Men's Breakfast Report, March 2007
The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, March 10, 2007 with John Smith III as the featured guest. John is a Freeport Councilman and mayor pro-tem. He was acting mayor while Jim Philips was recovering from his accident. He is also involved with many other community organizations, such as the Economic Development Commission and the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical engineers (NOBCChE).
He started our discussion by talking about NOBCChE, which our church has been supporting. NOBCChE’s main local activity is encouraging junior and senior high school students, especially minority students, to study science and mathematics. They do this by sponsoring science bowl teams at their national convention. This gives students exposure to environments and other people that they would not otherwise see, such as black scientists and engineers. Last year the local junior high team won third place at nationals. This year one of our high school teams won second place at the Houston Regional meet and our junior high teams won first and second places. We are taking two high school and two junior high teams to this year’s meet in Orlando and have high hopes for their success. The large number of students is stretching the budget and extra donations are needed. John was very complimentary about our church’s contribution to the project by allowing the use of the Fellowship Hall for practice sessions.
Most of the discussion was about the City of Freeport. The hot topic was, of course, the relationship with the Port and Navigation District. The city recently annexed property that the port owns so as to have some control over what kinds of industry are put into the city. The port does not want anybody second-guessing its decisions or to delaying them by requiring special use permits. The port has retaliated by having Representative Dennis Bonnen submit two bills in the State Legislature that force the city to deannex the property and prohibit any further annexation of port property. The bills are drawn up so only Freeport, and no other port city, is affected. The Navigation district puts the interest of the port first, as expected. However, the city has to live with the port and any side effects it generates. One worry that the citizens still have, even though port officials have said it is groundless, is the possibility that 5000 trucks per day will be coming through Freeport. The Port does not want the possible delay caused by the necessity of issuing a special use permit to interfere with negotiations with a potential customer. By state law, the minimum time required to issue a special use permit is twenty days. The only member on the Navigation district board from Freeport is Toby Davenport, and this election he is opposed by the well known and respected former manager of BASF Ravi Singhania. The bills in the legislature will be opposed by the city. They have already been passed by the House, but must still be passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor. It was felt that the city and the port boards need to get together and talk to find a way the interests can be accommodated. It was suggested that a future Men’s Breakfast invite both the Navigation Board and the City Council so things can be discussed in an informal setting. The logistics and legalities of such a meeting would have to be worked out.
John also talked about other activities of the city. He has been on the Council for 11 years and says that getting things done is like moving an aircraft carrier with a string. He is proud of the beautification efforts in the city. He cited the Building Blocks program and the beautification of the main entrance into Freeport. He said that one of the first jobs was to remove dilapidated structures that had accumulated during years of “selective code enforcement”. Most of these structures have been demolished or repaired. The city has recently received a grant to replace substandard sewers over a period of three years, including within the East End. The urban renewal project is going forward with interest by developers.
The other big project is the Marina. The city has decided to build and own the marina itself instead of having a developer own it. The operation will be contracted out to an operator. The marina will be built without the use of the Gore property. The cost of the litigation was about $150,000. He said that construction on a dry-stack building has already started and former occupants of some of the property have been moved. A discussion about marinas brought out the fact that Bridge Harbor is losing customers and is deteriorating in quality. Competition might force them to improve so it was suggested that the operator of the new marina should not be the operator of Bridge Harbor.
As usual, the participants had an informative discussion and a good breakfast. All men are invited to the next Men’s Breakfast on April 14.