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Santa Fe city manager Dickson retiring after 22 years

SANTA FE

Joe Dickson has been Santa Fe’s city manager for more than half the city’s history and now he’s retiring.

This time, he’s serious, he said.

“This is about the fourth time I’ve said I’m going to do it, but I really am this time,” Dickson said.

Dickson turned 70 in June, just after the anniversary of the May 18, 2018 Santa Fe school shooting. Mayor Jason Tabor asked Dickson to stay until the anniversary, Tabor said, then put out a request for proposals for a search firm to hire a new city manager.

The shooting profoundly affected everyone in town, whether or not they knew someone personally who was hurt or killed, and impacted the town as a whole, Dickson said.

Ten people were killed and another 13 people were injured in the shooting.

“It’s really hard to say anything about that,” Dickson said. “It affected everybody because it was here — that happens somewhere else, not here.”

The way the community has come together to work through its collective grief, creating the Santa Fe Resiliency Center to help with healing, is testimony to Santa Fe’s strength, Dickson said.

And though the city has grown significantly, it remains a peaceful place, Dickson said.

Growth in Santa Fe has been fueled in part by county residents finding League City and the Clear Lake area too busy and heading down to Santa Fe for quiet, open spaces instead, he said.

“We’re still a quiet community, a bedroom community with a hometown feel,” he said, crediting good planning and zoning with the town’s organized growth.

Looking back at his 22 years managing Santa Fe, that growth is what impresses Dickson most.

“When I got here in 1996, the population was about 9,500; I think the road sign said 8,944,” Dickson said. “Now it’s about 13,500.”

Born as a result of avoiding annexation to neighboring Hitchcock, Santa Fe incorporated in 1978, absorbing unincorporated Alta Loma and parts of the Arcadia community. Since Dickson came to town, Santa Fe has annexed six surrounding areas, expanding the town’s footprint from 12 square miles to around 16 square miles.

“As I recall, there were only two subdivisions then, and now I think we have 12 subdivisions in the city,” Dickson said.

Looking back on his years at City Hall, Dickson noted changes in Santa Fe that he was part of including the passage of a half-cent sales tax for water, sewer and drainage projects that’s led to a $4.5 million sewer project underway now and a $2.5 million water project expanding water services throughout the city.

“That’s really gonna help economic growth,” he said.

Another half-cent sales tax has helped the city as well, knocking 9 or 10 cents off local property tax rates, keeping them low for homeowners and businesses, Dickson said.

“We’ve seen the widening of FM 1764 and just completed widening of FM 646 in the city,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of traffic that comes through.”

The city passed its first bond five years ago for construction of a new police station and municipal court, transforming Santa Fe from a “pay-as-you-go” city to one, now, with an official debt, Dickson said.

Then there were the city’s challenges that Dickson witnessed during his 22 years in Santa Fe — hurricanes, tropical storms, train derailments and the shooting.

“We made it through all of them,” he said.

Originally from Amarillo, Dickson moved first to Rotan, near Abilene, then south to Leander, near Austin, before coming farther south to Santa Fe nearly 23 years ago. Every move has brought him a little closer to the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

“I joke with people, saying if I move again I’ve gotta get a house boat,” Dickson said.

But he has no intention of leaving Santa Fe, now his permanent home and a city that with a low tax rate, low crime rate and good schools is just a comfortable place to live, Dickson said.

The Santa Fe City Council will choose a firm next week to conduct a national search for Dickson’s successor. The next council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 22.

The city’s plan is to have a new city manager in place by Jan. 1, 2020, when Dickson will officially be retired, Tabor said.


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centerpiece
Seawolf Park is prize catch at center of agreement dispute

GALVESTON

Seawolf Park on Pelican Island has undergone millions of dollars in repairs over the last decade and now generates more than $1 million in revenue annually, park board officials said on Tuesday.

Despite those large numbers, the park and its management have now taken center stage in a management dispute between the Galveston City Council and the Park Board of Trustees.

After almost of year of discussions and meetings, the final passage of a sweeping interlocal agreement between the city and the park board appears to be largely held up by the fate of the park at the eastern edge of Pelican Island.

The agreement is meant to define what roles the city and the park board will take in managing the city beaches and parks, as well as how much oversight the city will hold over the board.

The park is a popular local fishing destination. It generated almost $1.3 million in revenue last year, according to the park board. The paid fishing pier alone attracted 80,326 visitors, according to park board records. Ninety-nine percent of the visitors to the park lived outside of Galveston, according to the park board.

While park board officials argue the park is a tourism destination and should be included in its portfolio of properties, a draft of the interlocal agreement proposes exploring different options for its management, including putting it under the city’s control or hiring a third-party operator.

