I had a trip planned to Biloxi a month after Hurricane Harvey hit Aransas County. I kept those plans in place because, quite frankly, my wife and I needed to get away after that first month of non-stop work. However, the original agenda for that trip changed quite a bit.

We set up a lunch with officials from Waveland, MS - and other smaller communities in that area that had been wiped out by Hurricane Katrina – and with the publisher of the Sun Herald, Biloxi’s newspaper. We sat and talked for more than four hours about what our future held, not in the sense of rebuilding, but more along the lines of what we could expect to see as far as changes in the fabric of our community three to five years down the line.

What they shared, almost to a tee, is playing out in our community.

The first two years fell right in line with what they all said. We would be fighting insurance claims, FEMA, etc. They said some people would come out smelling like a rose, while others would get the shaft.

We know that was true here, as well.

One of the community leaders meeting with us that day said after about two years we would start seeing some subtle changes, and then some major attempts to “change things” from the way they were prior to the storm.

Those changes were rooted in the changes in the fabric, or make up of their community.

One of the things we had that those smaller communities did not have was a long-term recovery team (LTRT) that helped local officials tackle many of the issues they faced.

After a few months we switched to long-term recovery mode and the LTRT went to work finding grants from numerous sources for projects. That work has been ongoing since the LTRT was formed.

At first, all our local entities worked together.

Some of the issues that sprang up later were due, in part, to the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) not being a part of the Aransas County Long Term Recovery Plan, which was included into the state’s plan. That was done so that things could run more smoothly in terms of receiving state and federal funding. The ACND was later adopted into the plan.

I still don’t understand why they weren’t included, and have yet to hear a good explanation.

After the first year or so funding for the LTRT fell into the county’s hands, so naturally, the county focused on its projects.

That didn’t seem to matter too much because the other entities seemed to be on a trajectory to take care of their own projects with their own staff. The Aransas County Independent School District, Aransas County, and ACND fared well with their insurance companies, as did the City of Rockport and Town of Fulton.

I don’t cover the school district, but a “change” taking place was evident.

It was clear to the casual observer a number of board members wanted Superintendent Joseph Patek out of the way, possibly motivated by his disciplining a teacher who was a friend of a number of teachers, as well as members of the board.

One member of the board used to work for the ACISD, but no longer does. It is quite apparent he doesn’t like Patek. You will have to ask him why.

Recently, the board finally “caught” Patek in a minor mistake, which led to his (let’s call it what it is) termination, even though he is technically on staff through this school year.

Earlier this year long-time school board member and president Jack Wright quit. Patek’s secretary sought the job as the Town of Fulton’s city secretary and left the ACISD.

Do you see a trend here?

It’s all in line with something else one of the people said during that Biloxi lunch. This isn’t an exact quote, but it’s pretty close. She said, “After a couple of years many of the officials in your government entities that got you through the short-term recovery will be tired and not seek re-election, or they will have targets on their backs, with the proverbial guns being aimed by a small group of disgruntled residents.”

Wright … out.

Patek … out.

Secretary … out

The first major election after Harvey we saw Wendy Laubach elected to the Pct. 4-4A commissioner’s post on a platform of transparency. County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills and Precinct 1-1A Commissioner Jack Chaney fought off challengers in that election.

Jeff Hutt lost his bid to replace Jeri Cox as tax assessor-collector, and District Clerk Pam Heard easily outdistanced her opponent.

Many of those who either lost in those elections, or backed those who were defeated, were intimately involved in forcing the bond election for the new court house, and a last minute attempt to force the City of Rockport to do the same. The city council has since approved issuing tax notes to fund the new city hall and provide the money it needs to build the new Key Allegro Bridge.

The Town of Fulton has its new convention center and work on the new Fulton Pier is underway. While I’m at it this week, I have to wonder, “Why wasn’t former Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick honored publically in some way by his own council?”

There is no doubt in my mind the Town of Fulton wouldn’t be where it is today post-Harvey without the dogged determination of Kendrick. Sure, he is a different personality, but he got the job done for his town, alongside an able, but small, town staff. Aransas County and the City of Rockport honored him, but Fulton did not.

The school district has an awesome new gym and the one who will most likely be the next superintendent is sitting in that seat on an interim basis. The remodeling of the historic Rockport School, which will serve as the ACISD’s administration building, is underway. Campuses damaged by the storm have been repaired. The old Little Bay Primary campus (Business Hwy. 35) has been sold, and half of it should soon be turned into a new TEAM Center, owned by Aransas County, but operated by Del Mar College if the grant sought is approved.

The sale of that building also chapped the hides of some board members, even though the ACISD no longer needed it.

Now, lets address the new courthouse and new city hall.

As you are well aware, I’m for building the new courthouse and city hall in what is, and has for a long time, been referred to as the Downtown Anchor Project.

Anyone who reads this newspaper shouldn’t be “shocked” such plans were being made.

I do remember the day county commissioners voted their intent to float bonds to pay for the larger courthouse. They were excited to have just learned this could be accomplished with a lower I&S (debt) tax rate, after scaling down the original plans (i.e. – too small when they moved in). They learned they could build the courthouse as originally planned.

Was it too fast? Apparently so, but I understood their actions after all the work so many people had put in since Harvey.

It is truly a unique time in our lives due to historically low interest rates, current debt loads, etc.

Shortly after that meeting a group of people, primarily made up of those who lost in the previous election and their supporters, as well as some of those who wanted Patek gone, went to work to garner signatures on a petition to force an election.

Again, if you read this paper regularly, you know that story.

Shortly after that, the group went after the city and forced the council to change its course.

I’m particularly miffed about that action because it made no sense, compared to the reasons for gathering signatures to force the county’s hand. With the county bonds, folks thought it was too much too quick.

The move against the city, at the last minute, was a political move in an attempt to smear Mayor Pat Rios’ name months before the election. His opponent was involved, but he let Andrew Kane and others, including those who are not residents of Rockport, carry the water.

The long-term repercussions could be huge if voters don’t approve the bonds for the courthouse in November.

The group behind the petition drives can proudly pound their chests, but the ultimate negative result of their action will only be realized in the years to come if the Downtown Anchor Project falls through.

It could end up costing taxpayers much more, while receiving less.

Think construction costs and interest rates. If you own a home, think of what a fraction of a percent change, up or down, means to your monthly payment, and especially total cost.

The timing of the move against the city was crazy. Sure the organizers had the right to do it, but just because one has the right, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

A lot of figures have been thrown out regarding “the true cost for each taxpayer over the life of the bonds,” but the only real number that counts is how does it affect one’s individual tax bill?

I’m going to close with an assignment for every taxpayer in Aransas County.

Take your 2020 property valuation and your 2019 property valuation and divide each by 100. Then multiply last year’s valuation (divided by 100) by last year’s tax rate and this year’s valuation (divided by 100) by this year’s tax rate. The difference between the two is what it costs you for a great investment called the Downtown Anchor Project. It will pay huge dividends down the line due to spin-off development in downtown Rockport that will increase the tax base, and start taking some of the tax burden off residential properties.

We’ve all gone through a lot since Hurricane Harvey, and COVID-19 hasn’t done us any favors.

It’s time to work together again as we did after Harvey, and quit tearing each other apart and being suspicious at every turn.

We must put on a different pair of glasses and make decisions today that result in long-term gain for the entire county.

In closing this week, I share that in my 60 years of life never has there been a situation (good or bad) in which I didn’t learn something.

We will learn something about ourselves, and our community, in the weeks and months to come.

Until next week, have a good week, and pray we make the right decision.

Mike Probst can be reached at publisher@rockportpilot.com.

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