June 29, 2020

Upgraded Threat Level a Step Back for Non-Essential City Services

In response to an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases throughout our area, Judge Hidalgo and the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management have upgraded the current public threat level to Severe (Level 1).  Hospitals have been reported to be at full ICU base capacity, and the numbers of daily cases and hospitalizations are at their highest since the beginning of the pandemic.  Level 1 signifies a “severe and uncontrolled” outbreak, prompting the County to reurge its Stay Home, Work Safe guidelines in an effort to flatten the curve once again.  For his part Governor Abbott has announced a temporary pause in his strategic plan to reopen Texas, and has rolled back some of the activities he’d previously allowed to resume.  Because of this change in circumstances and in keeping with now more restrictive guidance, the City is reverting back to the suspension of certain non-essential services.

June 24, 2020

Transition at the Top as City Manager Accepts New Opportunity

Last night, the Bastrop City Council publicly announced their newly hired city manager, Paul Hofmann.  By all accounts Bastrop is poised to take their city to the next level, with a clearly defined and well-supported vision for its continued growth and future direction.  They specifically sought out, and found in Paul, an experienced and capable administrator to help them implement their vision and make it a reality.  He’ll do great there, and we wish him and the City of Bastrop all the best.

June 8, 2020

Continuous Improvement and Best Practices in Police Use of Force

It’s not often I find myself at a loss for words.  Like so many of our fellow Americans, and people all around the world, as I’ve read the accounts and watched the footage of George Floyd’s final moments I’ve struggled to make sense of it.  How could the excessive and dangerous neck restraint have been allowed to go on for nearly nine minutes, and long past the point Floyd was even capable of resisting?  Knowing how the story ends, it’s particularly painful hearing Floyd’s voice as he begs for his life, handcuffed and motionless, pinned facedown on the ground.

What happened to George Floyd while in the custody of those entrusted and sworn to protect him—and all of us—must not be tolerated anywhere.  At the same time, the repugnant actions of the very few must not be allowed to diminish our respect and gratitude for law enforcement generally.  It behooves officers everywhere to learn from this and other incidents of excessive force, to embrace all efforts for continuous improvement, and to commit to open dialogue and to working together toward regaining the public’s trust.

June 5, 2020

In-Person Public Meetings to Resume, With Precautions

Our local approach from the outset of the COVID-19 crisis has been to follow as closely as possible state and federal public health guidelines, with a bias toward maintaining services where safe and responsible to do so.  As the situation has progressed, we have increasingly relied upon the executive orders of the governor as he implements his strategic plan to reopen Texas.  On Wednesday he announced the start of Phase III, and his accompanying order is much different from previous orders and significantly expands permissible activity, though still subject to health protocols like social distancing.

We’ve been looking forward to returning to in-person City Council meetings, and following this latest order are now preparing do so beginning with our next Regular Session on June 15.  City boards and commissions may soon start meeting in person again as well.  Specific arrangements are still being worked out, but will include capacity limitations to ensure appropriate distancing, plexiglass separators at the dais, and perhaps the use of alternative venues such as the Civic Center for more space.  Everyone present will be asked to wear face coverings in common areas and to avoid close contact with others.

We recognize that some members and attendees may not yet feel comfortable coming to meetings in person, especially those at higher risk who are still strongly encouraged to stay at home as much as possible.  For so long as the governor's temporary Open Meetings Act suspension remains in effect, which allows us to give them the option, we will accommodate their continuing to participate remotely.  We’re still working out those details, as well, but what you can expect is a hybrid meeting of sorts with some in person and some by phone.

This public health emergency is by no means over, and Phase III is not an immediate return to business as usual.  It’s an initial step in that direction, and as restrictions have been relaxed somewhat we’re pleased to be able to make your local government more accessible again, with appropriate safeguards.  We thank you for your patience, and hope to see you in person soon.

June 3, 2020

2020 Hurricane Season is Upon Us

On top of everything else we have to worry about these days and with life already upended by the pandemic, this week marks the official start of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.  Tropical Storm Cristobal, currently in the Bay of Campeche, could pose a threat to our region by the beginning of next week, which only heightens the importance of being ready.  Since we can’t have our annual community preparedness program in person, Bellaire’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Fire Chief Deacon Tittel, brings this year's presentation to you.

