The League City Council did a disservice Tuesday to residents.
Some of those residents showed up to the city council meeting to express frustration, anger and despair about their flooded homes and their efforts to climb out of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction. Some were there to talk about other business, including the city’s tax rate.
Residents, some who had never attended a council meeting, filled the chambers to exercise their right to talk to elected officials, vent their concerns and to ask questions. What they got was ignored.
Public participation is an essential part of local government and democracy. But by the time the night was over, most had left before ever getting to say what was on their minds, and instead were subjected to what Mayor Pat Hallisey the next day described as a “pissing match.”
Early in the meeting, Councilman Dan Becker moved to suspend the rules of order to allow two agenda items to be put at the front of the line. Hallisey seconded the motion, but said later he had no idea what was about to happen.
The first item was a 20-minute presentation on the Ike Dike. The second was a 99-minute debate over tax reappraisals.
Both are important issues and certainly worthy of public airing. But it wasn’t what most of the League City residents, many already exhausted from trying to rebuild their flooded homes, were there to talk about.
Rather than get the allotted three minutes each to address the city council, they were subjected to a long debate that for practical purposes was political theater.
Councilman Nick Long and Becker introduced the new item of business that asked the city council to authorize the Galveston Central Appraisal District and the Harris County Appraisal District to reappraise all properties in League City damaged by Hurricane Harvey to determine their market values immediately after the storm.
Galveston County Tax Assessor Cheryl Johnson, who’s pushing for the reappraisals, and Galveston County Tax Appraiser Tom Watson had strong differing views about the reappraisal issue, locked horns and dominated the meeting.
“We were getting in the middle of a pissing match,” Hallisey said Wednesday.
The meeting started at 6 p.m. and adjourned at 10:35 p.m.
As the debate and night dragged on, people began to empty out of the council chambers. Only three people remained. Reasonable people might expect the city council would then have had the courtesy to immediately open up the public comment part of the meeting.
After the Ike Dike presentation and the 99-minute reappraisal debate, the city council then spent 20 minutes on proclamations and appointments and 16 more on “Community Spotlight,” a part of the city council meeting that gives a nonprofit organization a chance to explain its mission.
Such is the business of city councils everywhere. We’re not suggesting council members shouldn’t allow presentations and heated debates. They should. We’re not suggesting they should never have long meetings, although that’s one of the main reasons lots of busy people don’t attend.
We’re arguing council members should accommodate residents who showed up to speak and let them do that early on so they could get back to their own lives.
Among city councils across the state and nation, there’s much hand-wringing about why there are so many empty seats at meetings and how to get the public more engaged. People work all hours of the day. Their schedules are filled with other activities. Thousands in League City are striving to find some semblance of normalcy after Hurricane Harvey.
What the city council achieved Tuesday was to ensure that many of the residents who had attended for the first time also were attending for the last time.
• Laura Elder