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City Government?
by David Stanowski
12 March 2009


Abstract:
How well has our City government been running this city? There are some data that can give us a hint.

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Population:
The dominant reason most people move is for better economic opportunities, so population growth and decline is a good proxy for economic growth. The population in Galveston peaked in 1960, and has been declining for almost 50 years!


City Staffing:
City staffing, however, has followed a very different trend in the latter part of this period. City population declined 8% between 1980 and 2008, from 61,902, to 56,940. During this same period, the number of City employees increased 4%, from 760 to 790! This means that before the Hurricane, the City was 12% over staffed.

Now that our population has plunged to about 40,000, the current over staffing far exceeds the trend established over the last 28 years. If the City maintained the same ratio of residents per employee that it had in 1980, the number of employees currently needed would be about 491, instead of 750!

No one is questioning the hard work and dedication of many City employees, but what City management always fails to remember is the fact that those who do not work for the City have suffered a devastating financial blow, from the Hurricane, and the last thing they need is to be supporting the cost of hundreds of "extra" City employees while they struggle to survive and make a living in the private sector.

Whether City management has been pursuing this policy for the purposes of "empire building", or simply because they see City government as a jobs program; the private sector can NOT continue to shoulder this burden!


City Manager Form of Government:
Galveston employs the City Manager form of government. The current City Manager has served in this office since March 1997. During the first decade of his tenure (1997-2007), City population declined 5.4%, from 60,167 to 56,940, while City staffing grew 16.7%, from 694 to 810! The spread between City population loss and the increase in the number of City employees has been growing dramatically!

However, the most damaging trend, during this decade, is local population change versus the State. From 1997 to 2007, the State population grew 23.5%, from 19,355,427 to 23,904,380, while the City's population DECLINED 5.4%, from 60,167 to 56,940! If population is a good proxy for economic growth, then Galveston has lagged the State by 28.9%, during this period!

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Is this the City Manager's responsibility?
Some would argue that the quality of our
residents has a lot to do with the decline in population. We are a city of "undesirable" demographics, with more than our share of the poor, the uneducated, and the slackers of the world. But why don't more "higher caliber" people find the Island an attractive place to live? They would, if we had a more robust economy!

Others blame the poor schools, high crime rate, and lack of "affordable housing", but the City's GISD operates the schools, the City runs the police department, and affordable housing is relative to the incomes that the local economy produces.

The primary economic engine of the City, the Port, is also owned and operated by another arm of City government, and it has been under performing its potential for decades.


Conclusion:
These data clearly show that it is time to admit that our system of a part-time unpaid Council providing oversight on a City-Manager form of government simply does not work!

It is essential that we shift to a mayoral form of government where the person running the City will be directly accountable to the voters, or the trends in place since 1960 will probably accelerate further, and take this city to a place where no one wants it to go.

The City can either be run by a professional bureaucrat, or a professional politician. I vote for the latter!




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