Voters might be asked in a referendum next year to double the price of seawall parking.
The Seawall Parking Ad Hoc Committee on Thursday recommended a rate increase from $1 to $2 an hour with a minimum two-hour charge along Seawall Boulevard as part of its review of the current seawall parking program.
The committee also recommended raising annual pass rates from $25 to $45.
The Galveston City Council last month tasked the committee with studying the parking system in advance of the program’s sunset in 2020.
Voters approved the $1 an hour charge in 2011 on the condition funds would be used for seawall improvements such as restrooms and bus stops. The program began in 2013.
Increasing the hourly rate would bring in more money for needed seawall improvements, committee member Dennis Byrd Jr. said.
“Downtown Galveston, we are all paying $1.75 to park,” Byrd said. “There’s more traffic on the seawall than downtown. It’s the number-one reason we come to Galveston.”
The committee based its recommended two-hour minimum on the fact that the vast majority of seawall parking transactions are for one hour.
“This just helps us put more money toward what beach parking is for,” City Marshal Michael Gray said.
While most committee members supported the price increase, and the annual pass increase from $25 to $45, committee member Susan Fennewald worried Galvestonians won’t be willing to pay so much.
“I think that’s too much,” Fennewald said. “On a summer weekend, I think that’s fine, but the rest of the time, I think that’s too much.”
She didn’t want the fees to be a burden to residents, she said.
The Texas General Land Office, the agency managing unrestricted access to Texas beaches, requires access fees be the same for both residents and visitors, Reuben Trevino, director of operations for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, said.
The land office also sets the maximum Galveston can charge per day for seawall parking.
While the committee recommended a $15 or $16 daily rate, the current $8 charge is the maximum the city is currently allowed to charge, land office spokeswoman Karina Erickson said.
Other beaches may charge up to $15 daily, Erickson said.
The land office is aware of the city’s discussion about raising the maximum for seawall parking, Erickson said. A rate increase would need to be discussed between the land office and the city, she said.
The committee’s recommendation isn’t the final step. The city council will make the final call on ballot language, which the city hopes will reach voters by May 2019. City council members have discussed reintroducing a revised ordinance to voters later that year, if the first attempt fails.
The committee aims to keep enforcement hours the same, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., to allow residents free access in the morning and evening.
Members also want to revisit the parking program in 10 years, more than the seven years required from the current ordinance, which the city supports.
The city council likely will discuss the recommendations during its December and January meetings.
While many Dickens on The Strand guests spend the festival mornings perfecting their costumes, the Lee family rolls into Galveston early.
For decades, Lindsey Lee and his family have brought their collection of antique bicycles to the Dickens festival and continued the tradition for the event’s 45th year.
The family arrives early, before crowds make riding difficult, Lee said. During the day, guests can try balancing on a high-wheel or steering a three-wheel bike.
“I enjoy coming out and meeting people,” Lee said. “It’s a lot of fun. A lot of people, we get to see every year.”
His father, Larry Lee, began coming to the holiday festival in its second year, he said. The annual event celebrates 19th century Victorian London culture and perfectly suits his family’s collection of 28 bicycles, he said.
Between the 1870s and 1890s, when they were most popular, these high-wheel bikes were primarily for the wealthy, Lindsey Lee said.
“Anywhere between a month to a year’s worth of salary for a working man is what you would spend for a bicycle in the mid- 1880s,” Lindsey Lee said.
The family developed its collection partly by accident, Larry Lee said.
He saw an ad in a Houston newspaper for a high-wheel bicycle for $100 and decided to buy it, he said. The family added bikes to their collection year by year, he said.
Now, the whole family attends festivals and even got their neighbors involved, family friend Eric O’Brien said.
“I grew up riding these,” O’Brien said. “Mr. Lee recruited all the neighborhood kids and he’d get us all riding.”
Galveston resident Tom Bass owns his own collection of antique bikes, all due to the Lee family, he said.
“I bought one, then two, then three, then five, then six.,” Bass said. “It’s kind of a family deal. Some of our best memories of our family being together were at Dickens.”
The bikes take a little skill to learn how to ride, Lindsey Lee said.
Maintaining them can also take some effort, he said. Friday night, the family spent several hours oiling and cleaning the bicycles in advance of Saturday’s festivities, he said.
“You probably end up working on them an hour for every hour you ride,” Lee said.
Finding new parts can also prove challenging because parts weren’t standardized when the bicycles were built, Lindsey Lee’s son Edward Lee said.
If the family loses a bolt, they have to make a new one, he said
But the maintenance doesn’t deter him, Edward Lee said.
“They’re more exciting than riding a regular bike,” Edward Lee said.
This dive into the past is exactly what brought Brooke Bonorden to Dickens for the first time this year, she said.
“I’m a historical archeologist, so I really like this time period anyway,” Bonorden said. “It’s a fun excuse to catch up with the history.”
She loves the historic nature of downtown Galveston, which also draws her to the event, she said.
Melanie Strain and her sister, Louise Cuaxe, also enjoy strolling between old buildings. They come every year in full costume, Cuaxe said.
