The State of the City: 2021

December 6, 2021

Morgan Robertson

Prior to our final organizational meeting of the semester, the LEAP Ambassadors stopped by the annual State of the City at the Walker County Storm Shelter

We walked in to see the whole facility lively with the conversation of citizens interacting with one another and City staff.

The Huntsville Public Library was one of our stops. I was able to introduce fellow Ambassadors to a few of the Library Staff: Rachel McPhail, the City Librarian; Brenda Collins, the Service Specialist; and Linda Huff, with Adult Literacy. HPL had a great visual aid made up of popcorn to demonstrate how much money patrons save and the return that the city receives.  

As we made our way around the room, we stopped at the IT booth, where they had an old rotary phone, a box Tv, and a security camera. Erin even learned how to dial on the rotary phone!, examining it as if it were a telegraph machine from the 19th century.

Seeing all the departments in Huntsville was a great learning opportunity, and it helped that we knew many of the staff. We even got to take pictures with Huntsville’s Main Street photo booth. 

As everyone took their seats Mayor Andy Brauninger began the opening remarks, expressing his love for the city and how much it means to him.

He also introduced School Board Trustee Ken Holland, who gave the invocation…

…and a local Boy Scout troop, who ably took care of colors.

Mayor Brauninger then introduced the City Manager, Aron Kulhavy. Aron Kulhavy gave a speech discussing the last two years and the City’s achievements.  

As Aron Kulhavy addressed the many updates Huntsville has, we were able to learn about the new developments such as a city-run animal shelter, an expansion of I-45, and an expansion of the MLK Center.  

After Aron Kulhavy’s closing remarks, we were able to talk with Aron Kulhavy about the City, and to thank him for his time.

It was an informative evening, and a great opportunity to see some familiar faces, such as Cody Humphrey and Brian Aldaco.

Scare on the Square

October 30, 2021, Yvette Mendoza

LEAP Leads and Pre-Law Society members had the opportunity to volunteer at a spooky and thrilling event, Scare on the Square, hosted by Huntsville Mainstreet! Families poured through the downtown streets of Huntsville to attend this event that consisted of a costume contest, food tents, KSAM’s music hits, and a variety of organizations with booths that gave away Halloween candy, food, and prizes!

Our LEAP Leads and PLS groups set up our booth with a spooky bowl full of eyeballs, and a fun LEAP cornhole and ring toss game. The children were dressed up and ready to explore Scare on the Square!

Our volunteers had multiple different costumes that made the event much more spirited, from animals, movie characters, a hippie, and even a banana! We all kept in the character of our costumes as we rotated positions in making sure our booth ran smoothly. While some of us were working the prize table and giving out candy, the others were assisting families in playing corn hole and ring toss.

Continuing the exciting festivities, we were able to walk through the lively, jam-packed crowds and view other organizations setups at Scare on the Square. It was great to see CHSS (thank you for letting us borrow your organization’s tent), Tammy Gann and the interns at the Huntsville Economic Development tent; Sarah Faulkner representing Main Street and councilmember Beebe’s skateboards!

Each booth had kids and volunteers filled with an immense amount of excitement and there were smiling faces everywhere you looked! As more volunteers began to come in to switch with the ones that have been at ours for the first half, we were able to see the fun and creative costumes they wore. Catalina was an adorable minion while Mario was a movie character from Top Gun. We all captured the moment and took various pictures in our attires.

Towards the end children were running ramped from the high consumption of sugary candy, and parents and volunteers were exhausted. Although everyone may have been tired, we all wouldn’t miss out on making all the children at Scare on the Square have the brightest of smiles. LEAP Leads and PLS volunteers learned how to work as a team and help our beloved city of Huntsville celebrate Halloween weekend!

LEAP LEADs Blog, Week 3

October 4, 2021

Yvette Mendoza

LEAP LEADs members enjoyed another eventful and informative evening at their third meeting of the fall semester. Discussion and presentations covered a variety of topics, from local government to professional strategic thinking (e.g., resumes, thank-you cards) and more. 

