I have previously commented on Galveston City Council's performance throughout the 25 years I lived and worked on the island. The 1984 city council was among the best I have ever covered; the current city council is the most dysfunctional governmental body I have ever experienced in the more than 40 years of my career.
Some may question the propriety of my comments on the coming election in Galveston, since I have moved away and cannot vote there. But Guidry News Service maintains an office in Downtown Galveston and we have vested interest in several areas on Galveston Island. Thus, I offer my comments on the choices available to voters in Galveston.
First, I would not recommend any of the current members of Galveston City Council for election to any position.
Despite the accolades that seem to be accruing to Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas and the current city leadership, it is obvious that they seriously botched the pre-storm preparations for Hurricane Ike, and since then have merely groveled for federal funds to recover, even resorting to asking Ike-displaced Galvestonians to return to the island to stay with relatives for the Census count on April 1, and give their relatives' addresses as their own.
Danny Weber, who is mayor pro tem, is a former firefighter and fire chief and has been my friend as long as anyone in Galveston, and longer than most. He is a good man with a good heart, and was a good leader and role model for my son and other Galveston firefighters for several years. However, the only time I ever witnessed him in an emergency situation as mayor pro tem, he did not impress me.
Weber was assigned to be the city’s "decision maker" at the Galveston County Emergency Operations Center in Dickinson during Hurricane Ike. He was there to be liaison between emergency operations on the mainland and on Galveston Island. In this capacity, Weber declined to be interviewed about fires on the island and, in effect, was declining to be a spokesman for the City of Galveston. Of course, I got my information elsewhere.
This incident provides a good comparision to another candidate for mayor.
Joe Jaworski, who was mayor pro tem during Hurricane Rita, was assigned to the Galveston County EOC. Jaworski took his assignment seriously. He stayed in the command center, monitoring the fires and other emergencies on Galveston Island as Rita moved ashore. He was available to talk to reporters in person, and also by telephone to a Houston television station that was describing a fire on Postoffice Street as being on The Strand. He provided good information in a time of chaos.
This is not an endorsement of Jaworski for election as mayor. I have no doubt that he will do a great job as mayor if he is elected. He comes from good stock; I knew his grandfather, Leon Jaworski. And I have watched Joe’s career in city politics for the past couple of decades. He has paid his dues in Galveston, on the city council and other assignments.
Betty Massey also has paid her dues and will do a good job as mayor if she is elected.
I first met Betty in 1984 when she and Peter Brink were negotiating with Galveston County Commissioners Court for a contract for Galveston Historical Foundation to manage the Galveston County Historical Museum. Massey later became executive director of GHF and still later became the executive director of the Mary Moody Northen Endowment. While serving in a professional capacity for the major foundations, she also has served on numerous boards, commissions and committees.
While she was chair of the city's Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, updating the city’s long range plans, Hurricane Ike moved ashore and changed everything. Massey was then tapped to head the Galveston Long Term Community Recovery Committee. Although I was skeptical of Massey's recruitment of 300 people to serve on the committee, the process turned out to not be unwieldy and the city is moving forward on programs and projects recommended by the committee.
William Quiroga, brother of former mayor Roger Quiroga, does not seem to be mounting much of a campaign, and Greg Roof has announced that he is no longer campaigning for the position, although his name remains on the ballot. Thus, for me, the choices for mayor in Galveston are Joe Jaworski and Betty Massey.
There are elections in all six city council districts.
While I will not make recommendations in each of the races, I will say that it is important for the voters to retire District 3 Council Member Elizabeth Beeton.
Beeton has led a movement that damaged Galveston’s development opportunities on the west end, in the tax increment reinvestment zones, and the East End Flats. Either Juan Peña, who served well previously in the position before he was defeated by Beeton two years ago; or Sheryl Rozier, who has served well on city committees and would be an excellent city council member, offer better choices than Beeton.
Susan Fennewald, who never should have been elected in the first place because she has neither qualifictions for the office nor the temperment for public service, probably will be reelected because her only opponent is Chris Gonzales, an apparently nice man who she easily defeated for the District 4 seat two years ago. It is a shame that the district has not attracted better candidates.
Others who I know would serve well if elected include Brenda Lee and Angela Brown, who are vying to unseat Linda Colbert in District 3; and Dianna Puccetti, who is seeking to return to the District 6 position. Chula Sanchez, who was wrongly ousted from the Galveston Planning Commission by the current city council, would be a good council member, but I think Puccetti should be returned to City Hall.
Steve Greenberg, who served on the city council in the 1980s, is seeking to return as the representative of District 5. I don’t know Jim Rothgeb, who is the other candidate in the race, but I would probably vote for Greenberg if I was voting in this election.
I have said that Tarris Woods is the best of the current city council, but that is not saying much. Tarris was better versed on the duties and the protocols of the job than most new council members. But, there are others such as former wharves board trustee Rusty Legg (whose wife served two terms in District 1), David Galindo and Fred Thomas who are in the race and provide alternate choices.
There are several issues the new city council must tackle.
First, the city council should seek a professional city manager and emergency management coordinator. For those who think I am being too harsh on the current administration and its handling of life-threatening emergencies, I refer them to my extensive article on the events leading to and during Hurricane Ike. Click Here
The new city council should participate with other political entities in the Gulf Coast Region to develop the Ike Dike or another storm surge system. Otherwise, Galveston should not advertise itself as a safe place to live; and especially should not encourage elderly and disabled people to live on the island where they are likely to face frequent (or even occassional) evacuations. Public housing should not be provided to people who lack the means to leave on their own if a storm threatens.
Although our current mayor, city council and city administration did not believe there was a serious threat from a storm surge, they were wrong - dead wrong. As was true before the storm, it still is true: "It is not a question of if, but when" another "big one" comes to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The new city council should follow through on its contract with Swagit to provide on the city's website live and archived streaming video of the city council meetings for residents who do not have cable. This project has been in the works since before Hurricane Ike and may be near completion. In the meantime, GuidryNews.com has been hosting the streaming videos.
The new mayor should utilize the gavel to maintain decorum at city council meetings and put a reasonable limit on the time allotted to council deliberations.
The new city council should participate in the Galveston County Mayors and Councilmembers’ Association, the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the United States Conference of Mayors and other regional and national organizations. Galveston is very, very seldom represented at the county mayor’s meetings; and is represented at H-GAC meetings only if funding for Galveston is on the agenda.
Galveston was a jewel when I first arrived in 1984. It was just beginning a renaissance spurred by the investments of George Mitchell and assisted by the economic development initiatives of former city manager Doug Matthews.
It will be a while before the city is back on track and I wish the new city council the best in regaining credibility and effectiveness.