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Jim Guidry Commentaries
A New Day at Galveston City Hall
by Jim Guidry
Monday, May 17, 2010

It is a new day at Galveston City Hall.  Joe Jaworski is mayor with a new majority on the city council.

I expect a lot out of Joe; and I expect to support him in his efforts to improve Galveston municipal government.

There are those who say that the job of mayor in a council-manager form of government is primarily ceremonial and that the mayor is only one vote of seven.  That is true, but the position comes with a lot of responsibilities in addition to voting.

First and foremost, the mayor chairs the city council meetings - an area that has been poorly handled for many years.  Mayor Jaworski has indicated that he understands that responsibility, and has even brushed up on Roberts Rules of Order to make his use of the gavel more efficient.

Another, and probably more important, duty of the mayor is to appoint the emergency management coordinator and to assume special powers when an emergency is declared for a hurricane or other disaster.  For reasons that do not need to be enumerated in this essay this function has been mishandled for many years in Galveston. 

I would encourage Mayor Jaworski to select an emergency management coordinator who has been trained in modern techniques and who has the ability to interact with the public and the news media.  The previous administration's decision to ban the media from hurricane preparedness meetings was foolish for a number of reasons and a professional in emergency management would never even consider such a thing.

Also, the mayor - not the city council - appoints the Galveston Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.  My hope is that Mayor Jaworski appoints members who will work with GHA Executive Director Harish Krishnarao to move residents from public housing into home ownership; and end the cycle of families living in the projects for generations.  The mayor and others also must address the hazard of public housing on a hurricane prone island; and consider dispersing some of the housing to the mainland. 

A very important duty of the mayor is to act as the city's official spokesperson in local, regional and national venues.  I am pleased that Mayor Jaworski plans to participate in the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and other organizations.  I will be proud to see him representing the city on the regional and national stage. 

The remainder of this essay is addressed to the entire Galveston City Council.

Mayor Jaworski and other newly elected members of the city council say they intend to resume the practice of evaluating the city manager and other of their appointees.  Because of Hurricane Ike and other excuses, evaluations and other good management practices have been neglected at Galveston City Hall for some time; and slipshod management has resulted.  However, I think that the city is at the point where mere evaluation of the manager is not sufficient.  It is time to consider selection of a new city manager from elsewhere in the state. 

The position of city manager is not a lifetime job.  There are exceptions, but few city managers in other entities we cover stay for more than five years and even fewer stay as many as ten.  Most municipal administrators move on to larger cities or find better paying jobs in the private sector. But Galveston has a history of hiring local city managers with families who like living on the island and, in Galveston, it is hard to find another job that pays as well as the city pays. 

Thus, city managers in Galveston tend to stay longer than some think they should. Also, because they are in their home town they have family, friends and an actual political constituency that makes them hard to criticize and/or terminate. 

I recommend that the next city manager be someone who has been educated (formally and on-the-job) in Texas municipal government.  Galveston hired an out of state city manager between the administrations of Doug Matthews and Steve LeBlanc and that proved to be a huge mistake.  The most serious blunder Bern Ewert made was to dismantle the standard operating procedures for hurricane management that had been established by Matthews.  Since then SOP has been based on the whim of the moment, sometimes changing on a daily or hourly basis during emergencies.

Galveston has term limits on its elected officials, so there is a fairly frequent turnover of city council members.  It is my opinion that each new city council should consider its options, making sure that the manager who works for them understands their goals and objectives.  This is the greatest challenge facing the new city council.

It's a new day at Galveston City Hall and I have best wishes for the new mayor and city council.

Remembering Jim Guidry Lest We Forget

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