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.

Following a particularly contentious campaign season, with its divisive rhetoric and sometimes less-than-civil discourse, I respectfully suggest we not shy away from openly acknowledging we’ve got some work to do.  Our wonderful sense of community in Bellaire is disrupted and threatened by a constant “us versus them” attitude, which I submit is sadly influenced by today’s broader political landscape, from the national level on down, in which it’s no longer about the issues, but only about which team you’re on.  Even as the rest of our country has become so bitterly polarized, I know we’re better than that here at home.  We’re neighbors after all, and share the common goal of making Bellaire the best it can be.

Early in this new term we’ll be talking a lot about the local government process.  Though the City Council does not run the City day to day, its sets the overall policy from which everything else follows.  The City Manager and staff take direction—and redirection—straight from Council.

Strategic planning aids our decision making, by providing both short- and long-term context so that nothing is done at random.  As illustrated above, the several planning elements all draw on one another, ensuring consistency and predictability, and ultimately adherence to Council-adopted policy.

Our annual pre-budget planning retreat in May is structured for in-depth discussion of all of these, perhaps most prominently Council Priorities.  Though based on a five-year planning horizon, the Priorities are reviewed and readopted every year, with whatever revisions Council may make.  The Fiscal Forecast (built on assumptions and parameters at Council’s direction) and Capital Improvement Plan are also considered annually, and the Comprehensive Plan is scheduled for periodic review this year as well.

Public input is encouraged at every step of the way, and is most effective when all participants share an appreciation of the process.  The importance of getting the right amount of input at the right time has been demonstrated in recent years by a handful of projects that were initiated pursuant to feedback from some residents, but eventually terminated when others spoke up in concerted opposition.  I suppose one could argue that’s part of the process, too, but it certainly goes more smoothly and is better representative of the community as a whole when we have the benefit of regular and timely citizen engagement.

No, we’re not always going to agree on everything—it would be weird if we did—but hopefully we can at least commit to honest debate and respect for opposing viewpoints.  Recognizing our diversity of opinion, we each decide how we conduct ourselves, how we approach the issues and, importantly, how we choose to treat each other.  The success of this new Council term is up to all of us.  Let's embrace our differing perspectives, and take pride in working together in moving Bellaire forward.