In his video message, Chief Tittel provides an overview of hurricane preparedness and what residents should be doing to protect their families and properties before, during and after a storm.  The City offers many resources to assist you and will communicate emergency information to the public in a variety of ways, including through the PrepareBellaire mass notification system.  Chief Tittel also describes the City’s own preparations, from clearing street gutters and drains to securing facilities and construction sites, and our continuous emergency management training.

Other informational videos on the City’s hurricane preparedness resource page include a tour of the Bellaire Emergency Operations Center and an introduction to the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR) for individuals who may require special assistance in the event of an emergency.

Hurricane season is June 1 through November 30.  The time to prepare is now.

May 15, 2020

Anticipating the Fiscal Impact of COVID-19

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy, made all the worse locally by a sharp decline in oil prices, there’s no doubt our city finances will take a hit.  How much of a hit we can’t yet say—we don’t know any more than anyone else does how this will all end.  We are, however, paying close attention to our numbers and actively planning for the worst, so we’ll be prepared whatever the eventual outcome.

May 1, 2020

City Begins Cautious Return to (New) Normal

Guided by the governor’s strategic plan and Report to Open Texas, the City of Bellaire is gradually reopening city facilities and resuming suspended services, starting today.

Tennis courts, athletic fields, batting cages and park restrooms are now open.  Playgrounds, swimming pools, the Rec Center and Officer Lucy Dog Park remain closed, however.  Social distancing should still be observed in all open spaces, and pursuant to the governor’s order outdoor sports must be non-contact and are limited to no more than four participants at a time.

April 20, 2020

City Sightings Public Safety Parade This Week

To them, it’s about thanking all of us for doing our part, by staying home and practicing social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus and help flatten the curve.  For us, it’s an opportunity to show our support and appreciation for their service and for going above and beyond throughout this challenging time.  And, right about now we could all use a little fun and community spirit.

Inspired by suggestions from some of our residents, this week’s City Sightings public safety parade is modeled after our annual Santa Sightings on the fire truck in December.  City vehicles from Fire, Police and Public Works will visit a different neighborhood each day this week, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  Be sure to keep an eye out for them and wave hello when they pass by!

April 8, 2020

COVID-19 Emergency Response Update

In Monday night’s telephonic City Council meeting, the City Manager presented to Council and the public the latest update on our ongoing response to COVID-19.  He highlighted the good work being done by the employees from various departments who fill particular roles in our emergency management structure, which are often different from their usual responsibilities.  Though COVID-19 is unique in a lot of ways, our experience in past emergencies is certainly helping us in this one.  I encourage you to listen to the complete recording of the presentation to learn more.

The City’s priorities in the response are focused on communication, keeping employees and the public safe, staying informed of decisions being made by others that impact us, and being prepared for an uncertain future.

April 2, 2020

Coming Together as a Community (While Staying Apart)

This temporary “new normal,” in which not only the adults are working from home but the kids are, too, is positively surreal.  We never imagined, for example, having to remind our young children of their scheduled videoconferences throughout the workday.  For a bit of exercise and fresh air, and to keep from climbing the walls, we’re getting outside more often as a family for walks around the neighborhood.  We’ve enjoyed running into many of you out on the street (but at a safe distance), reconnecting with friends and making new ones.  It’s obvious from those conversations that we’re all in this together, and also how much we value our togetherness as a community.

March 30, 2020

Sidewalks Charter Election Postponed to Nov. 3

As you’ve probably heard by now, the sidewalks charter election previously called for May 2 has been postponed to the next uniform election date, November 3, on account of the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency.  In Council’s deliberations during its telephonic Special Session last week, a unanimous vote to postpone the election was never in doubt.

Instead, the discussion centered on a proposed “moratorium on any further sidewalk construction on residential blocks until after the election.”  Following constructive debate, by a narrow 4-3 vote Council decided against the moratorium, in favor of maintaining the status quo for the time being.  I have since received a few questions suggesting there may be some confusion—and outright misinformation—out there, about what the status quo actually is, and so I take this opportunity to clear things up.

