Ewell Lawson of the Missouri Public Utility Alliance represents Mayor Willie Walker, left, with the Robert E. Williams System Achievement Award Monday while members of the Houston City Council look on. The recognition was sparked by the city's launch of a high-speed internet system. Credit: BRAD GENTRY | HOUSTON HERALD

A multi-state organization of municipal utilities honored the City of Houston Monday with an award that recognizes a member utility that provides exceptional quality of improvements in service to its customers.

The city received the Robert E. Williams System Achievement Award for 2021 from Ewell Lawson, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance. The recognition was sparked by the city’s launch of a fiber-to-the-home internet system.

The city is nearing completion of a system to provide high-speed fiber broadband connections to homes and businesses. Lawson praised the system, saying it will help attract new businesses to the area, and residents will have access to an efficient and reliable advanced technology with speeds up to 1 gigabit-per-second at affordable prices.

“Houston’s groundbreaking work deserves the recognition of other municipal utilities,” said John Twitty, president of CEO of Missouri Public Utility Alliance. “MPUA congratulates Houston for utility system improvement that will have a profound effect on the lives of its citizens, businesses and industry.”

Lawson said only a handful of the state’s communities have taken the leap into fiber internet service.

Houston is part of a consortium of 13 communities that works with Missouri Public Utility Alliance to provide wholesale electricity to it.

The organization said Houston’s broadband technology investment — just under $2 million — will provide improvement opportunities for economic development, education and healthcare.

Lawson said Houston’s electrical system — which it owns — has provided valuable service to residents and generated profits that have been recirculated through the community for generations. He said historically hometown-owned systems have provided affordable energy and service to their communities and fast response time when outages occur.

In other matters, members:

•Heard from Texas County Memorial Hospital CEO Chris Strickland concerning new federal mandates for COVID-19 vaccination of healthcare workers and how it might affect the operation of the institution. Strickland said he is deeply worried about how it could affect various hospital services. The institution is meeting with city councils in the county and the county commission, and seeking assistance in contacting elected U.S. representatives for the region.

•Held the first reading of the city’s annual budget for 2022. Final approval will come Dec. 6. The council’s consideration comes after a series of work sessions to develop it.

•Approved a bid for two air packs for use by the Houston Fire Department. The cost is $13,893 and was included in this year’s budget as part of a multi-year plan to regularly replace them.

•Okayed the police department’s participation in a program that allows the agency to retrieve data from cellular telephones that are part of active investigations. The department received a grant that will pay the expenses over a three-year period and training for two officers. Currently, the police department relies on either the West Plains Police Department or Phelps County Sheriff’s Department to provide the service and wait times sometimes occur, explained Lt. Matt Woodmansee. The outlay — paid for the grant — is about $11,100, and will speed investigations of cases.

•Heard City Administrator Scott Avery highlight the status of the budget year through October. He said revenues were up year-to-date in nearly all categories and expenditures — for the most part — were in line with what was expected.

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