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County poised to fill vacant HR director position

After nearly two years without a permanent director of Galveston County’s human resources department, officials might be on the verge of filling the position.

Galveston County commissioners were set Monday to consider approving the hiring of a new human resource director, according to a posted agenda.

They did not do that.

Instead, commissioners gave county staff members the go-ahead to continue negotiating with Arnie Wetzel, who until recently was the director of human resources for Berks County, Penn.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said the county was close to hiring Wetzel to take over the position, which has been vacant since July 2016.

“We made an offer, he came back with a counter-offer,” Henry said. “We discussed that, and so we’re going to go back with a counter-counter-offer.”

The county’s previous chief human resources officer, Peri Bluemer, left in July 2016 for a position at the Galveston County Health District.

Although the county’s human resources department is still staffed, the absence of a director has meant the county has had to change some procedures to deal with certain workplace issues.

In 2017, for instance, the county had to hire an outside attorney to investigate a sexual harassment complaint made against an employee in the county clerk’s office.

If the county had a permanent director, the issue would have been handled without hiring outside counsel, Henry said.

Without a director of the department, Henry, the top administrator in the county, is the one who “feels the pain” on human resource issues, he said.

The county has advertised the human resources position for more than a year, and has interviewed some candidates, Henry said. But the county has been unsuccessful in securing a permanent hire. The failure was something that Henry said he couldn’t exactly explain.

“That’s an excellent question I can’t answer,” Henry said. “It’s been advertised, we’ve had at least half a dozen applicants. We’ve interviewed quite a few. Some have turned us down.”

At least one of the reasons for not having a director is political.

Wetzel has participated in several interviews since November 2017, but asked that the hiring process be delayed until after the primary election, because of a possible sea-change on the commissioners court, Henry said.

That change didn’t happen.

Henry and fellow incumbent Joe Giusti won re-election bids in the primary last week. Precinct 4 commissioner Ken Clark is in a runoff election against Michelle Hatmaker in May.

Commissioners could consider making Wetzel’s hiring official at their next regular meeting March 26.


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Dickinson compiles $301M post-Harvey project list

DICKINSON

City officials estimate they’ll need $301 million in federal disaster aid to improve drainage, roads and housing after Hurricane Harvey’s devastating floods last August.

The priority list of projects could be funded through a federal community development block grant program, city officials said. Dickinson officials are considering what to add to the list and are still working on a completion date for the list, officials said.

The city identified more than $281 million for roadway and drainage improvements in eight areas of Dickinson, including around the Gum Bayou waterway and in the Bayou Chantilly neighborhood, officials said. The remaining $20 million would go toward housing rehabilitation, city officials said.

Projects on Dickinson’s priority list include improving Dickinson Bayou, city officials said. Dickinson Bayou is choked with silt and debris, making it difficult to navigate and a hazard for residents, officials said.

A study on the bayou is necessary, as is funding to act on any recommendations from the study, officials said. But they didn’t immediately have estimates of the study’s cost.

“This was the first list that we officially put together,” Assistant City Administrator Stephanie Russell said. “The council is going to prioritize the list, and it’s more like a bucket list of projects we could pull from. The whole point of this is to get project funding.”

As of March 2, the federal agencies have funneled $846.9 million in recovery aid to Galveston County, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Most of that money is for individual assistance through FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration or the National Flood Insurance Program.

Local governments and nonprofits have received $14.9 million in grants so far, according to FEMA, for things like debris removal assistance.

FEMA has not committed any direct money to local governments yet for infrastructure projects.

Applications for FEMA money already have been submitted, Russell said.

There is a difference between what a FEMA grant and a community development block grant are meant for, Russell said.

“All FEMA is going to do is replace it how it was,” she said. “We want to make it better. This is just an estimate. It’s not money that we necessarily would get.”

There are concerns about how much money the city can get for funding, Mayor Julie Masters said.

“Are we going to get $301 million for streets and drainage?” she said. “I just don’t want them to look at $301 million and say that we are out of our mind.”

Another proposed item is reinforcing the city’s Emergency Operations Center, Masters said.

The Emergency Operation Center proved to be inadequate during Harvey and needs improvements, Masters said.

A study on the city’s drainage systems should be considered, Masters said.

“I’m hoping somewhere in there is funding for a plan to study the whole watershed,” she said. “That’s a top priority and we really need the help.”

The list is not finalized and council members will have time to review the prioritized items, consultant Connie Nicholson said.

“There may be other things that you all want added to this list that we haven’t thought of,” she said. “I think part of this was to give you the list so that you could not only get your input on ranking roads, but ranking the list and adding to it.”

Once the list is complete, the city will start applying for funding, Russell said.

Council members will have a week to review the list and rank the most important items, Russell said.

