For tension, it put the Super Bowl to shame.
It took 4 hours and 40 minutes, but after a couple of confused false-starts, a detailed H-E-B presentation, 51 personal testimonials, two bathroom breaks, five soul-baring speeches from City Council members, a last-minute desperation H-E-B pledge to build in just three years and two excruciatingly protracted votes, Wimberley said yes to the major new store Thursday night.
It was a day to be proud of the great passion and civic interest of Wimberley. The city turned out big to stand up for what it thought was best for Wimberley's future. CARD applauds everyone who came; it's a night we will all long remember.
"This is the largest crowd we've ever had anywhere," said a very relieved H-E-B team leader Ben Scott shortly after the final vote. Most of the large H-E-B team that met with CARD on Jan. 6 was in attendance, sitting at the front of the auditorium.
An estimated 500-600 people were in attendance. Citizens who arrived more than a few minutes late for the 6 p.m. City Council meeting, held at Wimberley Community Center to accommodate the expected crowd, had to park two blocks away in the town square; the Community Center and Brookshire Brothers parking lots were already full. Some people left because they could not get close enough to the doors to hear. More than 100 stood along the auditorium walls, while many more stood in the lobby.
photo by T. M. Raines
By the end, perhaps 300 tired and emotionally rung-out citizens were still on hand. The first vote, a move to deny the store's request, was 3-1 against denying, with Council Member Tom Talcott abstaining. Council Members Matt Meeks, John White and Mac McCullough voted no to the motion (meaning they were not denying H-E-B) while Steve Thurber voted yes, against the store.
After further discussion, a second vote, this one rephrased to allow, rather than deny, the store's proposal, finally settled the question when McCullough, Talcott, Meeks and White voted yes, leaving Thurber the lone hold-out.
(Note: The preceding two paragraphs were revised 1/19/14 to correct and clarify detail of the first vote.)
There were many passionate folks on both sides of the issue, but the pro-H-E-B faction clearly had more attendees, more preparation and more speakers. In all, 10 citizens spoke against H-E-B, 38 spoke for it and 3 spoke about related issues without taking a side. Almost everyone, for or against the store's proposal, spoke positively about H-E-B as a business. The major themes of speakers for the H-E-B proposal were supporting WISD (which was selling the property), the good neighbor policies of the store, lower prices and keeping Wimberley money local. Those opposed to the proposal hit primarily on the location and large size of the store as inappropriate, the hurried approval process and maintaining the small town charm of Wimberley.
Probably no one in the room could doubt the complete sincerity and inner-struggle Council Members had as they tried to reach the right decision right under the eyes of their fellow citizens.
It was a strong partisan audience, and there were a few moments of yelling and boos near the end, as tension mounted, but these were brief. Overall, it was an excellent example of democracy and citizenship at work, giving H-E-B more proof of what they had already learned during the process leading up to the meeting; they were being invited to a very special place.
CARD Steering Committee