When circumstance makes pomp tough, Bellaire still delivers first-rate inauguration

By Charlotte Aguilar

With the Civic Center auditorium converted to the police department, Bellaire had to make do Monday night in the cramped Council Chambers (which also double as the municipal courts these days) to install the mayor and three councilmembers. Buoyed by family, the sharp police-fire honor guard and Boy Scouts from Troop 222, and the moving words of Crosspoint Church Senior Pastor Roger Patterson and Mayor Andrew Friedberg, things turned out quite nicely, thank you.

Children were out in full force — from new Councilmember Neil Verma’s preschoolers to Friedberg’s elementary-age son and daughter, to Gus Pappas’ grown daughters to Michael Fife’s trio of grandsons. Pappas was joined by his brother from Greece, and Friedberg paid tribute with a bouquet and a loving tribute to his wife, Jennifer, for her support of his “second fulltime job.”

Fourteen years of Bellaire leadership were represented, with the presence of former Mayors Cindy Siegel and Phil Nauert. Term-limited Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Roman Reed took the opportunity to say his goodbyes before Verma was sworn in to Position 1.

With new municipal facilities well under construction, it was noted that this would be the last such installation and reception in the current City Hall. That theme of “renewal,” in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Bellaire, was featured in Friedberg’s speech. After the ceremony and reception, it was down to business, as the newly constituted council held its first meeting.

See our full gallery of photos on our InstantNewsBellaire.com Facebook page, and read more in February’s Bellaire Essentials magazine.

Remarks by Mayor Andrew Friedberg:

Two years ago I stood before you, newly-installed as Mayor, and gave my Welcome Address on behalf of a new Council. I now have the privilege of doing so once again, but this time we’re not a very new Council at all. In sharp contrast to the turnover at the start of our last term, tonight we have just one new Council Member. As it’s now official, I offer my congratulations and welcome to Council Member Neil Verma. Given your prior service to the City you’re hardly a newcomer, but these past several months we’ve enjoyed getting to know you that much better and tonight we celebrate your arrival at the Council table. We all very much look forward to working with you. I also want to again recognize outgoing Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Roman Reed for his years of service to the City, and beyond that, Roman, for your friendship.

Even though, as I’ve just stated, we’re not such a new Council, tonight’s Installation still represents a new beginning for us. The start of a new Council term presents an opportunity to rededicate ourselves in our commitment to those we serve, and to redouble our efforts in doing our part to make Bellaire the best it can be. It’s an opportunity to build upon the work of the past term, and also to reflect on how we can do even better in the coming term. From tonight’s special ceremony, and all the pomp and circumstance accompanying it, we take new inspiration as we embark on the next two years as your City Council.

Of course, this year the notion of a new beginning bears special significance as it comes at a time of much broader renewal throughout our city. Two years ago we could not have predicted all that has happened since, just as we cannot do so tonight looking forward. Though it’s by no means the only thing we’ve got going on right now, Hurricane Harvey was and still is a defining moment for us. As a Council, and as a community.

No doubt also for our City Staff, who continue to devote their daily attention to the recovery and to supporting and assisting affected residents as they rebuild. We remain forever grateful to them for their selfless service during the storm and its immediate aftermath. These “Bellaire Brave” set aside their own needs to take care of ours, and as a community we’ve come together and shown our appreciation for all they do for us, not only in such extraordinary circumstances but regularly in their daily work. On this occasion we again thank them for their service and dedication to the City. We’re very blessed that they’ve chosen Bellaire as a great place to work, and we’re committed to helping keep it that way.

So with Harvey still on our minds as we start this new Council term, for many of us, we’re experiencing a new beginning in more ways than one. And that highlights both the importance of the work we do, and how fortunate we are on Council to have the opportunity to serve you, to make a difference in our community.

Since the storm, several people have made the comment to me, “Gee, I’m sure this isn’t what you thought you were signing up for!” Actually, it’s exactly what we signed up for. Not necessarily a hurricane, and certainly not one of this magnitude, but the point is we’re here to serve. Whatever may come our way, service to our fellow citizens is exactly what we signed up for. There are a lot of things we don’t control, like natural disasters, but we do control how we plan, prepare for, and respond to them. We do set the policy direction for the City, and we support the dedicated professionals who implement that policy in their day-to-day operations. We’re proud to do our part on City Council, and humbled by the trust and confidence you’ve placed in us.

While we can’t predict the future, we do look forward to the New Year and this new Council term with a sense of optimism, buoyed by the several important projects already underway, which are not only hastening our recovery after the storm, but ushering in an even brighter tomorrow for all of Bellaire, and for generations to come.

This very Installation ceremony was relocated this year because we are temporarily without a Civic Center, and in fact, tonight’s is the last such ceremony we’ll have in this building. The transformation of Bellaire Town Square into a special place even more conducive to community gatherings takes on both functional—and, I think, symbolic—importance as we rebuild our City.

Just a few blocks north of where we sit tonight, we see much progress in the ongoing transformation of our commercial sector, bringing to life the redevelopment we’ve been seeking through our Comprehensive Plan and zoning updates over the past decade. In the coming year we’ll witness the opening of several new businesses that have chosen Bellaire as a great place to invest, and will provide new opportunities and conveniences for our residents, right here in our own community.

Our public infrastructure, particularly drainage of course, remains a top priority. Locally, our current bond program is proceeding on schedule, with several projects set to begin construction early this year. We continue working with our regional partners on drainage, such as our cost-sharing arrangement with TxDOT for added storm water capacity at the 610/59 interchange. Most significantly, Project Brays has arrived, with the segment closest to us now under construction. The increased Bayou capacity is expected to take nearly all of Bellaire out of the 100-year floodplain by 2021. And that’s none too soon. Against that backdrop, our Flood Hazard Mitigation Task Force is now working through our local, regulatory and regional flood control policies, and is on track to present its recommendations to Council this spring.

So those are but a few of the exciting things we have to look forward to this year. They come at a time we know many of our families are having to make some tough decisions about their homes and their lives. Does it make sense to rebuild? Should we stay, or look elsewhere? Will Bellaire continue to be the thriving community we all know and love? Will it remain a wonderful place to raise our kids?

You bet it will. Obviously we’ve got our share of challenges right now, more than our share, and in this upcoming Council term we’re going to have to work through them and probably reprioritize some things for a while. But the bottom line is: We’re still Bellaire. All the things that made us special before still do, perhaps even more so. My Council colleagues and I are ready to get to work and do our part, and hope you’ll join us as we rebuild an even better Bellaire going forward.

Taking the oath of office are Councilmembers Gus Pappas and Neil Verma, Mayor Andrew Friedberg, and Councilmember Michael Fife. (Photo by Charlotte Aguilar)

The honor guard from the Bellaire police and fire department presents the colors.

The Pappas family poses at the momentous occasion. (Photo by Charlotte Aguilar)

Scouts from Troop 222 at Bellaire United Methodist Church led in the pledges to the flags.

Providing reflection on the challenges Bellaire has faced and an invocation with inspiration for the future was Crosspoint Church Senior Pastor Roger Patterson. (Photos by Charlotte Aguilar)

Friedberg’s speech (printed here) focused on the city’s efforts to move on from Hurricane Harvey.

Bellaire mayors, 2004-present, Cindy Siegel, Friedberg, Phil Nauert — all two-term leaders.

Family affair: From top left clockwise, the Friedbergs, Vermas, Pappases, Fifes. (Photos by Charlotte Aguilar)