I want to thank the residents of Galveston for the opportunity to serve as your mayor. Above all else, I want you to know it has been an honor and a privilege.
Serving as mayor has renewed my faith in the future of Galveston, mostly because of your spirit and generosity. We have been blessed with good people serving on the many boards, commissions and committees within city government. We have dedicated employees who work hard to make our island run. And we have a remarkable wealth of businesses and institutions committed to the community.
That spirit will serve us well in the future, and I hope we never lose it. As volunteers, you have replanted trees, cleaned beaches, restored homes and commercial buildings, produced events celebrating our history and culture, and supported a wealth of charities contributing to the quality of life.
I thank my fellow council members for their service. While we certainly didn’t agree on every issue, the bottom line is that these are people who contributed their time and talents for what they believed to be good for Galveston, without pay and often without thanks.
Yes, I have some regrets about not accomplishing all we set out to do. A city recovering from a major natural disaster is bound to encounter some bumps along the road. But in light of it all, just look at some of the achievements we have made in the past two years.
Your city is in sound financial condition. We have some $12 million in 90-day reserves, and general fund revenues exceed expenses by another $6 million, which can be spent as needed for things like infrastructure and public safety.
The port is doing well, and tourism is flourishing, thanks to the hard work of those serving on the Wharves Board and Park Board.
We thrive on the successes of our educational assets, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston College and Texas A&M University at Galveston. I can think of no other city our size with such incredible health care, maritime education and research capabilities, and with the opportunity for every local high school graduate to attend community college tuition-free.
We are making headway on demolishing dilapidated buildings in our neighborhoods — four dozen have been torn down, with more in the pipeline.
Our fire, police and emergency management teams have received well-deserved state and national recognition. While some say we should cut their budgets, please remember that these men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect yours, and they operate on the budget of a small town even though they serve a population that swells to 200,000 or more during the summer tourism season.
Infrastructure improvements are underway, bringing better streets and sidewalks, drainage, waste treatment and water service.
Our city employees are dedicated, loyal and talented. Responding to the 24/7 needs of 50,000 residents and hundreds of thousands of visitors is no easy task, but I found them to be true and faithful public servants who place service above self.
By restructuring and refocusing the Industrial Development Corp., we have been able to support the Ike Dike concept, our infrastructure, our neighborhoods, our port, our parks and our beaches, all of which contribute to a stronger economic development base for our city.
Seawall parking is in place and generating funds for seawall enhancements. Nothing so new and sweeping as this is going to work exactly as planned, but I still believe using police officers to enforce the law is best, and it offers public safety advantages for our residents: When Park Board police need help, they call on the Galveston Police Department. In the past, Galveston officers were pulled out of neighborhoods to respond, but now we have officers right there on the seawall, and neighborhood protection remains intact. Sure, there may be some adjustments along the way, but I hope you will stay the course with the current plan until a full year of data is available.
For the future, the Ike Dike concept is beginning to gain momentum, and we have had favorable discussions with the Texas Department of Transportation, the Navigation District and maritime interests about building a new bridge to Pelican Island, which will open incredible new opportunities for our economy.
The only major disappointment I have is that we haven’t resolved the public housing issue — yet. It hasn’t been for lack of trying.
We’ve pleaded with state and federal officials to consider the long-term benefits of different solutions and tried to negotiate with those who want only to rebuild what was without regard for what could be. I remain convinced that housing choice vouchers could provide public housing for those in need.
You know, you start out with the idea that you want to do what is right for your fellow citizens. You trust everyone in a position to help has the same idea. But apparently I trusted too much, and we simply could not put the city at risk of financial ruin in the face of such a lack of cooperation.
For the record, we complied with every demand from Austin and Washington, and the people who serve on the housing authority board have done an outstanding job of adjusting the new public housing developments to better suit Galveston’s needs.
I make no apologies for doing what was right. I know good people disagree, but we did the best we could with the hand we were dealt.
Among the brightest moments of my term was attending a naturalization ceremony welcoming new citizens to our great city and nation. Looking into their eyes, I could see hope, the eternal hope that they could build a better future for their children and grandchildren.
In the year of our city’s 175th anniversary, I am proud to be part of Galveston’s great history. Looking forward, I believe Galveston’s best is yet to come.
And that’s why I ran for mayor in the first place, the hope that I could help build a better future for Galveston. We made some strides. We took some hits. Progress didn’t come easy, but little in life is ever accomplished without trying.
Lewis Rosen is mayor of Galveston.