Vision is nice, but Hitchcock’s efforts to create a pretty city center is a giant leap from recently teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and laying off almost 20 percent of its police force. And it’s a bigger leap when key city leaders have eroded public trust.
The city’s Economic Development Corp. last year set aside about $30,000 to partner with Texas Target Communities, a Texas A&M University service program through the college of architecture that works with local governments to create sustainable communities.
To be fair, the program, which works with Hitchcock city officials and stakeholders, isn’t just about beautification. It’s also meant to develop a strategic plan for hurricane resilience, recovery, emergency management and zoning, according to the group’s website. Texas Target Communities also will address workforce development, drainage, strategic infrastructure, community outreach and communications and planning and zoning — all important things.
The city is inviting residents to add their ideas to the Texas A&M University plan during a public meeting planned for April 30.
Visions and community planning are lovely as long as they don’t distract from more pressing issues, such as ensuring taxpayers get the services for which they’re already paying and get the transparent government they deserve and are legally entitled to.
Only last year, the city was facing a $900,000 deficit on a budget of a little more than $3 million going into the new year.
It’s never really been clear how Hitchcock got to that point. But it was clear something had to be done.
In a cost-cutting measure, the city commission last year 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. Also last year, Hitchcock commissioners voted, at the behest of Mayor Dorothy Childress, to fire police Chief John Hamm, leaving a city divided and people with a lot of questions.
Whether Childress made the right decision is beside the point. Often, officials have to make tough decisions, popular or not.
The problem was, Childress, on repeated occasions, ducked The Daily News, refusing to directly field questions to which the public had the right to answers. That’s not a trifling thing.
Perhaps because Childress was appointed rather than elected to be mayor, she didn’t feel obligated to the same protocol most elected officials honor — talking to the media and public, even when it’s unpleasant, or, more importantly, ensuring the city answers public information requests in a timely manner or at all, which, of course, state law demands.
By all accounts, Hitchcock’s financial picture has improved. And Childress has her defenders. But rifts remain and Childress is, not surprisingly, finding resistance to the Texas Target Communities plan she champions.
Childress, who isn’t running in the May 4 election, might have greatly benefited the city through her difficult decisions. But it’s hard to say because information under her reign has been tightly held or filtered through supporters and she doesn’t feel the need to explain or expand upon her moves and motives.
It’s promising that the city is inviting the public to participate April 30 in sharing ideas about Hitchcock’s future.
Residents should participate.
But the most pressing issue facing Hitchcock today isn’t aesthetic, it’s transparency and regaining trust. Restoring those should be the first among any initiative leaders undertake.
• Laura Elder