Council Sets Priorities in Workshop
Members of the West U City Council came up with a list of their 17 top priorities for the city Wednesday, during a cordial, four-hour workshop meeting that included an orientation on municipal government, Texas’ open government laws and the council’s own rules.
The council made it clear that they want to revisit some of the big issues that came up during the municipal election, adopting priorities that include a review of the city’s long-term Comprehensive Plan, reevaluating the recent zoning changes to the Town Center zoning district, and the acquisition of additional parkland.
Councilmembers Mardi Turner and Brennan Reilly stressed their commitment to bring more transparency to West U municipal government, suggesting that the city’s web-site be expanded to include the agendas and minutes of all city boards and commissions, and the possible live-streaming of videos of council meetings.
Reilly noted that the city of Bellaire provides videos of its council meetings and some commission meetings, and suggested that West U do the same.
“It is something worth reviewing,” Reilly said.
City Manager Michael Ross agreed, but said the city should do a cost/benefit analysis of live-streaming city meetings. “How much do you spend for the six people who watch it?” Ross asked.
But the city manager agreed that the city can do more to communicate with residents, which is why the city hired Communications Manager Maura Leon-Barber earlier this year. A new feature on the city’s web-site, called “West U Sidewalk” will provide an online forum for the city’s residents to make comments or ask about city business.
Councilman Burt Ballanfant strongly suggested that the acquisition of additional parkland, using $2 million in parks bonds approved by West U voters in 2006, should be a priority for the new council. That was a major issue raised by Ballanfant during his recent council campaign. The former mayor strongly supports the acquisition of more parkland in West U, east of Edloe St.
Turner, however, who served on a citizens’ task force that looked into the city’s acquisition of more parkland “needs to be very public.”
“Part of the problem we’ve had before is it comes out as a surprise to the neighbors and they come in with pitchforks and torches,” Turner said.
Mayor Susan Sample said she is very concerned about the city’s need to address needed improvements to the West U Library.
“I’m not in love or hate with the library. It is something that needs to be looked at,” Sample said.
There are “life-safety” issues with the 63-year old building, including the fact that is is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, has no fire alarm and no fire sprinkler system, Sample said.
In addition, a “quit-claim” deed brought to the attention of the previous city council by Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack provides that the land the library occupies was granted to the city for “a garden club, a civic center and a park,” Sample said. The library is none of those, Sample noted.
Although Reilly said that the review of the library should be part of a citizens’ review of the city’s long-term Facilities Master Plan, Sample suggested that a separate review of the library should be looked at separately.
“A library is an important part of our city, I think,” Sample said.
The list of priorities set by the council, not necessarily in order of importance, is shown here:
- Continue to work on a resolution of Ruffino Hills. The city of West U owns a 70-acre tract of land in far southwest Houston that previously served as the city’s landfill. It has been closed for several years. The city would like to sell the tract, which is adjacent to a 70-acre site that is owned by the city of Bellaire and once served as that city’s landfill.
- Continue to move forward on the Buffalo Speedway Project.
- Obtain 100 percent compliance with the city’s address ordinance. Turner mentioned that many residences in West U do not have their addresses prominently posted, which could be a problem for emergency responders.
- Posting of agendas, minutes and goals of all boards and commission on the city web-site.
- Evaluate video capabilities for council meetings, as well as improving other external communications.
- Continue the West U Citizen’s Academy.
- Pursue, purchase and development of additional parkland per approved 2006 bond election.
- Explore Green Waste Collection.
- Reevaluate the recent zoning changes to the Town Center District.
- Evaluate potential zoning categories: public/institutional uses.
- Update Comprehensive Plan.
- Evaluate life/safety issues at library.
- Complete updating of Facilities Master Plan.
- Evaluate resident satisfaction/sentiment in various ways.
- Evaluate parking solution for West U Recreation Center during overlapping heavy use events.
- Evaluate Bellaire Blvd. hike-and-bike trail with city of Bellaire.
- Reevaluate Parking Etiquette program to determine success.
The council did not formally vote on the priorities listed above, although there was little disagreement. The exact language and order of the council’s priorities might be changed before they are formally adopted.