In what became a tense meeting with some surprises, Mayor Jim Yarbrough on Thursday said he would ask city officials to review a 50-year-old ordinance that established the Galveston Park Board of Trustees and which gave the organization management duties over several city-owned properties.

Yarbrough raised the issue during a joint meeting of the city council and the park board in which he also took park board officials to task for “throwing the city under the bus” in a letter to federal officials about beach maintenance.

The park board, which oversees island tourism and manages various city properties, runs separately from the city and has its own budget. Although the city is in the process of reviewing all of its ordinances, the move to re-examine the one that created the park board could have more substantial effects and could lead to changes in how the city manages its assets.

During Thursday’s meeting, Yarbrough also raised concerns among park board officials and island residents by asserting the city should look at some of the park board’s money in reserves.

Decades have passed since the park board ordinance was put in place and it’s possible the needs of the community have changed since then, Yarbrough said at the meeting.

“When you look at the agreement you have between us, there hasn’t been much change that’s happened in 50 years,” Yarbrough said. “My life has changed a lot in 50 years.”

The city created the park board by ordinance in the late 1960s. The group is often considered the tourism branch of the city and is the recipient of millions of dollars in hotel occupancy taxes each year.

The park board manages beaches and parks such as Dellanera RV Park, Seawolf Park and Stewart Beach. It’s possible that some of the beaches might not be best managed by the park board anymore, Yarbrough said.

“In my mind, I’m not sure Seawolf Park is a tourist park,” Yarbrough said. “Is the park board the best place to manage Seawolf Park? I don’t know.”

After reviewing the ordinance, the council could determine that all of the assets managed by the park board are fine where they are, Yarbrough said. Reassessing who manages city properties, however, could lead to more efficiency in city government, he said.

“Some people would say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Yarbrough said. “I come to the table saying, it may not be broke, but can we do it better?”

Yarbrough’s comments at the meeting weren’t entirely expected, park board Chairwoman Joyce Calver-McLean said. The meeting began by looking at ways to examine how to increase tourism profits during Galveston’s shoulder and offseasons.

“I was a bit taken by surprise, honestly,” she said. “Up until this point, the city and the park board have had a great partnership.”

Yarbrough took issue at the meeting over a letter he said the park board sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In the letter, he said, the park board stated confusion over how the city and West End homeowners associations operate in regards to beach maintenance. That sort of communication is unacceptable, Yarbrough said.

“I’d be all over someone in the city if we went and threw the park board under the bus like this,” he said. “I resent the fact that you’re going to put it in there dogging the city. That’s not a partnership.”

Yarbrough also said at the meeting it’s possible some money in park board reserves could be better used elsewhere, since much of it goes untouched. The city could look at changing its policy so some of the reserves could be used for other projects, he said.

“We’ve got money to do the job,” Yarbrough said.

Some people at the meeting took issue with the possible loss of some reserves, which now surpass $8 million, McLean said. Much of the reserves are used by the board, especially in advancing money when asking for federal funds, park board Trustee Buzz Elton said.

“Please, when we’re looking at all of these things, please don’t just identify a source of funds that might look a little bit more than it should be,” he said. “Look at the source of the needs of those funds.”

Yarbrough needs to understand what reserves and hotel occupancy tax funds can be used for before any decisions are made, McLean said. Hotel occupancy tax funds are restricted under state law.

And efficiency isn’t a huge issue, she said.

“I think the details are what is going to be most important,” she said. “I can’t imagine that there are more ways to be efficient.”

Councilman Craig Brown, of District 2, who is also a trustee on the park board, said he appreciated Yarbrough’s comments.

“I look at this as a time that we really need to educate ourselves — both groups,” he said. “It’s time I think for this council and this community to educate themselves on how efficient these things are being accomplished for our city.”

Claire Reiswerg, a member of the park board Tourism Development Advisory Committee, said the park board has been incredibly efficient.

“People are really happy with what the park board has done in the last five years,” she said. “Any look at ‘efficiencies’ should be managed very, very carefully.”

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter at @sam_kett


(18) comments

Don Schlessinger

Thank you Mr. Yarbrough, a review like this has been needed for a long time. I also appreciate Mr. Craig Brown adding his support.

Byron Barksdale

the park board needs to put a nice sandy beach in front of the Seawall from 72nd Street to 100th Street to increase property values and collectible taxes, increase occupancy of hotels West of 72th Street and occupancy taxes, and protect the Seawall for direct wave erosion. Beaching West of 72th Street needs to be done instead of expanding beaches elsewhere.

Richard Moore

There should be no confusion amongst the citizens – the City of Galveston is ultimately responsible for the operations and activities of BOTH the Wharves Board and the Parks Board. Given the considerable amount of Citizen Owned assets these two Boards manage, periodic review by the City of the operations of these entities should be EXPECTED and applauded by the citizens. The ONLY accountability that citizens can be assured of is through the City.

My belief and suggestion is that the City undertake a study of the efficacy of BOTH of these entities looking for improvements which could then be implemented through the Ordinance and Charter review process. This should be done at least every 10 years!