“My sister makes and designs our parasols and our hats,” Cuaxe said.
Constructing the costumes only takes her a few weeks, Strain said, decked out in a bustled dress.
Dressing up is part of the fun, said Grayson Bushnell, Atascocita High School choir member.
“It kind of makes you feel like you’re part of everything,” Bushnell said.
He performed at the festival with the choir, he said.
Dickens on The Strand and the Lee family’s bicycles return Sunday.
Next year, event organizer Galveston Historical Foundation plans to add another weekend to the festival, though details are yet to be discussed, foundation staff said.
When Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president, many people saw proof the United States had entered a post-racial age. They argued the old struggles over racial bias, prejudice and inequality had been put to rest, consigned to the 20th century.
But while that 2008 election was undoubtedly a high point in the country’s long, jagged, sometimes violent, racial experience, it also marked, for many, a resurgence of racial hatred more intense than had been seen in decades.
Now, two years into the administration of President Donald Trump, some Americans argue the country has taken a step back in race relations.
So where are we, which vision of race in America is correct, as far as rank-and-file Americans are concerned?
The Daily News sought to illuminate that question through a series of interviews of Galveston County residents representing as many races and political camps as we could find willing to talk.
Here’s part two of what we learned.
Growing up in Galveston, Robert M. Quintero, embraced his Mexican heritage and was proud to be an American, he said.
A member of the League of United Latin-American Citizens Council No. 151, Quintero is deputy district director for District VII, which covers 32 counties in Southeast Texas.
Quintero, 56, said he thinks race relations are better in Galveston than on the mainland.
“When the tragedy in Santa Fe happened in May, several of my friends from LULAC in Houston assisted with a charitable event after the high school shooting,” Quintero said.
“My friends said they were mistreated by residents in Santa Fe. I was asked why didn’t I tell them about this community. I replied that after this tragedy that shocked the entire country, I’d hoped that some people would use this event to heal and come together as a community and forget overt feelings of the past. I guess I was wrong.”
The experience left Quintero wondering about race relations in America, he said.
“Race relations have gotten worse,” Quintero said. “During the Obama administration, people who previously hid behind their prejudice came out overtly with their preconceived notions.”
Quintero said it was hard to understand why Americans seem afraid to sit down and simply talk about race face to face.
Quintero, who lives and works in racially diverse areas, argues the key to mending the racial climate in America is to talk about race, he said.
“Racial division isn’t taught in the schools,” Quintero said. “It’s taught in the homes and in the streets. We need to learn that we pray to the same God, breathe the same air, drink the same water and cheer for the same teams. So, why can’t we sit and talk about racial fear?”
Mattie Margaret Muse, 73, was born and raised in Galveston.
Muse, who has been retired for 14 years, hasn’t dealt with any overt racism in her lifetime, she said.
“Race relations in Galveston County are basically good,” Muse said. “Even when I was in the working sector, the racial climate was status quo in most cases.”
Muse and her family and friends discuss race often, especially such issues as the deaths of black boys and men in encounters with police, she said.
“I do feel as though they’ve gotten worse since Trump’s administration has taken helm,” Muse said. “However, I truly believe race issues can be fixed by Americans exercising their right to vote by putting the people who believe in America in office.”
Muse, a member of Galveston’s NAACP chapter, argues the racial climate is worse now than what she experienced as a child.
“In today’s racial climate in America, there’s no love for one another anymore,” Muse said. “I feel that in this day and time, America isn’t the America that I grew up in. Moving forward, I believe we, as Americans, can look forward to a nation which will embrace each other — no matter the color of our skin.”
James Jones, 29, was born and raised in Galveston.
Jones, the youngest of four, and son of James Sr. and Deborah Jones, of Texas City, was taught early on that education would allow him to get further in life, despite the odds being stacked against him, he said.
Race, or African issues, are old issues, and race relations have been bad since the beginning, he said.
“For us, as African people, we’re fooled by how things look, rather than what they are,” Jones said. “The things that were happening under Obama and are happening under Trump are the same things that were happening under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. These issues aren’t new.”
Jones and his family and friends discuss race issues every time they’re together, he said.
Jones sees race relations in Galveston County as the same as race relations everywhere else in the country, he said.
“We live in a caste system similar to that in India,” Jones said. “We don’t live in a safe environment similar to that in Flint, Michigan. We’re harassed and mistreated by police and the judicial system similar to that in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and Waller County, Texas.”
With the current racial climate in America, overt and covert racism is always there, said Jones, who expresses his ethnicity boldly in his community, as well as at his place of employment.
Jones doesn’t see a way for America to improve its racial issues, which have been a part of this country since its inception, he said.
“This (race) isn’t to be fixed because this isn’t supposed to work (benefit) anyone else other than the European elite,” Jones said. “What needs to be fixed is the perception we have of what America is — and always has been. That way, we can ‘fix’ ourselves. To quote John H. Clarke: ‘Being African people we have to learn the art of selfishness and put race first.’ After we do this, then we can work with other races to live more peacefully; but I don’t believe that this can be fixed.”
