A number of local controversies have recently roiled the waters of public discourse. This is neither unfamiliar territory nor necessarily harmful, but there’s a larger message underlying the individual issues that’s worth examining more closely.
The closure of The Strand for promoted events; the lenient enforcement of ordinances for event participants as opposed to Galveston residents; the request to construct a plaza primarily for the benefit of private enterprise that risks increased flooding for neighbors; fireworks that severely impact neighborhoods in the hope of attracting more tourism; the duty of local taxpayers to pony up money for infrastructure improvements we’re told are needed to accommodate increased tourist traffic; and most recently, the question of whether the sole access to residential parking may be lawfully curtailed to accommodate a parade route or other event.
The thread running through all these issues is the role of representative government in balancing the legitimate needs of all parties in the outcome of contentious issues, with strong opinions on all sides as to the proper conclusion in each case.
Our first resort must always be the law and to a reliance on it as the mechanism our society has established to peacefully resolve disagreements. We know residents are usually held to very strict standards of compliance, but government, for some odd reason, seems comfortable with exempting itself when convenient.
Every resident has the right to demand of government proof of the legitimacy of any position it promotes, and the same strict adherence to law as is demanded of individuals.
Beyond that fundamental necessity, representative government must also reacquaint itself with the proposition that certain rights are inherent under our system of government and are non-negotiable. It makes no difference how much money may be made for city coffers, how much business may be generated, how tourists may perceive a decision, who’s asking for special consideration or how much influence they have.
Things like the quiet enjoyment of our home or business is a long-cherished American ideal and shouldn’t be held hostage to the plans of those with different motivations, benign in themselves, but negatively impacting those who live or do business here and wish to thrive, too.
Finally, as the mediator of disputes and an exemplar for the general welfare, government must seek to provide within a community an environment of inclusiveness for as many residents as possible. When someone who lives two blocks from a community event is excluded because they don’t have the discretionary income to buy admittance, while someone living 50 miles away with the cash can walk right in, we should ask ourselves if we are building the kind of future we desire.
How do we support a sense of community if we’re focused so much of the time on those who don’t live here and have no real stake in Galveston?
None of this is insoluble. It just takes commitment to a fresh way of charting Galveston’s very promising future. We shouldn’t accept anything less.