• U.S.

The City That Isn’t: A Texas town dissolves

3 minute read

The Gulf Coast of Texas was never a hotbed of anarchist agitation. But that was before voters in the tiny resort town of Crystal Beach (est. pop. 1,200) decided that rather than fight city hall, they ought to get rid of it. And so they did, voting 314 to 245 earlier this month to abolish the local government. Within hours after the city’s only polling place closed, revelers had torn down the green-and-white Crystal Beach highway signs along Texas Route 87 and taunted lame-duck local police officers, who could no longer enforce the town’s 45-m.p.h. speed limit. “Crystal Beach is history,” exulted Marina Operator Arnold Charpiot, 79, a leader of the antigovernment uprising. “We have thrown out the city.”

But within days the voters realized to their chagrin that they had also thrown out city garbage collection, voided 81 municipal ordinances and furloughed the twelve-member local police force. “This is crazy. We’re going to the Dark Ages,” lamented Police Chief Pat Lowry. Equally upset was Defrocked Mayor Bill Stirling, who suffered a double defeat on election day: he lost to Bill Kelsey, and the job of mayor was eliminated. “There’s no precedent for this,” complained Stirling. “It’s a jungle.”

Despite the civic caterwauling, Crystal Beach will still have a local government. It is now an unincorporated area administered by Galveston County, as are neighboring communities along the Bolivar Peninsula. The problem is that Galveston officials say they cannot afford to provide more than 25% of usual city services. Police protection has been reduced to Lowry and a lone sheriff’s deputy in a patrol car. That is not much law-and-order for a blue- collar resort town whose summer population swells to 20,000. As County Commissioner Eddie Barr put it, “I can see 12,000 drunks shooting bottle rockets at each other on July 4th. “

Up till now, the only fireworks have been provided by Crystal Beach residents, who have been squabbling over their local government since the city was incorporated in 1971. Texas Rangers were once called out to restore order at a tempestuous city-council meeting. Two campaigns to disincorporate Crystal Beach failed. But the rebellion gathered steam last year after the city imposed a $5 beach parking fee and two municipal officials were indicted for misconduct. Groused former Mayor Hank March: “We’ve been putting up with mismanagement and ineptitude for 16 years.” As Crystal Beach braces for the tumult of its annual Crab Festival this weekend, the battle continues. A petition has been filed demanding a recount of the vote, and Mayor-sort-of- elect Kelsey promises a lawsuit over 50 alleged election irregularities. Anarchy has not yet descended, but there are grounds for concern. One night last week a young motorcyclist roared down city streets. “You can’t do anything to me, man,” the motorcyclist taunted the local constable who told him to pull over. “You’ve lost your authority.” But the law dies hard in Texas: the truculent youth was promptly packed off to jail in Galveston.

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