Student Body President Spencer Copeland spoke during Tuesday’s city council meeting in hopes of both building relationship between the two governing entities and gaining support for upcoming projects.
Accompanied by Student Government Association’s external affairs Chief Tyler Livezey and college of health sciences senator Kendall Figliola, Copeland and company missed their own weekly meeting to speak to councilmembers regarding their upcoming plans for improved university and city-wide biking infrastructure among other concerns.
“Right now, the way that we see it is that there is the university community, there are the students, there is the city and there are the members of the community of Huntsville and all these components need to work together,” Copeland said. “We are all in the same boat, and if we don’t paddle in the same direction, we’re not going to go anywhere.”
During the last city council meeting Jan. 20, councilmembers unanimously approved a crosswalk project on Bobby K. Marks Drive spearheaded by SGA. Some of the new projects Copeland introduced to councilmembers earlier this week included the possible implementation of bike lanes around campus and the city in hopes of easing the current campus-wide parking predicament.
“It would not be fair for us as students to come to you guys and say ‘hey, can you front the money for this? Can you do this and this for us?’” Copeland said. “Our needs at no time should be above those of the other members of this community. So we are going to take action on our own with the support of the city if we can gain it tonight or in the future.”
In addition to crosswalks and bike lanes to ensure pedestrian safety on campus and within city limits, Copeland also proposed the implementation of bike racks as well as a prototype rent-a-bike program on campus—similar to that at Texas A&M University.
According to Copeland, these ideas have gained support by students during surveys SGA conducted during tabling and SGA has begun researching different bike and pedestrian grants to aid in sponsorship of these projects.
Councilmember Tish Humphrey said that she had visited with Copeland previously about his ideas.
“I agree that it’s not something that can be done overnight,” Humphrey said. “I agree that it’s not something that you can snap your fingers at and be done. I am excited that you came and that you spoke publicly about it because there are people that do ride their bikes. I think it is something to look forward to. I think the city can show support that we are excited to see the students looking at doing something internally…I’m excited to see you moving forward with it.”
Mayor Mac Woodward echoed Humphrey’s support of SGA as well as Copeland’s assertion that every entity needs to work together to move forward.
“I think we’re certainly more than willing and inclined to work with you and to listen and to do whatever we can,” Woodward said. “This is a long-term problem. I guess your biking and pedestrian concerns are coming out of a need for parking and transportation which is primarily a university challenge. We have a number of people at play here and we probably all need to work together.”
In addition, Copeland also brainstormed with councilmembers as how to improve student participation in the community in hopes of eradicating common student misconceptions of feeling “marginalized” by the city.
“I agree that this idea is false, that there is not an ‘us versus them’ mentality that is enforced by the city,” Copeland said. “I don’t believe that the city is taking active actions against the students. There’s just a common misconception that students have that we need to start working on.”
In response, councilmember Andy Brauninger articulated his appreciation for SHSU, stating that he sees it as an advantage for the community.
“I personally believe that we have such a great asset with Sam Houston State University and perhaps the city should look to that asset more often,” Brauninger said. “I personally will always look for areas, while I’m a councilmember here that we can cooperate with the university on projects. I think it’s a tremendous source of minds, qualified people and ideas that we should probably avail ourselves of more.”
Brauninger offered advice to Copeland, as did other councilmembers, as to how best get students more involved with the community by suggesting hosting student forums on campus.
Councilmember Lydia Montgomery suggested SGA keep a local directory of non-profit organizations students could potentially immerse themselves in, while praising the annual SGA-hosted Bearkat All Paws In community service event.
Councilmember Joe Rodriguez suggested students get involved with the various city committees and boards such as the Youth Advisory Board.
Councilmember Keith Olson was the final representative to give his nod of approval to Copeland noting that students are a “large driving factor” in Huntsville and that the council would be “foolish to discount something of such great magnitude.”
After receiving such a positive response from the majority of the council, Copeland spoke on behalf of the student body stating that by both entities working together, both the city and SHSU will grow in progress and success.
“We believe that as students, we need to be reaching out to the city, becoming proper members of the community and not just demanding stuff from the community,” Copeland said. “We are an equal part [of the community] and we need to change the way we are viewed as students but also, we’d like to see that the city takes efforts to welcome us into the community. This is a two-way street.”
In addition to speaking with SGA representatives, city council also unanimously voted to approve the minutes of the city council meeting held on Jan. 20 and to consider the award of bid for BOT-TDCJ Sewer Extension Project Construction. Also on the consent agenda was the consideration to authorize the city manager to apply to the National Endowment for the Arts’ invitation to apply for grant funding of $10,000, with a $10,000 match which passed with a vote of 8-1.
The council unanimously approved all five items listed on the statutory agenda which included the consideration to adopt Ordinance 2015-12, to award a bid for Old Colon Road, to authorize the City Manager to enter into an agreement with Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong, to extend a sanitary sewer line on Daisy Lane as well as to extend a water line located on Ryan’s Ferry Road.
The next Huntsville City Council meeting will be held Feb. 17.