STEPHEN HEMELT — Some hearings are quiet; some don’t need to be

Published 12:11 am Saturday, September 14, 2019

During a recent conversation with a local city official, I listened as the administrator complained about a lightly attended town hall-type event designed for residents to meet city staff and ask questions of concern.

My response was that the light attendance was actually a compliment, more likely indicating confidence in the way business was being handled.

It’s tough to get people to turn out to events that don’t directly benefit or concern them. When people are upset, they generally let you know. So, if you’re not hearing from them in a municipal context, that probably is a good thing.

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I thought about this exchange Monday evening during the Nederland City Council meeting, where council members officially approved the 2019-2020 budget.

During his addresses to Council, City Manager Christ Duque said there were budget public hearings Aug. 26 and 30 where city officials received no comments.

Mayor Don Albanese was in a commenting mood Monday afternoon when he asked Duque to compare Nederland’s tax rate with surrounding cities. Duque said the approved budget included the lowest tax rate in Mid- and South-Jefferson County.

“I want to thank my staff and the department heads,” Duque said. “Today kind of ends the budget process for us. I enjoy it; they don’t. I want to thank them for all their hard work to get us here and thank (Council members) for your support getting us through it.”

Albanese was also effusive, adding “I’m up here usually every day and I’ve seen them for several weeks sitting up here (working). I’m proud to have my first six months as the mayor of the city of Nederland include the lowest tax rate. It looks good on my résumé.”

Things might not be as quiet next month when meetings of the City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission include a public hearing about a proposed private poker club.

Nederland does not list that business designation as allowed or not allowed in its zoning ordinances, which means a special use permit would be needed for operation.

That has to be granted by the City Council, tentatively set to vote on the issue Oct. 28. At that time, Council members will also be equipped with recommendations —for or against — from the city manager and planning and zoning commission.

Before all of that happens, though, community members and the business in question have a chance to express their opinions during a public hearing Oct. 14.

Until then, the owner of the proposed business, Lane Helveston, wants those involved to keep an open mind.

“I want the community and everyone to truly understand this is more of a fraternity atmosphere,” Helveston told me earlier this week when describing the business. “People just come to have a good time, make friends and have a little bit of fun. We’re in Texas, playing Texas Hold’em. It’s a pretty developing and growing business model.

“We’ve been open for 15 months (in Beaumont) and have not had a single issue. I would love for anyone to come to Beaumont to check us out. Come take pictures, come see what we have going on and have a good time.”

Helveston, along with all those residents for or against his operation, will have their opportunity to speak in front of the City Council. Elected leaders will also have the chance to ask questions and let constituents know where they stand on the issue.

One thing I’m pretty sure of is this won’t be a meeting where no one comments.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Port Arthur News.