Improving islanders’ quality of life should begin with moving large events away from residents and businesses. Businesses and residents have asked council to relocate the disruptive parties away from the historic district for 10 years.

Businesses want to operate without any promoter placing fences around our businesses and out-of-town vendors in front of us. Contracts give promoters control over our businesses and absolute power to deny entry to whoever doesn’t pay them — including taxpaying residents.

Council members said it’s legal to write contracts to sell-out public streets to promoters anytime they want, but they can’t provide any state law supporting that. After reviewing state law, we learned cities cannot deny entry to public streets without written consent from businesses and residents.

We verified it’s considered illegal to charge taxpayers to enter public streets in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas without written consent. They place festivals in parks so they don’t disturb residents.

A city cannot give private promoters governmental powers to close public streets. Streets can only be closed by a government for repairs, emergencies and improvements.

The city has lost over $2.5 million over 10 years subsidizing the Mardi Gras contract. The city manager said the krewes should pay for parades because they pay for them in New Orleans. Staff said political influence on council members is why Galveston’s krewes aren’t charged properly.

It’s a fact that the city pays out more than what the promoter pays in. Promoters profits are kept secret. It’s untrue that the Mardi Gras promoter contract offsets costs. City records reveal the contract increases costs drastically.

Officials concede that moving events away from downtown residents is easier to maintain safety, financially smarter and better for residents. But promoters insist to take up the entire downtown. Council members place the interests of the promoters above the residents and businesses.

It’s untrue that charging people makes events safer, it’s a money grab. Videos of riots, countless fights and public lewdness prove it’s become unsafe and raunchy. If safety was truly the priority, the city would stop encouraging 80,000-plus people to pack downtown inside metal fencing.

Events are great for Galveston but blocking businesses from locals is illegal. Even if it were legal, it’s irresponsible for ethical council members to allow. Placing large rowdy events downtown paralyzes the quality of life to the extent that many residents leave town.

Anyone misappropriating public funds for an illegitimate contract is complicit. Continuing voidable contract terms is wrong, but the council is quickly moving forward to lock-in more disruptive contracts.

The contracts exempt promoters from ordinances and state laws that are enforced all year on local businesses. Any terms in a contract that violate taxpayers’ rights are invalid.

More importantly, the park board set legal precedent for written consent from business owners before closing streets for Mardi Gras in past years. They followed the law.

Council members have no explanation for why the city stopped it. At a minimum, the city should reimplement the lawful written consents and public hearings to comply with state law. However, moving large events away from downtown is the right thing to do for residents.

Allen Flores lives in Galveston.

Locations

(28) comments

Ron Shelby

Honestly, there’s no shortage of those who want to live here, and open businesses here, sharing with Mardi Gras, Bike Week, Dickens on the Strand and other events. They are what give the island it’s flavor and life and they have been here long before most of us ever got to the island. They are what draw tourists to visit the island for the day or weekend. It Motivates them to stay in our hotels, Eat at restaurants and bars throughout the island, play at our pleasure pier, gardens, and water parks. Those event introductions bring them back for longer stays and shopping at other times of the year. (That might be a new survey question for our visitors bureau.) There’s a lot more than entrance fees to a few controlled and Safe event areas. We are not sleepy Friendswood, and I don’t believe we want to be. Very few outsiders travel 50 miles to just hang out and play in downtown Friendswood at ANY time of year. Do you?

Matthew Dan

I don't think it's whether to have events, it's where to put them. I agree with Flores. Anything more than parades is a waste of tax dollars and suspect. The extra activities benefitting the promoters don’t belong in the heart of any business district. There are more sensible locations for Mardi Gras and motorcycle event organizers. Nobody who lives or works in downtown likes the motorcycle event downtown. Carnival style vendors in front of permanent businesses in a historic district? No way it’s legal.

Christopher Fluke

Place them where? All of Galveston on the east side suffer during Mardi Gras. What parks do we have large enough to not also impact residence? Should we move it down to UTMB and Lasker park? Downtown is logical because Mardi Gras here is trying to mirror Louisiana, which has Victorian building for people to throw beads.

Matthew Dan

If any part of Galveston suffers during Mardi Gras, it's too big to continue. Parades are all that's needed, people will go home afterwards, just like it's done along the Seawall. No vendors or gates on Seawall, works fine. Why not keep it all on Seawall where the hotels are? Ask the organizers to rent a field like other cities do. Hurting so many residents and businesses, it can't be legal the way it is without public input.

Joe Flores

agree

Christopher Smith

I'm with Ron on this one. I love Mardi Gras and all our other events on the island. Part of the reason I live here is because of these events. You want to live in a boring suburb, just move up the road. Or you want a beach and nothing else, there is plenty of coast.

AJ LeBlanc

[thumbup]

Joe Flores

agree

Joe Flores

good comments Ron ... many businesses and residents downtown are fine with these events !!

Matthew Dan

Does anybody really think its right or legal to let someone put fences around neighborhoods anytime? Can it happen every weekend just because the city says it's legal? I'm for Mardi Gras, but the parades on Seawall work fine. It's not about whether you like events or not. Is it legal for the city to book ten more motorcycle events without asking the residents first? That's the real question.

Wayne Holt

I don't understand the sentiment that many residents and businesses are fine with the events. What difference does that make if it's an illegal practice?

Mr. Flores has raised these issues before but this column is a very detailed and explicit cataloging of what the proposed illegalities are. They either are or they are not; apparently his legal folks have concluded they are illegal based on statutory law and the precedents of other cities in Texas.

Isn't the most pressing question here if Mr. Flores is correct or not? If he is correct, it moots any question of how well liked the events are.