March 26, 2020

Maintaining Continuity of City Services Through COVID-19

Life these days is anything but ordinary—yes, I know, understatement of the year—but our dedicated city staff are doing all they can to keep things running smoothly.  Garbage and recycling are still being picked up, clean water continues to flow, and first responders keep responding.  Maintaining these basic city services, on which we rely daily and that we typically take for granted, helps make at least those aspects of life feel as ordinary as possible in this extraordinary time.

The manner in which we’re providing services is obviously not business as usual, however, with necessary modifications following CDC, state and federal guidelines to protect the public health and welfare, and that of the city workforce.  Even the emergency response itself is impacted, as our Emergency Operations Center is hardened against threats like severe weather, but viruses not so much; essential response personnel are meeting elsewhere when required, to ensure appropriate distancing.  Our public facilities are closed, but for those services and programming that don’t necessarily have to be delivered in person, we’re adapting and finding new ways to stay in touch with you.  For example, Library staff are working on bringing our ever-popular Story Times online for young families to enjoy remotely.

With all of these changes our staff have even had a little fun this week, recording videos to showcase what their departments are working on and how they’re continuing to serve you, and to introduce some of the people who make it happen.  These videos are being posted to our COVID-19 resource page on the City website and will be updated as new content is created.  We invite you to take a look, and welcome your questions and feedback.

Given all they do for us day in and day out and their demonstrated commitment to public service, it’s no surprise our city staff are once again rising to challenge.  I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this team and grateful to each and every one of its members.  It’s in times like these we’re reminded that the quality and responsiveness of our city services, and the people who provide them, are among the things that really make Bellaire special.

March 20, 2020

Telephonic Special Session of City Council, Monday at 6:00 p.m.

There have been a lot of firsts brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Add to that list our first telephonic City Council meeting.  This past Monday (but announced after my last post discussing our upcoming Council meeting schedule) Governor Abbott temporarily suspended certain provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act in order to allow governmental bodies to meet telephonically or by videoconference in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that bring together large groups of people.  All such meetings will still be open to the public.

This coming Monday’s Special Session, which will be conducted telephonically, has been called for two purposes:  to ask the City Council to (1) extend beyond seven days our local public health disaster declaration, and (2) postpone the sidewalks charter election from May to November.

March 16, 2020

City Council Meetings Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

As we practice social distancing and avoid public gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus, some of you have been asking about Bellaire City Council meetings.  Tonight’s meeting is still on, but the schedule for upcoming meetings could be impacted.

While Council meetings are always open to the public, and public attendance and participation are encouraged, those who prefer to observe remotely may do so by tuning in to our live broadcast online or on local government access channels (Comcast 16, U-verse 99).  Public comment may be submitted to the City Council in writing, rather than in person, in care of the City Clerk.  I trust it goes without saying that anyone experiencing symptoms or who feels they may have been exposed are urged to stay home and avoid contact with others.

Our Charter provides that the City Council shall meet “not less frequently than twice each month.”  Regular Sessions are held on the first and third Mondays of each month (except when there is a legal holiday, in which case the meeting is moved to the following Monday).  Absent a formal disaster declaration, the City Council will continue to meet on its regular schedule.  As this month happens to be a five-Monday month, we’ll have three weeks between tonight’s meeting and the next to continue to monitor and see how things develop before making any decisions with respect to the upcoming Council meeting schedule.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through these challenges, with the public health and well-being at the forefront of our decision making.

March 12, 2020

Local Coronavirus Preparations

Bellaire emergency management officials have been closely monitoring and preparing for potential local impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  While the City is not under a public health disaster declaration at this time, we have developed an incident action plan in coordination with other area agencies to ensure our readiness.  Our team is in close communication and participates in daily briefings with Harris County Public Health, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The recent news of a presumptive positive case in Montgomery County that was not travel related has led to heightened precautions throughout the Houston area.  As a result, many local events have been postponed or canceled.  Here in Bellaire these include the Touch A Truck event that was scheduled to take place at Evelyn’s Park this Saturday, the Patrons for Bellaire Parks’ Wine and Tapas fundraiser on March 28 (you’ll still be able to support our parks through an online auction instead), Party at the Pavilion on April 3, and the Bellaire Trolley Run on April 4.  Decisions have not yet been made concerning other upcoming events as we continue to monitor this rapidly evolving situation.