Last week, the city council outlined a couple major concerns it had about the park, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

The council wanted to know where the park’s revenues go and when the park’s pavilion, which was damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008, will be torn down, Yarbrough said.

Like all other parks the park board manages, the revenues generated at Seawolf Park stay at the park, spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.

The park generated $1.3 million last year and, after expenses, produced a net income of $236,106, according to park board records.

About 68 percent, $886,679, of the park’s revenue went to general operating expenses last year, according to records.

The state allows the park board to transfer a certain amount from each park to pay for the board’s general administrative costs, Fortin said. The rest of the money is sent to the park’s reserve fund, which the board uses to pay the up-front costs for disaster relief projects, Fortin said.

The board plans to demolish the pavilion this year, following years of discussions and planning.

The two-story pavilion building was damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008 and has sat damaged as the park board sought the necessary federal approvals to rebuild the structure.

Yarbrough has expressed concern with how long the project has taken.

After several years of rejected proposals to the federal agency that would pay disaster relief money to repair the pavilion, the park board gained city council approval last year to demolish the pavilion, Chairman Spencer Priest said.

Now, the park board is awaiting a review from the state on whether or not it considers the pavilion a historic structure but is scheduled to spend $1.1 million to demolish the building, according to park board records.

This money would be reimbursed by the federal agency later.

Since 2008, the board has spent $4.2 million on capital projects in the park, according to the park board.

The board repaired a bulkhead, the ticket office, the parking lot and the two ships. It also replaced the fishing pier and has plans to expand it. A 2014 master plan shows a restaurant, water taxi to Galveston Island, dog park and RV park.

Although the park board signed an agreement with local developer Lamson Nguyen to build and manage an RV park, the park board ended that agreement when plans changed for a needed wastewater treatment plant.

The city this year received state approval to move forward with plans to rebuild a wastewater treatment plant damaged during Hurricane Ike, but the 5,000-gallon capacity plant that has been approved by federal disaster relief money won’t be enough for an RV park, park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.

Nguyen is still interested in the park and is willing to pay for a water line that would tie into a treatment plant near Texas A&M University at Galveston, he said.

But that proposal wouldn’t make financial sense, de Schaun said. There’s still an opportunity to put an RV park at Seawolf Park later, if the wastewater treatment plant is expanded, she said.

The park board and city council members hope to meet at an upcoming joint meeting to discuss the fate of Seawolf Park.


News
More meetings planned to hash out Seawolf Park control

GALVESTON

The Park Board of Trustees hopes that a joint meeting with the Galveston City Council next month can result in a custody agreement for Seawolf Park, the Pelican Island property that’s at the center of an interlocal agreement negotiation between the two groups.

Two city council members said on Tuesday they hoped the council and the board could meet about the future of the park at a meeting on Sept. 12.

The management of the popular park has become the main point of debate in discussions about an agreement that’s meant to define the roles and relationship of the city and the park board, the public entity that oversees island tourism and manages most of the city’s beach park.

The fact that such a meeting hasn’t happened yet is an example of the need for increased communication between the city and park board, some trustees said during a specially called board meeting called on Tuesday.

Discussions about the interlocal agreement, which is aimed at consolidating more than 50 years of agreements between the park board and city, have been ongoing for almost a year.

A proposal to reevaluate management of Seawolf and Dellanera RV parks and of the seawall paid parking program was included in a draft version of the agreement released early August as part of city council meeting documents.

While city and park board officials seem confident about coming to an agreement on Dellanera RV Park and seawall parking, the discussion about which entity — the city or the park board — should manage Seawolf Park, 100 Seawolf Park Blvd., has raised some questions.

The park board should retain ownership of the park because most of the visitors are from out of town, Chairman Spencer Priest said Tuesday.

While the city handles parks that are geared toward residents, the park board should be in charge of parks that are geared toward tourists, Priest said.

While some city officials have argued the park board shouldn’t manage Seawolf Park because it’s not a beach park, the park board does manage other non-beach aspects of tourism, Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.

“I don’t think that Seawolf should go because it’s not in the geography of the beach,” de Schaun said.

She considered it a park for the park board to manage because it caters to tourists, de Schaun said.

It’s a topic that the city council raised questions about last week during its meeting. Council members wanted more information on capital plans for the park, spending records and the city’s proposed plan if it were to retain management of the park.

But discussions about this park are an example of a perception gap between the city and park board, Trustee Marty Fluke said. Fluke is a new trustee who joined the park board in July.

This is a problem that can only be solved through frequent, open and transparent communication, Fluke said.

Fluke asked the park board and city to start meeting quarterly, a proposal the other trustees unanimously approved.

There should be more communication, District 3 Councilman David Collins said. Collins is the liaison between park board and council.

