Men's Breakfast Report, June 2013
The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, June 8th with Norma Garcia, newly reelected Mayor of Freeport. Norma was born in Freeport, in the East End, as were her parents and grandparents. She first got involved with the city during a citywide cleanup day several years ago. She took her pickup truck and collected several loads of trash to the collection point. This impressed the organizer of the effort who suggested that she volunteer for a city commission. She served on the Economic Development Commission, the city council and was elected mayor two years ago. She was reelected mayor last month after a hard campaign. Norma was accompanied to the breakfast by councilwoman Sandra Barbree, a political ally.
Norma served on the Economic Development Commission along with John Smith, a former member of our group. She is proud of the entranceway beautification on Highway 288 that was installed during her service.
The mayoral election was discussed. Six candidates, two of which, Norma Garcia and Tyrone Morrow, campaigned heavily, made this the most prominent local election in the county. With about 1000 voters this was the highest turnout in a municipal election in decades. This was still only about a 20% turnout, and less than the turnout for presidential elections. The candidate forums and the large number of signs were the obvious signs of the campaign. In addition, there was a large amount of personal campaigning. Tyrone knocked on every door in the city, including trailer parks. Norma did not canvas so heavily until the end when she spent three days block walking. However, her allies, including Sandra Barbree, campaigned on her behalf. The low turnout is due to several factors. One is that many people are not registered. Another is that many people who are registered are not familiar with the voting process. For example, one woman was afraid that people could see who she voted for. Norma had to explain that her ballot was secret. There was discussion that the schools needed to do a better job of teaching civics to the future citizens.
Norma was asked what she thought should be the future of Freeport: a bedroom community for Dow and Lake Jackson, an industrial zone or a resort community, or what kind of mix of these there should be. She thought that the main emphasis should be as a resort community. The completion of the marina is helping the resort function come about. However, the Royal interests are still an obstacle, as they were with the marina. They own a large portion of the downtown and are not willing to develop them. Until these are developed people from the boats have no place to go. There need to be more restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the marina.
The Urban Redevelopment District was also discussed. The presence of the railroad through it means that spurs can be constructed to serve warehouses and light manufacturing. She is in favor of developing the district in this way. These uses would provide jobs and sources of foreign exchange for the city. However, she thinks that some of the area can be used for residences and that there could be about 125 houses built on it in addition to the light industrial.
Another source of residences is within the already-developed area of the city. Workers coming into the city for the Dow expansion have reduced the vacancy rate of existing houses drastically. However, there is a large number of vacant lots in the city. The city owns many of them, acquired for back taxes. The city has a program by which you can buy a lot for one dollar, if you will build a house on it. The catch is that you have to build it within eight months. One of our participants is interested in building a very small house that would be efficient for living and require little maintenance. Norma said this would be possible since Freeport, unlike neighboring cities, does not have a minimum house size.
A city program that she talked about is improved street lighting. Many street corners do not have adequate lighting at present and this will eliminate the problem. These lights will be designed to light just the ground so that the skies will not be lit up any more than they already are.
The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast. The next meeting will be July 13th.