Hitchcock’s city commissioners in a 3-1 vote Monday appointed a former mayor to replace the mayor who resigned for health reasons amid troubled times for the town of about 7,800 people.
Dorothy Childress, who was mayor during Hurricane Alicia in 1983, will serve as the mayor until the next election in May, Commissioner Mark Cook said.
Childress most recently served on Hitchcock’s Planning and Zoning committee, which she joined in May.
“I appreciate the confidence everyone has in me,” Childress said after accepting the appointment. “It is with mixed emotions that I accept this position. We will get through this hard time.”
Childress’ appointment came after Mayor Anthony Matranga offered his resignation because of health reasons. Earlier this year, Matranga was hospitalized briefly. For the past two months, his role in the city’s operations has been reduced, commissioners have said.
After offering his resignation, Matranga read a prepared statement in which he thanked the community for supporting him and asked for commissioners to support Childress as his replacement in the mayoral seat.
“Please consider Dorothy Childress as mayor,” Matranga said. “She is extremely knowledgeable.”
Matranga emphasized Childress’ previous history as mayor and her knowledge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency having served through Hurricane Alicia as reasons she should be selected.
“She has experience with city budgets, personnel and quite a bit of experience brought in from her time working for NASA,” Mayor pro tem Randy Stricklind said.
Matranga, who is retired, had previously headed the city’s operations because Hitchcock does not have a city manager.
Parts of Hitchcock, just north of Galveston Bay and west of Interstate 45, were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, 200 miles south of the county and moved up the Texas coast.
The storm dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of this county, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding an estimated 20,000 homes in the county and devastating parts of Houston.
Hitchcock has 60 days to document and produce all the necessary paperwork to get reimbursed for Hurricane Harvey damage through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Lucy Dieringer, Hitchcock’s city secretary, said. It needs the help of an engineering firm to get that done, officials said.
“Hitchcock needs someone in this leadership role, especially with FEMA issues still going on and recovery from the storm,” Stricklind said.
Commissioners Cook and Fard Abdullah and Stricklind all supported Matranga’s recommendation to name Childress, although the move was not without detractors.
“I feel like the position should have been given to a senior commissioner if the mayor pro tem didn’t want it,” Commissioner Monica Cantrell said. “It should have been offered to Commissioner Abdullah. In our charter, the mayor has a lot of authority and can make a lot of decisions. I feel like the mayor should be elected by citizens of the city instead of appointed by a few people.”
In the event of a commission vacancy, the opening is filled by a majority vote of the remaining commissioners until the next general city election, according to section 6 of Hitchcock’s code of ordinances.
Hitchcock commissioners are typically elected to serve two-year terms.
“I’ve done a lot of things, but I just don’t have time for this,” Stricklind said of his decision to vote for Childress and not seek the position himself.
The position is essentially a full-time job if done right, Stricklind said.
“I am still working and cannot devote the time to be a good mayor at this time,” Stricklind said.
Despite Cantrell’s reservations about the way Childress was put into the position, Cantrell said she didn’t know much about her and thought she would do a good job as mayor.
“I feel like she is educated and she does seem to be knowledgeable about planning and zoning,” Cantrell said.
Childress, as a member of the planning and zoning committee, has fought back against public backlash for months over a plan to rezone several parcels of land along FM 2004 in Hitchcock for industrial use to attract businesses.
Residents opposed to the plan have cited environmental and safety concerns.
Three requests Monday were approved by commissioners, before which Childress accused opponents of the decision of spending too much time on social media and reading “fake news.”