We have one question for La Marque: What the hell is going on down there?
There's a crime spree, the City Manager might or might not be keeping his job, and the Mayor resigned. That's just this week. No telling what's gonna happen next.
La Marque is the kind of small town where the city council members post their home phone numbers on the town website and homes, not businesses, take up most of Main Street. At the last official count, the population was just over 13,000. As most people would expect, the city's crime rate has always been pretty low.
It's been on the rise for the last several months; with the holidays activity increased, especially robberies and home invasions (reportedly complete with ski masks and assault rifles). The trouble is the holidays are over and the stats aren't going down.
All in all, in 2008 La Marque PD had a 20 percent increase in the total numbers of calls they answered and are averaging about five arrests a day. That prompted the City Council, with its outgoing Mayor in the lead, to call Police Chief Richard Price in for a meeting. Price told them the usual -- he needs more money and more officers in order to get a handle on things. They told him the usual, he's not getting either one anytime soon.
Price isn't the only one in hot water for the rise in crimes. City Manager Robert Ewart is also being blamed. Monday night Ewart was called in to a closed-door session with the city council, where a lot of folks expected him to be fired. Ewart left the meeting with his job -- for now -- and a mandate to improve his performance, including finding grant money to boost the city budget.
To their credit, neither Price nor Ewart have pointed their fingers at the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike refugees who have come in to La Marque as being the root of all the town's evils, as some officials in other small towns have done. Ewart admits they are a factor but he makes it clear that they alone are not the cause for the changes in crime.
Ewart told Hair Balls "I'm not a criminal justice expert or anything, but I think there are a lot of factors that are in play. I think [the crime rate] has a lot to do with the hurricane and people being displaced, sure. And the economy, too. Lot's of houses were lost on Galveston Island, and those people had to go somewhere. Some of them came to La Marque.
"When you put more people in one place, you automatically have more crime. It doesn't matter where the new residents are from, just having more people does it. If you look at what's happening in Texas City, Hitchcock and the other mainland cities, you'll see it's the same everywhere. It's not just La Marque. We're not special."
Well, having home invasions on trailer houses and low-rent apartments, which La Marque does, actually is kinda special.
"We're seeing that most of the time people who are doing that know each other," Ewart says. "That makes it harder to investigate. A lot of the time it's a friend, or somebody the friend knows."
Now about that mayor -- he's leaving. He got married recently and the couple is moving out of town. That leaves the City Council with the Mayor Pro-Tem in charge and one seat open until elections in May. "Let's wait and see what happens in May" and "Let the next guy do it" excuses for inaction have no doubt already started to fly around the council's meeting room.
Is La Marque special? Is it facing unique problems? According to its City Manager, no. All the smaller towns in the area are going through the same thing, for the same reasons.
But even Ewart has to admit, La Marque's had a very busy week.
-- Olivia Flores Alvarez