Maury Meyers’s death in Beaumont this week reminded me of how one politician — in this case a mayor — can seek change in a region’s political culture.
Meyers did that during his two tours of duty as mayor of a significant city along the Texas Gulf Coast. He sought to instill a more business-friendly climate in a city that had been perceived as “anti-business” because of its strong union influence in local politics.
I am not anti-union by any stretch of the imagination, but the city did languish at times because of the belief that its population was inherently unfriendly to Big Bidness.
Meyers, who grew up in New York, came to Beaumont and entered the public arena with a fresh outlook that shook up the status quo.
Many communities occasionally become stuck in the old way.
Amarillo is an example.
For too-long a time, the city’s governing body took a hands-off approach to economic development — or even certain elements of public safety. In recent years, that notion changed with a city council (which used to be called a “city commission”) that decided to make a public commitment to downtown redevelopment and also to try cracking down on lawbreakers who ignore red lights’ command to stop at intersections.
The downtown redevelopment initiative — including a tax increment reinvestment zone and its commitment to working with a developer that’s supposed to spearhead the work — remains a work in progress. The red-light camera surveillance program is more established, even though critics still complain about its effectiveness. Government, it turns out, does have a role to play in developing a community.
Maury Meyers wasn’t the archetypical political trailblazer. I’ve watched others shake up the norm in uncomfortable ways. My hometown of Portland, Ore., had a mayor, Neil Goldschmidt, in the early 1970s who put the brakes on new highway construction and committed the city to redeveloping a first-class mass transit system that would enhance downtown’s growth. He succeeded wildly.
The larger point here is that individuals, or small groups of elected officials, can make a difference.
Cities need more forward-thinkers like Maury Meyers.