SHSU Student Government Association recently organized Meet Your Local Officials, an o pen panel where students were given the opportunity to speak and engage with some of Huntsville, Texas’ current elected officials and department heads on March 3 from 6:00-8:30 p.m. in the Haney Auditorium.
The main goal of the meeting being introduction, each panelist went down the line introducing themselves, their work and explaining what their specific position does for the city of Huntsville as well as students attending SHSU.
Councilman Russell Humphrey spoke first. Humphrey originally came to Huntsville for the university but stayed for the people. He has now lived in the city for more than 40 years.
“The role of city councilperson, you’re a policy maker for the city,” Humphrey said. “You’re one vote but what council people do is we try to implement policies, we vote on budgets, we have workshops on things that are projects-to-be that come to the city. All in all, our number one thing is to have responsibility to the citizens; to provide the basic services while at the same time trying to keep the level of entertainment. It’s a balancing act.”
Councilwoman Daiquiri Beebe is a local realtor and business owner. Beebe recently graduated from SHSU after double majoring in political science and communication studies.
She has six kids, the oldest of which is set to attend SHSU as well in the fall of this year. She has been on the council since November 2019.
“I agree, one of our main jobs is to create policy but another thing is we do represent the citizens,” Beebe said. “One of my main goals is always to reach out to citizens or hear from the citizens, get their feedback, get their concerns so that we as councilmembers can represent their best interests and try to get those issues resolved. Another thing is to advocate for things that the citizens want in the city.”
Councilwoman Vicki McKenzie was brought to Huntsville by her daughter who graduated from SHSU in 2017. She relocated through her employer and has been here ever since.
McKenzie is in her first term on the council but her second year. She hopes to serve the full eight years she is allowed.
“Whenever I decided to run for council, I was very passionate about public safety and the beautification of Huntsville,” McKenzie said. “Public safety was probably my first priority and now as I’ve been in and realized that I’ve always been able to balance a budget for retail operations, watching a general fund and how your city dollars are spent has been really inspiring to me. We work hard to make sure your tax dollars are well spent. That’s why I joined is to make sure that [students] have a safe place to come.”
Mayor Andy Brauninger is entering his seventh year as Huntsville’s mayor. He retired to Huntsville in 1999 and was elected Mayor in 2015. His eight-year term will end in 2023.
“It’s interesting because a lot of people think the mayor’s got more of a role than he actually has,” Brauninger explained. “The mayor is one of nine. The mayor gets one vote. He has no more influence than anyone else on the city council. His main role on the council is to keep the city council meetings moving.”
Mayor Brauninger said his role on the council is 50 percent working with the council and working with the city staff on various issues, and 50 percent socially citing his attendance at events such as Eagle Scouts Award Ceremonies and SHSU’s March to The Grave as evidence of how often he is asked to speak.
Fire Chief Greg Mathis said he grew up in Huntsville and its fire department due to it being the only one he’s ever worked for full-time.
He has been in Huntsville for 32 years and referred to it as an amazing place for him to build his career.
He spoke briefly about additions to be made to Huntsville’s fire department. The building will feature a museum available for tours and is being built with the help of Huntsville’s City Engineer.
City Engineer Kathlie Jeng-Bulloch became head of Huntsville’s engineering department in December 2021.
At the meeting she presented a short PowerPoint that detailed her job responsibilities as a city department head like approving construction projects and deciding which gas, energy and internet companies can operate in the city such as Spectrum or AT&T.
When asked how their roles effected SHSU students, responses differed. To name a few, councilmembers have worked at creating internships at the city level and bringing more higher-paying jobs to Huntsville to address the student workforce, city infrastructure is regularly updated to make sure water can accommodate thousands of students, retail and shopping centers have been encouraged, and the council is currently considering implementing bike lanes, a request they have received mainly from students.
“Students at Sam Houston State University are every bit as vital to the make-up of Huntsville as anybody who was born and lived here for 150 years,” Humphrey stated. “Just because you’re a student, don’t think that you’re not entitled to your part of Huntsville and how it’s run and how it operates. It’s y’all that we represent.”
Councilmembers encourage students to get involved and attend city council meetings which occur at 6 p.m. every first and third Tuesday of the month at city hall. All city council meetings are open to the public.