People in local public positions share their hopes and expectations for the coming year.
SCOTT LINDSEY, TEXAS COUNTY SHERIFF
Looking back at my thoughts from a year ago, I certainly did not foresee most of the challenges we have all experienced in 2020.
I knew it would be tough year for politics with the presidential election, but I had no idea how the pandemic would affect our lives. Looking ahead to 2021, I feel like the sheriff’s office is on solid ground with a good team of people that want to do their part, to keep our county as safe as possible.
One very dangerous trend that has made its way to Texas County is the abuse of fentanyl. It is a very powerful and lethal drug when abused.
The attitude toward law enforcement in urban areas is of great concern. I feel like the citizens in Texas County appreciate that we are trying to enforce the law in a fair, professional manner and that our officers are their friends, neighbors and citizens that have a difficult job to do.
I hope in 2021 our country is on the path to overcoming the pandemic and returning to “normal.” One trend that I would like to see continue is more people shopping locally. I look forward to being able to travel and attend events without restrictions. This last year was the first in 34 years that I did not attend at least one St. Louis Cardinals game.
I cannot recall another New Year’s Eve that I have been alive for, where people were so glad see a year end, yet uncertain what the future holds. I hope we see a steady economy and that the leaders of our state make wise decisions even if the leadership on a national level does not meet the values we appreciate in Texas County.
I do expect that 2021 will continue to be difficult for a lot of people. The effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt for some time. The political climate in the nation is sharply divided, along not only party lines, but a clear difference in ideology.
I am thankful to live in Texas County, and not a large city. I expect that there will also be many positive things happen in 2021, especially locally. I continue to be impressed that no matter what the need is, our communities step up beyond expectations to support those that need it. Whether it was “Shop with a Hero” or local families that suffered accidents, fires or illnesses, people donated beyond goals to help.
In 2021 we can all choose not to focus on the bad news, but instead look for positive things to focus on. My faith, family and blessings I have received are more than enough to endure.
There will be wonderful moments ahead, and unfortunately tragic times as well, as we have been gifted with “free will” and not predetermined lives. In the next year let us all strive to not be defined by the good or bad times that affect us, but how we move forward and help those in need.
LAURA CROWLEY, TEXAS COUNTY FOOD PANTRY EXECUTIVE DIRETOR
Oh how I remember my excitement for the end of 2019. God does have a sense of humor!
To say my first year as director at the Texas County Food Pantry was a unique one is an understatement. 2020 took us right into a pandemic and like everyone else we were scrambling trying to figure things out. As an organization that serves the very basic need of feeding the hungry, just shutting the doors and trying to keep everyone safe is not an option. There were some hard decisions that had to be made, such as shutting our Thrift Store and laying off some employees.
During that same time, a community came together. Donations started coming in. Groups of volunteers showed up to set up an assembly line on days we needed them to help pre-bag food so our food clients did not go without.
Oh, wait! Did I forget to mention the insane hail storm that tore through our county in the spring? What’s a pandemic without the biggest hail you’ve ever seen? As we worked around the obstacle course of totes and buckets to catch the water in our warehouse where the hail damaged the roof and still managed to keep food going out the door, it just seemed at that point 2020 was steady on course.
Just as the rest of the country, I watched the news as much as I could bear. States were burning, human beings were hurting each other, police were targeted as the “bad people,” and a presidential election that could have been better calculated in an elementary classroom. As crazy as it seemed, life went on. Families welcomed new life as well as lost loved ones. We celebrated and mourned just like any other year and yet it WAS different.
We’ve come to the close of the year and we have adapted to only seeing half of a person’s face in public now. We’ve learned what’s always been socially acceptable can get you the side eye by not just a random stranger, but also a close family member from a virus most of us had never heard of before. That the phrase “racial equality” can mean something completely different to even the person you share your life with if you take time to have a conversation about it.
What I learned goes hand in hand with my expectations for 2021. I learned the sheer strength and love of a community when the world turned upside down. I saw for myself how Texas County took care of its people when so many couldn’t take care of themselves. So many that suffered from being out of work and so many that suffered from being overworked, and yet we made it through with the love and help of our neighbors and a lot of prayer.
My expectation for 2021 is that we show more of what we have in 2020 to our fellow people without having to feel like the world is falling apart to do so.
I say yet again, do small things with great love.
ROB HARRINGTON, CITY OF HOUSTON
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
2020 was sure a year many of us would like to forget, I included.
However, I also feel like a lot has happened that makes us better as a community. The fiber project started, and even though COVID slowed the project down, it is still going to be a reality. The new pool opened and gave hundreds of children a reason to smile once again. We saw incredible increases in the sales tax that was collected by the city, which meant more people were shopping local and supporting those small businesses that help support us. Finally, we saw a community come together time and again and raise money for those in need.
Last year, too many people allowed the national problems to dictate how they felt, acted and treated others. We saw this on the television in political debates, in the riots in American cities, and how our country’s leaders worked. Not here in small-town America; we continued our legacy of kind hearts, friendly faces and caring for those that live with us in God’s country. That is how it is supposed to be, and that is how this community acted.
I moved to Houston a little over two years ago, and right away, I knew that this community was a place that I wanted to live. The people were kind and courteous, and individuals across this community went out of their way to welcome my family and me. Well, this year, I was even more proud to call this place home when I saw the tremendous outpouring of love many of us gave to families in need. The Bible says, in Matthew, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me, and that is what this community did in 2020.
So yes, there will be chaos in Washington for months to come. We will continue to see cities across this country fight amongst themselves over race, economic equality and other problems causing a brother to fight brother. However, here in Houston and Texas County, we will continue to grow. We will continue to prosper, and we will continue to better ourselves and this community, because we are different. We care about one another. As a community, we understand that treating your brother and sister with respect means something and honestly is missing across this country.