Employees in all departments are making arrangements to avoid or minimize as much as possible any disruptions to city services.  We’re planning for the contingency that some of our workforce could be affected, whether directly, or indirectly such as those with childcare responsibilities in the event schools are closed.  Maintaining uninterrupted Police, Fire, Public Works and other essential services will remain our top priority.

Our foremost concern is to protect the health and welfare of the community.  All residents are urged to do their part in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 by familiarizing themselves with and following CDC recommendations.  Please stay informed through local news outlets and check the City website frequently for updates as they are available.

March 11, 2020

Contemplating Continued Progress on Streets and Drainage

By the early 1980s, Bellaire’s original, post-war era infrastructure was reaching the end of its useful life and in serious need of attention.  At that time and in the years that followed, the City undertook individual maintenance and rehabilitation projects as annual budgets would allow, but the available cash on hand was nowhere near enough to keep up with the demand.  Having allowed conditions to deteriorate to that point, without having set aside any funds along the way, by the year 2000 it had become clear that continuing the pay-as-you-go approach was simply no longer an option.

The Bellaire Millennium Renewal bond program was the first comprehensive package of citywide infrastructure improvements and was approved overwhelmingly by the voters to begin tackling our most critical needs.  Through the successor 2005 Rebuild Bellaire and 2016 Better Bellaire bond programs we’ve continued that work, including the systematic replacement of streets and drainage systems in order of relative priority.  Our progress has been steady, but at only about a third complete we still have a long way to go.  Assuming we remain committed and intend to stay on course, it’s time to identify and begin planning for the next round of projects.

February 17, 2020

Sidewalks Charter Election Called for May 2

The latest battles of Bellaire’s decades-long sidewalks wars were fought in the fall of 2018, and in response to overwhelming public input spanning multiple hours over multiple meetings, the City Council completely canceled all plans for standalone sidewalks.  Through the public process those battles were thus brought to conclusion, but the issue was revived a few months later by resident petitions for three charter amendments that would remove the question of sidewalks from the public process.  The requisite constitutional waiting period having now passed, and pursuant to the state election law calendar, last week the City Council formally ordered a special election to be held on Saturday, May 2.

January 14, 2020

When the Unthinkable Happens Here

We're all shocked and devastated by this afternoon’s senseless tragedy at Bellaire High School.  Our hearts are foremost with the victim and his family, and we stand together in solidarity with the entire BHS community in mourning this horrific loss.  The City of Bellaire is working with and will continue to provide our support to school administration and HISD, now and in the days to come.

School shootings take place with such alarming frequency, it’s easy to become desensitized and lulled into complacency.  We see it on TV, and while we know it can happen anywhere, it’s not supposed to happen here.  Yet today it has.

As a parent, I’m positively stricken having to explain to my young children the events of today, and the harsh realities of the world in which they live.  I’m shaken to my very core, seeing their innocence abruptly taken from them.  I honestly don’t know how to answer all their questions, or to give them the reassurance they need when I’m not always so sure myself.  I can’t help but hold them a little tighter.

As a neighbor, I’m in stunned disbelief that this has happened right here, that one of our own kids won’t be coming home tonight.  I feel an overwhelming sadness for all the students and their families, for whom everything has forever changed.  School is supposed to be a safe place, but our very basic sense of security now gives way to worry.  We owe it to our children to find some way to restore it.

In times of crisis we've shown what it means to be a community.  We’re here for each other, and will move forward together through this difficult time.  We’re thankful for our first responders and for all they’ve done today, and will continue to hold near and pray for the victim and his family.

January 7, 2020

Working Together in Moving Bellaire Forward

The start of every new Council term, like the beginning of the New Year with which it coincides, is a time for both reflection on the past—what has been working well, and less so—and looking forward.  It’s a time of optimism, with the promise of good things to come, and inspiration, with renewed energy to tackle whatever challenges may lay ahead.  This year it’s especially so.

That this new Council is more visibly reflective of the diversity of opinion throughout the community can only be a good thing.  For everyone to feel they have a seat at the table provides a tremendous opportunity—for all of Bellaire—to work together, rather than against each other.