HITCHCOCK

May elections in Hitchcock will feature two city commissioners, Randy Strickland and Monica Cantrell, vying for the position of mayor amid a hotbed of controversy over actions at City Hall in 2018 and at a time of deep budget-cutting.

Mayor Dorothy Childress, who was appointed by the commission to replace Mayor Anthony Matranga in November 2017, will not seek re-election, she said.

Childress faced a hostile crowd in August 2018 when she staged a vote to oust then-Police Chief John Hamm in what was characterized as a budget-cutting measure. Strickland voted along with Childress to fire Hamm.

Cantrell, who said she was concerned over the fact the vote had not been announced on the meeting agenda as required by state law, subsequently argued for a recall campaign against Childress, a Hitchcock stalwart who has served many terms as either commissioner or mayor in the town of about 7,500 residents, and voted against Hamm’s firing.

In August 2018, Cantrell expressed concern that city business was not being conducted properly. This week, she said the mayor’s office in Hitchcock needs new blood to help the city out of a budget quagmire and into a more hopeful future.

“We’ve been under the same leadership for 30 years in Hitchcock, alternating the same two or three mayors, under the same mindset that has developed into a complacency among our citizens,” Cantrell said.

A contingent of residents are skeptical about change in the community and “don’t think we can do great things,” she said.

“I know we can do great things and bring about change because of what we’ve done in our school system.”

Cantrell, who worked for the Hitchcock Independent School District, then served on its board, said she shepherded a fruitful community effort to improve schools, including passing a bond, building two new schools, refurbishing rundown buildings, consolidating administrative offices in one location and, ultimately, raising test scores district-wide.

“We had 800 children in the schools when I ran for the board,” Cantrell said. “Now we have about 1,600.”

Strickland also spent eight years on the school board and didn’t step in for Matranga when Childress became mayor because he didn’t feel he could give all his attention to the job at the time, he said.

“Now I feel I can give the people 100 percent,” he said.

Strickland cited fiscal responsibility as his top concern, should he be elected mayor. Hitchcock was $900,000 over budget in expenditures last year and had to make serious cuts under Childress, he said.

“Now we have a new city administrator, someone to take care of the running of the city and keeping an eye on expenditures,” Strickland said. “We had to ask every department to cut costs by 33 percent, made some budget cuts and some unpopular decisions. Now we need to keep doing what’s needed to maintain a balanced budget.”

CITY ADMINISTRATOR HIRE

Cantrell said putting together a solid emergency management plan is her top priority given the city’s lack of preparedness to identify vulnerable residents or provide shelter after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when Hitchcock flooded badly.

“There was no shelter, no food, no clothing available to people during the emergency,” until she and others began organizing efforts to shelter, feed and clothe neighbors in need, she said.

Closely related to emergency needs driven by flooding, Cantrell’s second concern is getting ditches, bayous and the canal at Hitchcock cleared of debris to enable better drainage and less flooding that damages roads, she said.

“We can’t just keep repairing roads damaged by frequent floods,” she said.

Strickland and Cantrell take slightly different views on developing Hitchcock’s economy. Strickland is focused on bringing in manufacturers to lease or purchase some of the extensive available land around the city. Cantrell said she supports industrial development, but believes Hitchcock should take a balanced approach that supports small businesses as well and that takes into account the nature of which industries locate here.

“I do not support any industry coming in that could potentially pose an environmental threat,” she said. “We are flood prone and vulnerable to runoff.”

Cantrell said she knows responsible business people who have brought potentially hazardous materials to Hitchcock but worries about trucks carrying hazardous materials up and down the main highway corridor past four different schools.

Beyond that, both candidates agree that Hitchcock needs a strategic plan for its future.

The city is participating in Texas Target Communities, a program administered by Texas A&M University at College Station that is helping leaders and residents develop a plan. Strickland said he doesn’t understand why anyone in Hitchcock would oppose the program. Cantrell said she is aware that some people in Hitchcock believe she opposes the program but that’s not the case.