I was asked to write this article as a big picture this year, so I leave you with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Challenges will come, but we will always prevail because we are Houston strong!
LORETTE SMITH, TEXAS COUNTY LIBRARY DIRECTOR
With so many unexpected changes last year due to COVID-19, our children’s programs took a hard hit.
But all library branches banded together and came up with brilliant ideas to make sure that the Summer Reading Program worked out very well. Since we were unable to do any indoor programming, one of the things that was implemented were “story walks” throughout the parks and walking trails. This was where oversized pages of books were laminated and set up along the trails, and the children could walk and read at their leisure and then fill out a questionnaire at the end and bring it into the libraries for confirmation. It turned out really well – so well that it is planned on being used again even if and when the pandemic is over.
With every library receiving all new up to date computers now, a look at some long term goals are being looked at. One of the major goals is to work on Houston getting a new library. This obviously won’t happen overnight and will take a lot of planning, however, it still is needed. The Houston Library, though beautiful, has its limitations on space. The shelves are getting so full of books that it is very hard to shift to fit them all in. As for storage, there is none. What storage we did have is now full of books that we list on Amazon for sale.
Once again, as with last year, I will state that we have a very wonderful, supportive team with all the branches working together. When called upon, they band together to make all the libraries thrive and work.
And throughout this pandemic, we all have become closer and more like a family. All branches were closed to the public for about three months, and that time was used doing deep cleaning (yes, each and every book was hand cleaned) and much bonding was made with each of us. So in a way, this pandemic was good for the library.
TIM CEPLINA, HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF
2020 is finally in the rear-view mirror!
It was definitely a year full of challenges. We saw changes to plans consistently through out the year. We had scheduled training for our officers that ended up getting cancelled due to COVID-19 as well as our contacts with the public being affected. Officers were able to complete courses either through online training or department directed in service training. Officers were provided with personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, sanitizer) and our dispatch tried to notify us if we had calls to a residence that was high risk for contamination.
We ended the year with 5 of our 8 officers diagnosed with COVID. Thankfully, all have recovered and returned to duty. We ended the year with 838 investigable cases. This is still a substantial amount of cases, especially given that our contacts were limited during the initial phases of COVID.
We also received major upgrades to our technology in the department with Microsoft Surfaces and mounts in the cars. This included technology to allow officers to spend more time in the field. Our new uniforms have been received well by the public and the officers as well. The carrier vests allow better weight distribution for our equipment that we carry everyday and alleviate health issues that we have dealt with in the past.
2020 proved to be a challenging year for law enforcement nationwide as well. We are happy to live in a community that supports us and understands our goal is to protect the public and ensure we have a safe environment to raise our families in. While the national media has tried to show officers in a poor light, I believe our community realizes that we strive to be professional and dedicated to them. Our citizens are the reason we are here.
With national turmoil over COVID, the recent elections and race issues, as well as the day-to-day problems we see, it has been a stressful year. Most of us know someone who has lost a loved one, a job or other things due to events of the year.
We also gained perspective into what should be important in our lives. As a baseball fan, I missed the games, but realized I can live without professional sports. Family ties and time with them became more important. Spending time outside and enjoying nature was encouraged.
Let’s make our community an example of working together in 2021.
SCOTT AVERY, HOUSTON CITY ADMINISTRATOR
The City of Houston had a very interesting year to say the least.
We started off 2020 with grand plans to update much of the city’s infrastructure and to continue to move the city forward into the future. The city approached the inspection of the sewer lines with hopes that there was not too much damage to them. After some time doing the inspection on the first roughly 35-percent of the sewer system it became clear that it was an issue that we would have to address for the foreseeable future. Out of the 172 sewer line segments, 65 need repair and we have completed 11 as of the first of the year. This is a project that we will be looking at for the next eight years.
The power pole inspection brought to light some positive things. Out of the 650 power poles we believed we had, the inspection revealed that the city actually had over 1,200 poles. And out of the 1,200 poles, only 18 needed to be replaced due to poor structural integrity. This helped us to understand the fiber-to-the-home project a little more, and we now have completed the main loop of the fiber and will be deploying the fiber to phase one of distribution in the next couple of weeks.
We are confident that we will have fiber to every home who wants fiber before the school year begins next year. Completing this project in 2021 will be exciting.
The city pool was rebuilt in 2020 and was actually open for business on Aug. 1. The $1.2 million project came in early and on budget. The pool is one of the best attractions we have right now in the community. The addition in 2021 of the bath house and pool concession/community room will only make this a gem for the community.
The two new outdoor basketball courts are also a welcome addition to our parks. The city became the owners of the beautiful Houston Municipal Golf Course and multiple tournaments and almost daily play has been occurring at the course. Continued updates at all of the parks facilities in 2021 will help to make Houston even more community focused.
2021 will bring the completion of the Automatic Metering Infrastructure (AMI), which will allow us to have instant readings for our water and electric meters. In addition, there will be an app that the residents can put on their phone or tablet and track the use of their utilities on a daily basis.
The sidewalk project at First Street and King Street will be completed, allowing for more pedestrian traffic to walk through the city.
There will be a new playground set coming to Westside Park and updates to the equipment in the other parks.
I am sure we will all be approaching 2021 more cautiously than we did 2020. The new reality of how things sometimes do not happen the way you plan.
As John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
As we approach this year more cautiously, I hope we all remember that we are making progress on the coronavirus, hail and windstorms are going to happen no matter what we do, we cannot complain about processes that we choose not to participate in, and finally, if you hear something through the rumor mill go and ask – I bet the real answer is a whole lot more interesting than the distorted information that has been adjusted to fit someone’s need.