Galveston has a relaxed reputation of looking the other way regarding public behavior that might warrant police intervention in stricter cities. This is not like that. Mr. Flores is making a direct statement that state laws are being broken, taxpayer money is being lost and residents and local businesses are being unfairly burdened without lawful justification.

I would think this is something that any of us would want to get to the bottom of, and soon.

Joe Flores

GREAT IDEA !!! the bottom is always necessary ....

Paula Flinn

I agree with Wayne and Dan. If it isn’t legal, it makes a difference, so don’t do it.

Matthew Dan

What law allows the city to bind every business in the historic district to a contract that they don't agree to or sign? What law allows Yaga's to legally charge all the customers of every business downtown without their permission? What law allows the city to pay for the expenses of one business to hurt all the other businesses? No such laws.

CJ Kirwer

Thanks Allen,

This whole concept of a "pay to play" Mardi Gras baffles my mind. I have no problem with a downtown Mardi Gras. I have a big problem with my rights as a resident of downtown Galveston being usurped by the city during this event.

I've been to Mardi Gras in;

New Orleans - free, unrestricted access

Mobile, AL - free, unrestricted access

Trinidad - free, unrestricted access

Anguilla - free, unrestricted access

Galveston TX - "Let's hire a promoter. We'll let the promoter slap a fence around downtown Galveston, charge admission, usurp the rights of residents and businesses and still lose taxpayer money."

So how do other locations do it? Let's look at New Orleans. Parade routes there are roughly 8 miles and 6 hours long. Krewes pay the city for a parade permit that covers the cost of police, barricades, sanitation, EMS, Fire trucks, street cleaning on the route etc. etc. Pretty expensive? Yup!

So how do the Krewes cover that expense? Most, if not all are 501-c3 organizations that support one or more charities. They hold fundraising events throughout the year to cover their costs and still manage to donate hefty sums to charity. And they do it without any corporate sponsorship - advertising of any kind is not allowed on floats.

"Pro Bono Publico" - motto of the Krewe of Rex, one of the oldest carnival organizations in the country.

I believe Galveston has lost sight of what Mardi Gras is and somehow morphed downtown into a outdoor music venue under the guise of "Mardi Gras".

Perhaps the City Council, Park Board, Promoter could attend Mardi Gras in any of the above mentioned locations and rediscover the spirit of what Mardi Gras actually is. Do that and the revenue will come.






Miceal O'Laochdha

You are absolutely correct on every point Mr. Kirwer. I too have been in Mobile, New Orleans and Trinidad numerous times during Mardi Gras (Carnival, festival of the flesh) and for that reason, I have always considered the "rediscovered" Mardi Gras in Galveston to be essentially a fake.

Paul Steele

FAKE just most Landry’s restaurants in the area.

Allen Flores

Originally, Mardi Gras was one weekend only. There were no admission fees but the park board collected written consent from businesses to comply with state law anyway. There were parades only. There were no promoters, no late night concerts and street vending was disallowed by anyone other than permanent businesses. When the park board gave the event to the city, the city omitted the written consents and public hearings that are required by law. Whether it was a mistake or intentional, written consent from residents and businesses must be resumed for all future events to be legal. The precedent was set in Galveston to match public policy and abide by Texas laws protecting free trade. Morphing downtown into an outdoor music venue under the disguise of Mardi Gras is inconsiderate and wasteful. A simpler, smarter and affordable Mardi Gras is already in effect on Seawall. That’s all that’s needed for downtown, do it just like Seawall and consider going back to one weekend only.

Bailey Jones

If the practice is so clearly illegal, downtown businesses should sue the city. Problem solved.

Wayne Holt

Bailey, you are right, it would settle it once and for all. But I believe you usually write as someone who believes in an economy of effort and getting things done efficiently. Don't you find it odd that Mr. Flores and others can't get a response to the simple request to produce the legal reasoning the City uses to justify these actions? My understanding is that a bedrock of American jurisprudence has been government ALWAYS must be able to show its lawful authorization or jurisdiction to do anything...and that isn't through a lawsuit, either.

We really do need to rethink where We The People are in respect to government if we are now going to have to file suit just to see the laws being used on us.

Bailey Jones

I don't pretend to understand governments - but they are mostly lawyers, and lawsuits are the language they speak.

Matthew Dan

The city owes it to every citizen and business to layout the law in a public forum. People should not need to sue to get lawful justification on why taxes are used to benefit one company. All city council members who look the other way? Why haven't we heard or seen the laws allowing the obstruction of citizens from public streets from the mayor or city attorney? They can't duck this forever.

Joe Flores

Very good words for American jurisprudence Wayne .... It can be resolvwd once and for all by proving illegality ..... except not many businesses downtown are against it ... se la vie !!

Joe Flores

not that easy and most businesses dont mind paid admission ... if some think it is illegal ,,, then those people should sue .... very simple !!! Never will satisfy all residents no matter what you do in this city !! have a mo bettah day

Matthew Dan

It's been made clear in the newspapers and tv news that many businesses downtown are against the paid admission during Mardi Gras, most downtown businesses and residents are also on record against the Lone star Motorcycle Rally being held downtown.

Joe Flores

Don’t know about residences , but I have businesses downtown and talk daily to many other owners so know the facts not record information ... also live downtown ... Mardi Gras is NOT an issue and UES bike rally is !!! Thanks

Joe Flores

Yes bike rally is ...sorry

Wayne Holt

While the City is digging around for the justification on closure of public thoroughfares for use as a paid venue, they might also want to find the legal exemption for waiving enforcement of ordinances during events, especially the Lone Star Rally. Can someone explain to me how a behavior or action can be against the law if a year 'round taxpaying resident does it, but OK if you just blew into town with 100,000 of your closest friends?

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