Less than a week after Hitchcock commissioners voted to fire police Chief John Hamm, community members gathered Tuesday to talk about the future of the city.
But some residents in attendance still have questions about the recent past.
“You look at how Santa Fe runs things versus how this community is run, and there’s a lot of shady stuff and information that needs to come to light,” said Lisa Nebout, who moved to Hitchcock with her family in 2012 after growing up in Santa Fe.
Residents have had trouble getting any sort of information from city officials since commissioners voted 3-2 and without explanation Thursday to fire Hamm after weeks of conflict at city hall between the popular homegrown law officer and Mayor Dorothy Childress.
Leading up to that tense meeting, Childress did not respond to multiple requests for comment and has declined to comment about the matter since Hamm’s firing.
“We’ll talk another day,” Childress said Tuesday on her way into a presentation by a group from Texas A&M University in College Station.
Without public comment from city hall, residents of the cash-strapped community have traded rumors, including that Childress has forced veteran Capt. John Jenkins to retire or resign or that she has approved hiring additional officers since Hamm’s ouster, among others.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Commissioner Monica Cantrell said.
Childress declined to comment Tuesday about the matter and interim Chief Michael Allen referred questions to Childress.
“I think the mayor may be slightly overwhelmed by the challenge of it all, and might manage things differently than what some might like,” said Sam Collins III, a Hitchcock resident who has been generally supportive of Childress. “She might give some information on a need-to-know basis, which may be good or bad.”
Facing a $900,000 deficit on a budget of a little more than $3 million going into the new year, city officials have been searching for savings.
Earlier this year, the city commission voted to eliminate four police positions. The layoffs left the police department with 19 staff members, including 13 police officers and six support staff members.
Residents Tuesday met as part of a public presentation by Texas Target Communities, a Texas A&M University service program through the college of architecture that works with local governments to create a master plan of sorts, said Jaimie Masterson, the associate director of the program.
Texas A&M students over the course of a year will work with city officials and community members to devise a picture of Hitchcock in 20 years or more, Masterson said.
“This is more for the future,” Collins said. “The immediate issues aren’t going to be fixed tonight, but they can be heard. I don’t want anyone to feel like they are not being heard.”
The program has helped other small communities earn grant funding through developing visions for the future, Masterson said.
As residents Tuesday discussed the city’s needs, several mentioned the need for communication.
“The big thing for saving the community is going to be communication,” said the Rev. Darrell Glenn of the Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Hitchcock. “There are a lot of different conversations going on. We need to figure out an opportunity for the community to come together.”
Tuesday’s discussion doesn’t answer all of the questions residents might have, but it’s important to bring residents together in some way and this is a good start, said Patty McNeal, another Hitchcock resident.
“This place should be filled,” she said. “If you live in Hitchcock, you should be concerned about what’s happening. In a way, this is bringing us together.”