The Houston City Council signaled its support for a renewed emphasis for economic development in the community during a meeting Monday night.

The discussion came as the city ponders what path to take toward expansion of the local economy and creation of jobs. The city does not currently hire a full-time economic developer. City Administrator Mark Campbell, who began duties last fall, said he had stepped up his office’s involvement following a meeting last week that involved five members of the council, himself, members of the local Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and representatives from Downtown Houston Inc. and the Houston School District. That meeting, said those who attended, was a positive development in addressing housing, jobs and business needs in the community.

The industrial group also met last week and Campbell said he had reached out to a regional planning group, the South Central Council of Governments at Pomona, to receive assistance in locating funding sources for business expansions, industrial speculative buildings and housing development. The IDA plans to meet with executives of the Durham Co. to increase lines of communication to learn more about the manufacturer’s needs and how it can assist it. Durham operates three locations in Houston. The IDA has ground prepared for an industrial building at a new park site east of the chamber fairgrounds on North U.S. 63.

Campbell also reported he was examining the possibility of amending the IDA’s bylaws to allow it to focus on a critical need for housing.

The group of civic leaders agreed to meet again March 2 to continue its discussions.

In other matters, members:

•Heard a report from Fire Chief Robbie Smith covering the department’s activities in 2022. The council’s fire and police committee is expected to meet to discuss the department’s goal of establishing a training facility at the Houston Industrial Park off West Highway 17. Funds would come from the department’s share of a one-cent sales tax passed earlier by voters. Included in the city’s 2023 budget is $25,000 for preliminary excavation work.

•Heard Bryce Williamson, a Houston-area resident for about 40 years, speak during the public comments portion of the meeting and asked for city leaders to come together to work for the benefit of the town’s residents. She said the city’s reputation had been damaged over a period of time and no longer reflects what a city website calls the “the shining star of the Ozarks.”

•Heard organizer Megan Ashworth highlight a planned fall festival set for downtown Houston from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23. She spearheaded a Christmas one that drew 90 vendors and 1,500 people last year at the chamber fairgrounds on North U.S. 63. Ashworth told the council that about 30 vendors have already expressed an interest and plans were developing for kids’ activities, musical entertainment and perhaps a car show. Downtown merchants were contacted earlier about closing Grand Avenue that day. The council agreed to the closure.

•Authorized City Administrator Mark Campbell to seek up to a $40,000 grant for recycling from the region’s solid waste district.

•Approved expenditures related to the city’s construction of a high speed fiber-to-the home internet system that offers speeds up of up to one gig. The remaining work is primarily south of West Highway 17. Bids totaling $107,341 were accepted for aerial installation of fiber, splicing work and splicing of wiring that will be relocated near Amber Drive and Oak Hill Drive. Randon Brown, technology director, outlined the project, and received praise from the council on his work on the effort. There are 134 customers hooked up, 12 currently waiting for home installation in servicable areas and another 59 waiting for system construction completion in their residential/business area. In all, 218 signups have been received — about one-third of the city’s earlier projections when all construction is completed. 

•Took no action on Mayor Willy Walker’s veto concerning a move by him to impeach Alderman Don Romines, the council’s mayor pro-tem. The council at its Jan. 17 meeting (no – Sam Kelley and Michael Weakly) approved tabling efforts by the mayor until March to remove Romines. Walker, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, had prepared paperwork to veto the earlier move to delay removal and it was presented to the board by Romines, who presided over the council meeting. Attorney Brad Eidson said the mayor cannot veto a motion.

•Heard Campbell report on a committee meeting concerning the Emmett Kelly Clown Festival set for late April.

•Authorized hiring a Jefferson City legal firm to advise the city on contract talks with the city’s electrical department, which has voted to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The law firm currently represents the council in a lawsuit concerning health insurance benefits obtained by the town’s mayor. (four yes, Kevin Stilley abstains and Weakly absent).

•Will seek an update on the status of a greens mower that was ordered last year for the Houston Municipal Golf Course off Highway B.

•Heard Campbell report that he had hired Robbie Mortensen, a parks employee, to lead the department after the departure of the director.

•Heard Alderwoman Sheila Walker ask for a current roster of those receiving health insurance benefits and compliment city crews for their work on streets during recent inclement weather.

•Adjourned into a closed meeting. The council had earlier asked for a discussion concerning possible sites for a sports complex, a project of the city’s parks and recreation board. Those were expected to be discussed.

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