April Haynes and her husband, Andrew, met in high school in Galveston.
Haynes, who’s white, and her husband, who’s black, have seen their fair share of racism when it comes to their interracial relationship, she said.
However, Haynes, 30, believes that race relations in Galveston County mirror the same pattern of race relations currently across the United States, she said.
“I believe silent racists have gotten more comfortable with our current president/government and have become more outspoken than prior to 2016,” Haynes said. “It feels like we’re living in 1955. People are turning against each other every day because of race, religion and politics. However, if you were just speaking of Galveston (the city) and not the county, I would say that Galveston is an island of its own where we have a laid-back, agree to disagree type of culture.
“Growing up in Galveston and attending Ball High School gave me experiences and perspectives I will never forget. If you went to Ball High, you know what I’m talking about. It really taught us that we can all get along and work together regardless of race, religion or gender.”
The Haynes, unfortunately, have had to deal with racial profiling, and often, with family and friends, have discussions on race issues three to four times a week, she said.
Haynes, who’s a mother of two sons, Andrew Jr. and Anderson, believes that race relations in America has gotten worse in the past two years, she said.
“I believe under Trump’s administration racists have found it easier and gotten more comfortable to speak about hate and their racist views more openly,” Haynes said. “We need a strong president and government that supports equality and is committed to bringing the country together instead of apart.”
Haynes believes America can become an example of racial harmony, she said.
“For those who have racist beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation, they will need a complete change of heart,” Haynes said. “We should spread love, not hate. Pay it forward. At a minimum, try to put the shoe on the other foot before judging a person or stereotyping anyone. Let’s all live and teach the golden rule.”
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry wants the county to explore whether it can seek reimbursement for the theft of more than $500,000 by making claims against surety bonds held by three public officials.
County commissioners in an executive session Monday will discuss whether to file surety bond claims against the auditor’s office, the county treasurer’s office and the county purchasing agent, according to an agenda posted by the county on Thursday afternoon.
Commissioners also are posted to vote on taking the action following the executive session, according to the agenda. A posted vote on an agenda is not a guarantee that action will be taken, but does signal the possibility for a vote.
On Friday, Henry said commissioners would discuss with the county’s legal department whether pursuing the claims were even viable.
“They have a bond against errors and omission, and we’re going to file a claim against their bonding company and ask for them to pay,” Henry said.
The goal of pursuing a bond claim would be to reimburse taxpayers for the $525,282 that was mistakenly sent to a scammer posing as county road contractor earlier this year, Henry said. The scammer, who has not been identified or arrested, managed to convince county employees to change information in the county’s purchasing system to redirect the destination of an electronic payment.
The county did end up paying the contractor for the work, but Henry said taxpayers deserved to be compensated for the lost funds through the departments that handled the transaction.
Elected and appointed officials are required by state law to hold surety bonds when they officially take office. Henry compared making a claim against the bonds held by each office to making an insurance claim, where the bonding company would investigate the claim and judge whether the county claim can be paid out.
There is a possibility that the county’s legal department will tell commissioners they don’t have the authority to seek a claim against one or more of the departments.
County Auditor Randall Rice said Friday that only the county’s district court judges, who appoint him, are legally allowed to make a claim against his bond.
Rice didn’t think a move to seek a claim against his bond was necessarily an attack on his office, he said.
“I think they’re doing what they think is in the best interest of the county,” Rice said. “They’re doing what they can to protect the county, just as we’re doing what we can to protect the county.”
Monday’s agenda item is the first time the issue has appeared as an action item since July, when the commissioners voted to hire a private company, the Dawson Forensic Group, to investigate the theft.
That investigation has ended, and a draft report has been reviewed by commissioners, but the county has not released the report. The Daily News has submitted an open records request for a copy of the report.
The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the theft, but so far no one has been arrested. No one has been fired over the incident.
Henry has complained publicly of about what he sees as a lack of accountability from the departments that were duped by the scam.
Last week, Henry called for the county to form an internal committee to the review the county’s financial operations and propose changes to its systems to potentially give commissioners court more direct oversight of its finances.
Rice, County Treasurer Kevin Walsh and Purchasing Agent Rufus Crowder don’t report directly to the commissioners court, and commissioners cannot remove the people who hold the those positions.
The treasurer is elected, and the purchasing agent and auditor are appointed to the county’s purchasing board and district judges.
The three men have said that they have made changes to the county’s purchasing and payment systems to ensure that the county doesn’t fall for the same scam again.
Another agenda item posted for Monday asks the commissioners court to sign a non-disclosure agreement with GIACT Systems, a fraud detection company, so that the purchasing department can move forward with contract negotiations with the company.
All three men also said they’ve had little in the way of interaction with Henry or other commissioners since the theft occurred, and had not been invited to brief the court on the changes that have been made to avoid future scams.
Henry’s committee proposal does not appear on Monday’s agenda. Henry said he hoped that proposal would be on the court’s agenda later in December.