Don Ciaccio

Thank you Mayor Yarbrough. I've been saying for years that the PB needed to be reigned in. It's powers are now too great for an entitity that is not held directly accountable by voters. Time for a review of that power & to rethink the entire operation. I'd prefer the city take over the PB and voters to be able to hold city leaders responsible for the actions & financial state of the operation. Time for "repeal & replace" if necessary. It's clearly out of control.

Raymond Lewis

I was able to attend this joint meeting and found it a little surprising the mayors comments came after an excellent presentation by the parks board and several of its board members. Hopefully any discussions and reviews causes each of these city entities to rise to the level of highest function between the two rather than the lowest. I sincerely hope all of it is not about "who's in charge". Galveston has been on a positive roll as of late. Let's keep the collective North Star dialed into the community GPS.

Richard Moore

Agree Ray. Don't need to "throw out the baby with the bath water"...

Don Schlessinger

"the park board stated confusion over how the city and West End homeowners associations operate in regards to beach maintenance." How, after 5 or 6 years of operating after the beach sand fiasco on the west in could people be confused about beach maintenance.

The statement from the letter PB wrote to the Corps of Engineers should have every Galveston Island taxpayer paying attention. History tells us the PB is very close to the WGIPOA. I suspect the PB might be trying to find a way, through the Corps to use more PUBLIC money to improve PRIVATE west end beaches. I may be very wrong, but watch all this. Ms. McLean needs to remember money from HOT does not belong to the Park Board, it belongs to the citizens of Galveston.

I agree with Don C, I'd prefer the city take over the PB and voters to be able to hold city leaders responsible for the actions & financial state of the operation. Time for "repeal & replace" if necessary.

Don Ciaccio

Don, you are spot on. The PB is trying to figure ways to deliver sand to the west end. After losing $5,000,000 worth of sand at the end of the seawall last year (in three months), I knew when they announced they would replace the lost $5,000,000 with yet another round of sand that they had figured a way to replenish private property on the west end They know it will immediately wash down westward. History has 100% guaranteed that sand will not last if placed there, but WILL wash down the coast to help replenish PRIVATE PROPERTY which is AGAINST STATE LAW.

Jarvis Buckley

It should never be East against West
that's just ridiculous . I agree the park Board has too much authority.

Mike Box

Win-win: Replenish the East End beaches and the sand moves to the West End beaches. Put it on the west end and it's gone off the end of the island.

Don Ciaccio

Touché Mike Box. Replenishing the beaches in front of the seawall has been a huge success for decades. Placing sand west of the seawall is a total, absolute failure. I have full faith that Mayor Yarbrough & our council will reign in the PB, which is acting in a rogue manner as of late!

Ron Shelby

A review of this sort is common sense management. It shouldn't be considered a reflection of the current players and/or personalities on either side. Rather, its a sound management practice to review missions, tasks and goals of any organization, ...especially after all of the creators, operators and citizen's who were behind its original creation have long died. The city, and its residents, have changed significantly of the last half century requiring a review. In fact, the smart thing to do would be to require a mandatory review by council every 15 years or so, and have it codified into the Park Board's bylaws.

Ron Shelby

that should be: "...over the last half century..."

Jarvis Buckley

Just another is against them that keeps this island from living up to its potential .

Jarvis Buckley

Sorry meant "us"

Charles Olsen

I agree with The mayor on this one. It's time for the Park Board to go !!

Eron Smith

Over the past 18 months I have developed a 25 acre RV Resort located on FM 3005 just West of Woody's. During this time I have allocated private funds and hours of time to the revamping/remodel and complete upgrade of Sea Wolf Park and its amenities along with the addition of a Class A RV Resort to the property. This potential public/private partnership offering has fallen on deaf ears as it relates to the Parks Board. Sea Wolf Park is currently under contract with another party to develop a rv park, this same vendor currently has Sea Wolf Park on lock down and has for the past 5 years and will for the next 5 years. They have yet to stick a shovel in the ground or generate one dollar of income for the citizens of Galveston, the Parks Board or themselves. The loss of rental income belonging to the citizens of Galveston to date is around $125,000.00 dollars, this does not account for any additional income that may of been produced from Sea Wolf due to rental rates, private functions, etc.....I am committed to starting the development upon permit being issued, I have allocated the required capital to fund and provide a CLASS A RV RESORT along with many other improvements such as new Pier, Landscape Lighting, Security lighting, Added landscaping, new ADA accessible play areas for children, all required City Services for sanitary, electric and water, upgraded restroom and shower facilities, demolishing of the existing structure to make room for a Class A destination facility. I am confident this would create a income stream for the citizens of Galveston while also providing a wonderful Resort development and facilities to benefit all involved. If you care to have Sea Wolf Park become a true destination. We are on the same boat, I am committed to making it happen!
The Parks Board does a wonderful job promoting Galveston and its many destinations. I would very much like to assist them in generating a solid income steam and a unique destination for all to enjoy..
Great appreciation for the City Manager-,Brian Maxwell and our Mayor Mr. Yarbrough, as they have shown great leadership in regards to doing what is best for the citizens of Galveston Island, its visitors and development.

Steve Fouga

I can understand Mr. Smith's frustration, but I certainly don't want an RV park at Seawolf. The longer it drags on the better, as far as I'm concerned -- no offense to Mr. Smith intended.

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