The newish Metro board got a wild introduction to the Metro-loving public at its first meeting this afternoon, where one Houstonian got so worked up that he nearly collapsed and later was taken to the hospital.
DeWayne Lark, the man that almost collapsed, was talking about the light rail construction that is ripping up portions of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Lark was particularly upset that the referendum that voters approved way back in 2003 didn't include any light rail along MLK.
"You need to slow down a bit and listen to the people, not the contractors and others our money is going to," Lark told the board. Then he almost had a heart attack.
It's really a moot point, because the work has already started. Still, the construction caused quite a bit of angst from residents of that neighborhood. More on that after the jump.
Perhaps the most important thing from today's meeting is that the new board members seem determined to ignore anything Metro's president, Frank Wilson, has to say. (We spoke to people before the meeting that placed bets on the likelihood that Wilson would even show up, because it seems that his time is running out as president.)
For example, the board voted on whether to eliminate a $100,000 minimum that Metro had established for contracts it hands out to small businesses. Wilson urged the board to do some more research before taking the vote, because he thought the $100,000 minimum should stand.
His argument was that without that threshold, the contracts would be become so small that they wouldn't benefit the businesses. Small business can't grow with small contracts, he said.
"Everyone ends up getting a smaller and smaller piece of the action," Wilson said.
The board ignored Wilson and voted unanimously to eliminate the minimum contract.
Concerning the MLK construction, one resident put in plain terms how the construction, or preparation for construction, has changed the neighborhood.
Paulette Wagner talked about a couple gas stations along MLK that Metro had to buy for the rail route. The buildings, now abandoned, were supposed to be demolished.
"These were two vital businesses to the community that are now fenced in," Wagner said.
She was promised that at least one of the empty gas stations would be razed in the next couple of weeks.
Ovide Duncantell had a problem with construction in that area, too. Duncantell, the founder of the city's Black Heritage Society, has previously protested the light rail on MLK, angry that the construction will uproot a tree that was planted by members of the King family to honor King.
Duncantell also had the same complaints as Lark, saying that voters in the area never would have voted for the 2003 referendum if Metro planned to take the rail down MLK.
"Nobody wanted the rail, so [Metro] decided to drop it down on the Negroes on Martin Luther King Boulevard," Duncantell said. "That train is going to have to run over me. And one thing I don't do is lie to white people."
So, new board members, welcome to Metro.