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Galveston Economic Report
David Stanowski
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The Blog


by David Stanowski
15 December 2008

I began my personal journey through the mythical land called Galveston simply attempting to understand why the economy was so anemic. Why had the population DECLINED over the last 28 years? Why are per capita retail sales so low? Why is the Median Household Income 28% below the State average? Why has the Port never bettered its high in tons of cargo handled set 24 years ago? Why did the number of jobs peak in 1995?

What began as an economic study quickly pointed to problems in our City government. It didn’t take long to discover that City government sees business as a nuisance which quickly explained many of the problems with the local economy.

In theory, the citizens elect the City Council, and then the Council is charged with exercising oversight and control over the City Manager that they appoint. However, anyone who attended or watched the 11 December Council meeting was treated to a very painful reminder that that is NOT how things actually work here.

The president of Photo Violation Technologies, of Vancouver, Canada, was invited by Council Members Woods and Colbert to give a presentation about their parking meters. After he was finished, the City Manager in essence told him that he should not have been wasting their time, since the City Manager didn’t see this as a priority!

What began as an embarrassing incident to everyone who calls this City home quickly became an outrage when the Council sat there and did not order the City Manager to stand down. The body that had been elected to direct and control the City Manager had abdicated their power. It was perfectly clear for all to see that in essence we are being ruled by one unelected official.

For those who are slow to pick up on these political “subtleties”, the City Manager continued to demonstrate who is in charge by lecturing the Council that he wanted a unanimous vote in favor of the not-yet-written recovery plan, because he said that it will “reflect the consensus opinion of the citizens of the City”. Is there any doubt whose opinion this plan will really reflect?

My hometown is Chicago, Illinois, so my expectations of local government are not very high, but I am still often disgusted and appalled by what goes on here! For all of its faults and corruption, the “Chicago Machine” does not create as much of a burden on the Chicago economy as our local government does on ours.

There are many good people in this City. Some just deal with the situation as they find it, and make little effort to change it for the better, but they may be the wise ones. Others spend a great deal of time and effort serving the City through the organizations that they belong to. Unfortunately, while they go about their well-intentioned efforts, they turn a blind eye to how our City government is being run. They concentrate on specific issues, and ignore the fundamental problem.

Many of us have been patting ourselves on the back for our heroic efforts to rebuild, after the Hurricane, but we should all feel a profound sense of shame about what happened at the last Council meeting, and for the fact that we all know that this has been going on for a very long time.

In New Guinea, they have a word that describes a situation where the whole tribe knows about something, but agrees not to talk about it; which implies unspoken consent by the group. The word is “mokita”. The mokita of the Galveston tribe is that we do not have a “representative form of government”, because we have all abdicated our power and responsibility. History will not look kindly on us for letting this happen!

However, having said that, I too am going to abdicate, and discontinue what I have been doing, because it makes no sense for me to continue working to make changes through the local political process, since I now have to admit that all of my efforts have been a waste of time. I am looking forward to returning to what I really love to do; analyzing the economy and markets.

It is said that we get the government that we deserve which does not speak very highly of us. The City of Galveston will survive, but it has little or no chance to recover or prosper as long as this situation persists. With the combination of the international economic downturn and the blow from the Storm, it should only be a matter of months before more and more people begin to see the very bleak future that lies ahead for this City, if we continue to be “governed” this way.

During my sabbatical from local politics, I will simply watch and wait from the sidelines for a time when the proper alchemy of anger and fear MIGHT actually motivate enough people to change this mess. At this point, I am not optimistic that a serious political movement will develop, but if it ever does, I will re-evaluate my withdrawal. Since no real change may be forthcoming; everyone better start working on their own personal “Plan B”. 

It was my intention and hope from the very beginning that by defining many of our economic problems and offering possible solutions, our City government could use my work to improve the local economy; but I was horribly naive. The powers-that-be are only concerned with maintaining the status quo no matter how poorly the economy is performing.

I also became aware that the Mayor was very invested in trying to develop a positive legacy of her term in office, but the economic data that I was discovering did not support the claim that we were in some kind of "economic renaissance". Rather than taking the opportunity to improve the economy with projects like installing the PVT parking meters, efforts were made to discredit my work.

Finally, last week, I was made painfully aware just how much some of our government officials disliked what I was doing, and that I am out of my league when it comes to the political gamesmanship and maneuvering that is going on. That is why I am happy to remove myself from dealing with those who like to use “sharp elbows” to maintain their grip on power!

For more information on the Galveston Economy: Click Here


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