“I just think we need to get some key things done first, like emergency preparedness and clearing the waterways, then begin planning for future development,” she said.

On one thing, Cantrell and Strickland clearly agree — they love the small-town nature of Hitchcock and don’t want to see that changed, but they understand that the city needs more businesses to grow and thrive.

“I came here in the late 1960s, and what’s changed? Nothing,” Strickland said. “ I think we’re on the road for surrounding communities to discover what Hitchcock can do.”

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

(27) comments

Carlos Ponce

"Strickland voted along with Childress to fire Hamm."
Question is, "Why?"
No reason was ever given.
John Hamm was doing a great job and was named "Volunteer of the Year" by the Hitchcock Chamber of Commerce prior to his ouster as Police Chief.
I do not live in Hitchcock but I know all those involved. I taught John Hamm (HHS Class of 1984). I also taught Monica Cantrell and Randy Strickland's children And I worked with Monica Cantrell and continue to work with her in her role as director of the Hitchcock ISD Education Foundation.

Samuel Collins III

If you look at the city budgets over several years you can see spending had gotten out of control in all areas. Every department head was asked to cut their budgets. Former Chief Hamm felt the PD had taken too big of a hit. He used a passively aggressive approach against his supervisor Mayor Childress to resist the changes. While it is not documented that the instructions were given to reduce tickets HPD went from an avg monthly ticket total of 167 tickets to 100 and one month less than 20. This strategy seems to have been implemented to reduce revenue to the city which was a bad idea when you are pleading for more officers in your department. No one wants Hitchcock to be known as a speedtrap again, but controlling speed is a safety issue. The former Chief also refused to deliver the requested budget revisions to the Mayor in a timely manner. So then the former Chief and some of his supporters decided to divide the city over some of these issues and it back fired on him. You absolutely have the freedom to disagree and no do what your supervisor request of you, but if you do then you absolutely run the risk of getting fired.

Carlos Ponce

Police overtime during Hurricane Harvey and overtime used in aiding Santa Fe PD on May 18, 2018 after 22 people were shot, ten fatally, did cost Hitchcock money - understandably, "To Protect and Serve."
Reduction in revenue from traffic fines.
"This strategy seems to have been implemented to reduce revenue to the city which was a bad idea when you are pleading for more officers in your department."
No, this policy was a common sense approach to remedy the idea that Hitchcock was a "speedtrap". The presence of a police vehicle on the roads and highways was useful in "controlling speed", a "safety issue" as you put it.

Samuel Collins III

Mr. Ponce you prove my point with your post. You want us to focus on a single day that was a national tragedy. If every officer on staff had worked the entire weekend for 72 hours straight it would not justify the increased spending in the PD over three years even with Hurricane Harvey added one year. In addition to that you want to make a case that the reduced tickets was just more officers being visible. Ticket writing dropped 40% year over year (2000 to 1200) and most of that decline was in the last six to eight months of the fiscal year. While the 12 month average was probably 100 the first six months of that cycle was likely 150 per month and the last six was 50 per month. That sir is no coincidence. Next argument is there was less officers working. Yes, but not 2/3 less. The fire department said that accidents had been worse in the city. We found out this information in the first Hitchcock Community Police Academy class. Someone once shared with me, "When the student is ready the teacher will appear." Mr. Ponce I am just here to help you understand the numbers. Thank you for your many years of service in the classroom. Sometimes the student becomes the teacher and the teacher becomes the student. A good teacher does not simply talk facts and figures, but helps transfer knowledge and understanding of the information. You have been to my office and I am available if you want to stop by to go over the numbers.

Carlos Ponce

It's not a good reflection on a city that counts on traffic fines for it's revenue.

Paul Hyatt

Let us not forget Sam about the rift between Childress and Hamm because he refused to deliver a bill to Santa Fe for the hours that HPD spent down there during the shooting.... Tell the entire story and not just your version....