The city has not been good about providing clear directions and expectations to the trustees, Collins said.

The city should check in on the park board’s long-term plans more frequently, Collins said.

Discussions about the interlocal agreement have made it apparent there are some points of the park board-city relationship are not well defined, he said.

“It’s clear that it’s time for the city council and the board of trustees to do exactly what we’re talking about: have discussion, not between staffs,” Collins said.

While park board trustees are appointed by the city council, the board runs largely independent of the city.

Besides the fate of Seawolf Park, the park board and city have other items to clarify in the draft agreement.

The city council wants to see rolling five-year capital improvement plans for the parks the park board manages, Collins said.

The city and park board also need to clearly define the areas the park board is responsible for cleaning and how much the park board will charge the city to clean areas outside its normal jurisdiction, officials said.

The trustees, Collins and Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown, who attended Tuesday’s meeting and is a former chairman of the park board, hope to host a joint meeting Sept. 12.

Such a meeting can be placed on the council’s agenda with the support of two council members. A final agenda for the Sept. 12 won’t be posted until the week before it happens.


News
Teen, 14, seriously injured at Crystal Beach water park

CRYSTAL BEACH

A teenager is in serious condition at a Galveston hospital after nearly drowning from being caught in a pump system at a Bolivar Peninsula water park, officials said.

The teen, a 14-year-old boy, fell into an intake pipe at the Fun Town Water Park, 995 Noble Carl Drive, around 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.

The teen and a friend lifted up a grate at the water park before he slipped in, Trochesset said. He was underwater for an unknown amount of time before he was taken out of the water, Trochesset said.

“When he lifted the grate, he slipped because it was under the water,” Trochesset said. “After he slipped, he went into the intake to where this pump would be.”

The teen was out of the water and alert when emergency responders arrived at the water park, said Doug Saunders, district manager for Galveston County Emergency Services District No. 2.

However, it appears the teen’s condition worsened after he was taken to the University of Texas Medical Branch. In Facebook posts, family members said the teen had been placed in a medically induced coma and that the incident had caused his esophagus to detach from his stomach.

Family members did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The Daily News is not reporting the teen’s name because his family did not give permission to report it.

The sheriff’s office did not release the teen’s name because he is a minor.

The University of Texas Medical Branch could not confirm the teen’s condition on Tuesday because of his age, a spokesman said.

The Fun Town Water Park did not respond to two calls on Tuesday seeking comment about the incident. The small park opened in 2017 and features two water slides and a lazy river.

The teen is from Bolivar Peninsula and his father is a firefighter at the Port Bolivar Volunteer Fire Department, Trochesset said.

A prayer vigil was held for the teen at the Port Bolivar United Methodist Church on Monday evening. About 100 people attended the vigil to offer support to hm and his family, said Rev. Valerie Hudson, the church’s pastor.

“People from the community gathered in there because they believe that God has the power to heal,” Hudson said. “We gathered together to pray and to console each other.”

Another vigil is planned at the High Island Independent School District cafeteria on Sunday, Aug. 18, according to a Facebook post shared by the school district.

The incident is still under investigation, Trochesset said.

The Texas Department of Insurance, which permits amusement park rides in Texas and collects reports on injuries on amusement rides, has not received any reports about Saturday’s incident, a spokesman said.

Injury reports to the state are required quarterly. The next reporting deadline is at the end of September.


News
Record heat could break soon in Galveston

GALVESTON

The unrelenting heat that’s blanketed the island for most of the last week has continued to break high temperature records.

Temperatures recorded at Scholes International Airport have broken or tied record high minimums since Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Wendy Wong said Tuesday.

It is, of course, normal for Galveston to be hot during the summer, she said.

“But this stretch has been long,” Wong said.

The weather service issued a heat advisory for the area through Wednesday evening, expecting heat index values ranging from 103 degrees to 110 degrees.

While the consistency is abnormal, the high temperatures themselves are not unusual, Wong said.

Wednesday’s high temperature was 94 degrees, according to weather service data. What’s helped the temperatures stay up is the absence of an island breeze, Wong said.

“That usually helps a place like Galveston to keep from getting too warm or, in the winter, too cold,” Wong said. “The winds have been lighter because of the high pressure over us.”

Tuesday marked the eighth day in a row with a minimum temperature over 84 degrees, according to weather service data.

Galvestonians should see some relief soon, Wong said.

Wednesday could be what meteorologists call a bridge day, Wong said.

“Thursday, we should start seeing more moisture coming in from the east,” Wong said. “It could provide a few more clouds and things like that help the temperatures not be so crazy.”


kelseywalling / KELSEY WALLING/The Daily News 

Clear Creek defensive specialist Briana Zamora hits the ball to a teammate during a match against Pearland Dawson in League City on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.