a minute? Listen instead

SAN BENITO — Riding a wave of change sweeping City Hall, the new commission here wants the city’s staff to open up to residents’ concerns.

After the landmark May 6 election ushered in new leaders reshaping City Hall’s administration, commissioners are calling for two town hall meetings aimed at letting residents speak out to help staff offer better services.

For years, many residents claimed former City Manager Manuel De La Rosa closed himself off to residents’ concerns.

Now, Gavino Sotelo, the city’s newly appointed interim city manager, says he wants City Hall to open up to residents.

“It’s a great idea. That’s one of the things on my list — to call town hall meetings. It’s common at other cities,” he said. “The only reason we work for the city is to serve the community. The citizens are our bosses. That’s No. 1 — we’ve got to respond to the public.”

‘Open hand’

Earlier this week, commissioners agreed to hold two town hall meetings this summer.

During a June 20 meeting, newly elected Commissioner Tom Goodman, who called on commissioners to hold the town hall meetings, proposed an evening meeting at the city’s Community Building and a Saturday morning meeting at the Economic Development Corporation’s offices.

Now, officials are working to set up the meetings.

In an interview, Goodman noted the city meetings don’t let commissioners respond to residents’ concerns during public comment periods.

“I want a formal setting in which we can interact with the public,” he said.

Goodman proposed City Hall’s staff join commissioners in hearing residents’ concerns.

“The primary purpose is to let (staff) hear how the public feels about services being provided,” he said.

The city’s new administration is opening up City Hall to residents’ concerns, Goodman said.

“I believe city government should be an open hand and not an iron fist,” he said, referring to the past administration. “I believe we can respond a lot better to the requests of citizens than we have been. We want citizens to know we’re there to help, not to hinder. Town hall meetings become a good way to foster that dialogue.”

Residents guiding officials

The town hall meetings will give residents a new venue from which to raise their concerns, Mayor Rick Guerra said.

“Some people don’t reach out to elected officials,” he said. “In a town hall meeting, you’re talking face-to-face, in person. Hopefully it’s constructive. We can do something to move forward with services, trying to provide for the people.”

Like Goodman, Commissioner Pete Galvan said officials are working to open up to residents’ concerns.

“The main purpose is to let the people speak their concerns with no repercussions,” Galvan said. “The commission is genuinely interested in the concerns of the public and we’re stronger as a community for that.”

Officials are counting on residents’ input to help guide them, he said.

“The success of the city is totally dependent on the leadership, so it’s important for (residents to voice concerns),” he said. “They’re an integral part of the equation.”

‘New vibe’

For some residents, town hall meetings offer the best forum from which to present concerns to commissioners, Commissioner Deborah Morales said.

“A lot of people aren’t able to attend our meetings or livestream,” she said, referring to the commission’s livestreamed meetings.

Responding to residents’ concerns is part of commissioners’ jobs, Morales said.

“They put us in these seats to advocate for them so we should be aware of the community’s concerns,” she said. “I don’t see them as complaints — I see them as concerns.”

Since voters swept in the new commission last month, more residents are taking part in city meetings, Morales said.

“The change in the commission has been a great help,” she said. “People who have not gone to meetings prior tell me they’re starting to come now because of the new commission. There’s a different vibe in San Benito — and it’s a positive one. They’re excited about the change. They want to be a part of it.”