The Galveston City Council should put an end to the controversial neighborhood fund program.

The program, which gave elected officials, except the mayor, money to spend on projects in their districts, might have been well-intentioned, but violated the city charter and probably some other rules.

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206;

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(7) comments

Don Schlessinger


Elizabeth Beeton

I actually thought the neighborhood improvement program was a good thing. For one thing, it compelled council members to focus on practical ways to benefit their neighborhoods, not always a given. For another, apathetic neighborhood associations became excited as they realized their ideas for improvements might become reality. Yes, there may have been a risk that the program could be abused to benefit a political crony of a council member, but the high interest in the program from neighborhood associations brought scrutiny that mitigated that risk - and all projects had to be approved by the full council. The neighborhoods' interest in repairing sidewalks and curbs and in new street lights came through much louder and clearer after this program invited them to prioritize their wish lists. Without this program, council members are largely dependent on city administration to support their neighborhood initiatives, which creates another risk: that council members will curry favor with the city manager so as not to be frozen out of the annual budget.

Raymond Lewis

I saw merits in the program BUT, as with a number of city/governmental programs, management and over sight is usually at the center of the break down. At this point, it seems easier to get rid of the neighborhood improvement program than to assure it does what it was intended to do. Be curious to see how the next sitting council might deal with district improvement issues.

Wayne D Holt

When Ralph McMorris ably represented our district, he encouraged a number of downtown residents to work with him using this funding in whatever project residents identified as the most desireable. After using a polling website to gauge interest, it was determined sidewalk and curb repair was No. 1. We organized a resident group to survey downtown and near-town sidewalks and curbs in need of repair and Councilman McMorris presented our list to council.

In a council workshop held at the time to hash out details, the mayor pointed out what Michael Smith has: sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners. When I asked the mayor what happens when the city refuses to enforce that directive, no answer. It is not politically savvy to start wholesale actions against property owners who don't follow this law. Big surprise there.

What came of this extensive effort by citizens to improve downtown with money allocated to our district and offered by our council representative? An election intervened and Councilman Maceo was our new representative. He has said that in the interest of being unbiased and because he was not up to speed on the issue, he turned to the parks folks for guidance.

Long story short: the money that could have been spent on building more accessible intersections, improving broken and dangerous sidewalks and fixing crumbling curbs downtown was instead used for playground sprayers and other recreational uses.

Ms Beeton is correct. Nothing can replace the direct benefits that follow when a representative is actively engaged with improving his or her district and seeks the input of a broad a sample of those represented. The idea that city departments somehow have greater insight or more useful suggestions than residents definitely was not our experience.

Charlotte O'rourke

The spending of public funds on projects that are the property owners responsibility is not a good idea as every property owner will then expect the city to pay for new sidewalks and curbs. While I’m sure the neighborhood groups and elected officials had good intentions, this process violates the city charter, and allows public funds to be spent in a biased and incumbent supporting manner. It’s time to do away with these funds and allow the city manger and the whole voting council to do its job.

Wayne D Holt

Charlotte, I think you are quite correct in principle but the problem is it is NOT being enforced and hasn't been for quite a while. That is why there was silence when I raised this at the workshop when we presented our survey. We have code enforcement for stuffed bears on benches while the sidewalks and curbs that people need to navigate on foot are allowed to crumble. If you have a good way to get that ship turned around, it would be welcome. I agree with you about the slippery slope of shifting responsibilities...but the flip side of the coin is the city has to take sidewalk repair by property owners seriously for that to work.

Charlotte O'rourke

Wayne, I agree that downtown and the east end need sidewalks and curb repair, and understand the underlying resident motivation. I just don’t agree with the extra layer of a non-elected body (neighborhood association) making decisions outside the purview of the public (nonpaying Association members) and open government laws or using tax dollars paying for other people’s sidewalks when other blocks or individual residents have to pay their own way.

I agreed with your statement that the first thing to ask on any issue is : “is it legal?” And in this case, the actions violated the city charter .... As does allowing unilateral decisions by one council member with a rubber stamp from other council members.

We elect representatives that as a deliberative body should make tough decisions on infrastructure and other issues in full view of the public.

Galveston has been on a roll recently with capital improvements, but we obviously have a long way to go to catch up on deferred projects.

In addition, whoever is elected to council or appointed to a board must find a way to balance employee turnover, morale, raises, and expectations with desperately needed infrastructure and ever higher taxes that decrease the opportunity of home ownership and a middle class living in Galveston.

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