MrsLois Lane

And the officers in Hitchcock came in voluntarily and said they did not expect or care to be compensated. Yes, Sam. Tell the whole story. Brothers in Blue were there to support and assist Brothers in Blue. Shame on Mayor Childress for her greedy intentions.

Samuel Collins III

See my reply to Mrs Lane below. I can't go back and forth with everyone today so I will talk to you all later. Don't forget to join us on April 30th for the last community meeting at Greater St Matthew's church 6pm until 7:30pm. Also be sure to read the story in the Profiles 2019 magazine on page 30 about Hitchcock. Have a great day.

Rusty Schroeder

So the city has hired back the ticket writing machine, Off. Villanueva, to catch up on lost revenue ? I heard he was hard at work keeping his reputation intact yesterday. WARNING to anyone driving within the city limits of Hitchcock, the Ticket Czar is back and has been ordered to increase revenue. Sam what happened to the Interim Chief of Police, I hear he is being investigated by the FBI ? The SpeedTrap is back on Hwy. 6, avoid the area.

MrsLois Lane

Mr Ponce, the city spent over the PD salaries & overtime budget that Childress came up with to save the city. They spent over the budget because of Harvey. That needs to be said. Because they were unprepared for emergency. And they had one officer on patrol most nights, which is dangerous for the community and especially the officer with no backup.

Carlos Ponce

"They spent over the budget because of Harvey." No argument from me on that point. Childress has a history of micro-management when it comes to the city's police department as illustrated by her actions prior to Hurricane Alicia and the ensuing lawsuits arising from her actions. There in lies the trouble. Chief John Hamm did what was best for the city and it's people. He did not want to be Dorothy Childress' pawn.

MrsLois Lane

Just exactly how are you privy to these figures, Mr Collins, since you have no official office or position in Hitchcock? Who gave you these figures? You seem to have your hand in every cookie jar in town when your actual Hitchcock residency still remains unclear. Care to answer?

Samuel Collins III

Hitchcock Community Police Academy class is where the figures were shared. I don't believe the SFISD invoice story. If the officers volunteered time, then there would be no reason to bill SFISD. You can't make both arguments. If officers volunteered time are you now implying Mayor Childress was trying to get former Chief Hamm to create a fake invoice to bill SFISD for volunteered hours? Until I die I live everywhere I go. Hitchcock is home. Always has been and hopefully always will be. Focus on the problems and solutions not on sidebar issues you can't change or control. There are several answers in this one post I didn't want to reply three or four times. Again if you support Mr. Ponce's argument to be visible is enough to slow people down, then any new hire that helps do that is beneficial for the city. Again you can make both arguments. I have a heavy foot, but I have slowed down and advise everyone I know you better drive the speed limit. At the end of the day if you don't break the law you have nothing to worry about.

Gary Scoggin

You can say that again. 😁

Samuel Collins III

Hitchcock Community Police Academy class is where the figures were shared. I don't believe the SFISD invoice story. If the officers volunteered time, then there would be no reason to bill SFISD. You can't make both arguments. If officers volunteered time are you now implying Mayor Childress was trying to get former Chief Hamm to create a fake invoice to bill SFISD for volunteered hours? Until I die I live everywhere I go. Hitchcock is home. Always has been and hopefully always will be. Focus on the problems and solutions not on sidebar issues you can't change or control. There are several answers in this one post I didn't want to reply three or four times. Again if you support Mr. Ponce's argument to be visible is enough to slow people down, then any new hire that helps do that is beneficial for the city. Again you can't make both arguments. I have a heavy foot, but I have slowed down and advise everyone I know you better drive the speed limit. At the end of the day if you don't break the law you have nothing to worry about.

