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.”