“This was the list that we started with and then we condensed it even further,” she said. “We have to justify it and we have to scope it out and we have to submit applications for it.”

If Dickinson received the entirety of its request, the grants would be comparable to what the city of Galveston received after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which manages the block grant program, awarded the Galveston $352.4 million in housing and infrastructure projects after Ike. Some of those funds are still being spent on projects in Galveston almost 10 years after that storm.


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Moms unite to assist in ongoing Harvey relief

DICKINSON

With Dickinson still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, a group of mothers has banded together to provide relief to residents, providing sack lunches and more than 1,500 sheets of drywall.

Moms on a Mission was the vision of League City resident Sara Daniel, who saw an opportunity to help out the community and launched the nonprofit organization in September, just after the late-August storm inundated much of mainland Galveston County.

“We just saw that Dickinson was devastated and the majority of homeowners there had no flood insurance,” she said. “We found that the people we were working with were elderly or weren’t able to have their own voice. So, we became a voice for them.”

Daniel, whose own property wasn’t damaged during Harvey, started delivering simple comfort items to residents, she said.

“We just started making sack lunches and we would do it every night,” she said. “We would just drive around Dickinson and anyone we saw outside, we would stop and ask if they wanted water or a sack lunch.”

The organization, consisting of Daniel, Colleen Sparks and Leah Frankes, decided to start with a modest effort, Daniel said.

“We didn’t want to take on too much and we felt if we took on too much too fast, we would crumble,” she said.

But the types of items rapidly grew more complex, Daniel said.

“It just turned into getting more items,” she said. “My house turned into a distribution center. We had people just dropping off things. I had people just dropping things off left and right.”

Daniel has been keeping furniture for homeowners who are renovating, she said.

The organization operates mostly as a distribution center for items donated by others, Daniel said.

“Now, we have 1,500 sheets of Sheetrock,” she said. “We have done $3,000 in gift cards and we are working on our April fundraiser to get appliances for homeowners.”

The city of Dickinson is grateful for all such groups that have assisted with hurricane support, Mayor Julie Masters said.

“When groups like this form just to help our citizens, it’s selfless,” she said. “The compassion just brings out the best in people and it’s contagious. When small or large groups do this for others, it just touches the deepest part of my heart.”

League City resident Jennifer Ross, who gets restaurants and organizations involved with Moms on a Mission, said mothers forming a group is a powerful message.

“I haven’t seen something like this in a very long time,” she said. “It’s really beautiful to see what is transpiring here. It’s moms that had an outpouring of a tender heart and have a family of their own.”

The organization also is planning for the future, Daniel said.

“Say another natural disaster happens, we will already be prepared and ready,” she said. “We really just enjoyed it. We found our gift is serving people.”

Reaching out to more willing participants and strengthening the organization will be key to continuing for years to come, Daniel said.

“We are trying to build our volunteer base,” she said. “That’s our biggest thing, we are always looking for volunteers. We hopefully want to continue this for as long as the community will let us.”

To contact the organization, residents can email momsonamission17@yahoo.com.


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Coming Sunday

A 14-year-old hero is honored for rescuing 17 people during Hurricane Harvey.


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Police: Cart driver was at fault in West End crash

GALVESTON

The driver of a golf cart involved in a rollover accident Wednesday night on Galveston’s West End will be cited for his role in causing the crash, police said Thursday.

The crash happened about 6:45 p.m. in the 23400 block of FM 3005. Police say an SUV carrying four people swerved to avoid the golf cart as the smaller vehicle attempted to cross the highway.

The SUV rolled over and all four passengers were ejected. One of the passengers, a young woman, was flown to the University of Texas Medical Branch with serious injuries, police said. The golf cart driver and the other three passengers suffered nonlife threatening injuries, police said.

The woman was still in serious condition at the medical branch Thursday, Galveston Police Capt. Joshua Schirard said.

Police still were consulting with the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office on the appropriate charges, but charges against the golf cart driver were anticipated, Schirard said.

“There will be some sort of charges,” Schirard said.

There are no traffic lights or stop signs at the point in the highway where the crash happened, Schirard said. The SUV had the legal right of way, he said.

Golf carts can legally cross FM 3005 but are supposed to yield the right of way, Schirard said. He did not know how fast the SUV was traveling when the crash happened.

City codes require that golf cart drivers have a valid driver’s license. Golf carts are prohibited from driving on roads and highways with speed limits greater than 35 mph. Golf carts are required to abide by all city traffic regulations.

Violations of the city’s golf cart ordinance can result in fines of as much as $2,500.

Police did not release the golf cart driver’s name on Thursday because he had not yet been charged.

During high tourism season, golf carts become “prolific” on the West End, Schirard said. The city and the police department may plan some public outreach on the city’s golf cart rules in light of the crash, he said.

“It’s definitely something that we have to work with the citizenry about,” he said.