MrsLois Lane

Oh, who wrote up the invoice? The HPD officers didn’t. SFISD didn’t. I know for a fact it’s true!! So you’re in essence calling Chief Hamm a liar.
Who asked Chief Hamm to go fetch her grandkids from SF school that day? Don’t believe that either? Wow, there are none so blind as those will refuse to see. Utopia, huh?

MrsLois Lane

By the way, having discussions on an online media site IS considered “social media”. Ooopsie!

Carlos Ponce

City of Santa Fe and SFISD Police asked for assistance on May 18, 2018, understandable. It's what neighboring communities do. Off duty Hitchcock PD officers came back on duty, not to go to Santa Fe, but to go back on duty in Hitchcock, allowing Chief Hamm and other Hitchcock PD officers to assist in the investigation at the killer's house in Alvin and trailer in Santa Fe. They did not go on the SFHS campus but followed the command centers instructions. Could the officers who came back on duty in Hitchcock not be paid? No. The law and the terms of their contracts said they had to be paid.

Jim Forsythe

The shortfall of funds is not new.
, May 9, 2001
"But one fact remains clear: the Galveston County city of about 6,300 is grappling with a six-figure shortfall that that has put the brakes on vital projects such as road repairs and work on water and sewer lines." https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/baytown-news/article/Hitchcock-deficit-results-in-plenty-of-finger-2035945.php

When Mayor Dorothy Childress was appoint November 2017 we were in bad shape, after many years of overspending. We either had to increase income or start budget-cutting measures. Even if we had increased income, reduction in the budget was necessary. When a boss, in this case the Mayor ask you to reduce the budget for your department, this is what you do, unless you have a good reason not to. When I was working I was required too do what my boss wanted, unless I had a good reason not to.
The Police chief may not have agreed with what she was asking, but it was his job to make it happen.
Mayor Childress job was to reduce and eliminate the $900,000 over budget in expenditures last year and make serious cuts , and not make friends.


MrsLois Lane

To expect SFISD to reimburse HPD OT is ridiculous. HPD is not under contract with SFISD. Childress should be ashamed of herself for humiliating HPDs finest during a mass shooting. It’s embarrassing for the citizens of Hitchcock- period.

Carlos Ponce

"When Mayor Dorothy Childress was appoint November 2017 we were in bad shape, after many years of overspending."
Part of that overspending came from settling lawsuits against the city brought on from Mayor Childress' earlier tenure.

Jim Forsythe

What did you want the Mayor to do, not attack the problem of a lack of money .
Hitchcock has many reasons why we where in the hole.
Regardless of why we overspent, we had to address it.
The mayor did not just ask the police department to cut cost, but all department were asked.

Carlos, since you want to control Hitchcock's problem, how would you have eliminated the problem of overspending without a reduction in the budget in the police department.
"But I'm just an outsider. I don't live nor vote in Hitchcock."Carlos Ponce Aug 7, 2018 3:48am

Carlos Ponce

Just offering my opinion with a few facts. I am not trying to control Hitchcock's problem. There are things the city can do to cut costs rather than threaten the safety of it's citizens by cutting the police budget and depend on traffic fines for revenue.

Jim Forsythe

'"There are things the city can do to cut costs" such as cutting more from what budget?
It's not like the police department was the only one that had to make cuts.
The things you would have them cut was what? Reducing the staff of what departments?
The Mayor and city council had the task of reducing the amount spent by almost 1 million dollars.
How would you have come up with almost 1 million dollars?
Hope you have a good idea, because we could use another way to reduce our budget by another large amount.

Carlos Ponce

"How would you have come up with almost 1 million dollars?"
JIM'S BAKE SALE!

Jim Forsythe

So I take it that you have no idea how they could have reduce the budget the amount required, without taking the actions they did.
It's easy to say they should have done something else, but what else did they have?

Bake sales are usually reserved for youth groups and none profits such as the fire department..

Carlos Ponce

You have to look at the reasons WHY Hitchcock is in financial trouble. Expressing a remedy to this in a public forum would step on quite a few toes.

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