We kicked off the evening with a discussion on personal-professional growth, expanding on our previous discussions on having a growth mindset, by examining a self-improvement method of sorts: becoming a more “T-shaped” person, with respect to knowledge base, developing not only breadth of knowledge and awareness on some topics, but also deeper depth of knowledge on specific areas most interesting to us.

We then went over the importance of a resume and how to properly write one. This helped us prepare for future jobs.

As part of our continued community exploration, we enjoyed local fare from El Gordo Taqueria for dinner. Dishes ranged from the very simple Nachos with Chicken Fajita meat to the more traditional plates such as Mexican Enchiladas, Carne Asada, and Mole Chicken.  The portions were generous, and we all enjoyed getting to try out another “new” restaurant. (A special shout-out to the staff for the fast, friendly, and professional service – it can be tough to get 15 separate take-out dinners correct, but we had no problems!

After dinner, we dove into a different sector from our two previous meetings, broadening our ‘micro’ discussions on law enforcement into a more ‘macro’ conversation on local (‘city’) government. Our two special guests, Mayor Andy Brauninger and City Councilmember Joe Rodriquez, provided their insight on how Huntsville works, and how a city should work, from the governance perspective.

Prior to our guests’ arrival, we had spent some time reviewing basic facts about city government structure, using the City of San Antonio’s organizational chart to compare and contrast types of departments and offices with the City of Huntsville. (Is it a coincidence that the author of this blog is from San Antonio…? Maybe – maybe not!)  It was interesting to discover that, in spite of the size difference (San Antonio =1.4M+; Huntsville = 42000+), Texas cities are structured very similarly – we noted the cohesion of department types and office names. 

Mayor Brauninger shared how his career in business was a very different animal than local government, and how he overcame the steep learning curve between the speed of private business and the care needed in the governance of a city. 

Councilmember Joe Rodriquez’s telling of his journey resounded a little more closely with a few of our Hispanic members, who were intrigued by his long history of public service.

Thank you to both Mayor Brauninger and Councilmember Rodriquez, for not only sharing your stories and insight into local governance, but also both for demonstrating such care for community now, and for your military service to our country. More than a few of our group felt inspired, which showed when multiple hands were raised to volunteer to write thank-you cards, the topic on which we closed our evening.

Independence Day in Huntsville, Texas

The City of Huntsville knows how to put on a party–especially a birthday party. In this case, it was the nation’s 245th birthday. To celebrate, the City’s Parks and Leisure department offered residents numerous activities, including rock-wall climbing, mechanical bull riding, face-painting, balloon art, dunk-the-local celebrity, watermelon-eating contests, numerous vendors providing food and fourth-of-July fare, and more.

Parks Director Penny Joiner Welcomes Residents to the Independence Day Celebration

Residents had their pick of activities. One of the most popular was the bull-riding, which could be adapted for the participant’s age (and fear). Kids often took a ride on the bull, then headed straight for the line again, to go at it another time. Of course, some adults found the fun irresistible, too.

When kids weren’t on the bull, they headed to the rockwall, where the goal was to climb to the top and ring the bell. A few made it!

Not all the kids made it all the way up, but they had fun, with staff lending encouraging words.

The crowd size was steady, peaking around five-thirty, but was never so large as to be overwhelming or intrude on the fun.

If residents got tired or hungry, there were vendors on hand to stem the cravings.

And every forty-five minutes, there was a watermelon-eating contest to occupy the crowd, either by participating or enjoying the show.

The good news is no one got sick! The better news is that everyone had fun.

Of course, even with all the fun, sometimes the agony of defeat was difficult to handle.

Of course, there was always staff on hand watching over things…

…or providing instructions…

But a lot of the fun was just seeing people who were enjoying themselves.

If people needed a break, there was a coloring booth, which occupied many.

And if people were feeling feisty, they could attempt to “dunk the local celebrity,” which included folks such as KSAM’s Glenn Edwards, the City of Huntsville’s Deputy City Manager Rick Rudometkin, and the City’s Chief of the Fire Department, Greg Mathis. Greg was dunked the most, perhaps because he had the most fun with the participants.

It was a great day, spearheaded by Penny Joiner, Kristy Wheeler, and with help from many other City of Huntsville staff, including intern Jade Jones.