Hair Balls traveled to Kemah last night for what was billed as a "strategic planning meeting" to develop a plan for the city to move forward after losing $400,000 in revenue due to Hurricane Ike. We mainly wanted to talk to someone from the city about why the only budget-saving measure so far has beento lay off
four police officers, but we were also curious how the city would be saved.
We failed at both.
The meeting, between the city council and the Kemah Community Development Corporation, seemed to be headed in a good direction before it started. About 80 Kemah residents showed up -- more people at a town meeting than ever before, according to one resident -- and the city brought in the "very highly recommended" Gary Mitchell from consulting firm Kending Keast to lead the way.
Things unraveled quickly.
First, Mitchell asked the audience why Kemah needed to be a city, what services did the city provide that were needed. People shouted out things like "garbage collection" and "cleaning the streets" and "police" while an assistant used a marker to write down the responses on an oversized notepad.
Then, for nearly two hours, residents took a microphone and aired their complaints about the city. We learned that the parking meters in Kemah are tacky, that there's not enough parking because of all the tourists, and that there are too many bars. The gloves came off when the "entertainment district" was brought up, with one man saying that if it encroached on the rest of the town, it would meet "organized resistance."
The crowd was about 96 percent middle-aged white people, including the city council and development corporation. We did see one twenty-something man, wearing a blue polo tucked into khaki pants, topped off with a belt with pictures of fish and deck shoes, and his contribution to the meeting was, "I don't think Kemah needs anymore lighthouses. We have enough already. No more lighthouses." Another younger white guy said he thought Kemah needed to be like a little Orlando, or a Key West, or a little fishing town.
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After two hours of that, we finally got to ask about the police officers and we were told that Bill Kerber, the acting police chief and the man wearing the tie with a picture of a $100 bill, was who we needed to see. We asked Kerber why police were chosen for the cuts, and he reworded the question to an answer, saying the city was behind on the budget and decided on a reduction in force. Then we asked him if the decision to lay off the four senior officers was made because of their membership in a police association that was gaining strength.
"I'm not going down that route. I'm not doing it," Kerber said, quickly getting angry and waving his arms. "You want to go down that route, fine. I'm not going to go down that route. This is finished."
Kerber walked ten feet away and turned his back on us.
Hair Balls will definitely follow this situation in Kemah, and the next "strategic planning meeting" is scheduled for August 15. Kerber, we're there.