April 16, 2020

My appeal to Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Lina Hidalgo

Dear Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Lina Hidalgo:

Let me be frank. If you step up and lead — call upon sector leaders to join you in navigating this unthinkable twin disaster — you will win the resources and support needed to have a more effective and orderly recovery. If you don’t do this, you will find yourself managing a rebellion.

People despise being treated like children. Especially in this region, given all we have been through together, we will not tolerate a passive role. If you don’t give sector leaders a forum to work together to save themselves and help one another, they will work around you. As they should.

Today there is a letter circulating calling for business to reopen in spite of your stay home orders. There is another letter circulating that questions the competency of current leaders to determine what should be opened or closed. Questioning your competency to dictate the future for one of the largest economies in the country.

These are not emails from the fringes — these are business people sick of trying to read tea leaves. They watch a screen, and absent a Leadership Council, they have only data points about cases and beds, unemployment and business failures, hunger and suicide. Without a forum for analyses or guidance about how to interpret what they’re witnessing.

Creating a regional recovery council is essential if we’re to reconcile the necessary safety measures with the social and economic necessities of life. If we’re to have a stepped out, responsible Restart Plan.

We cannot afford a bitter, finger-pointing tug of war between health officials and business interests. When I say “we,” I mean all the people of this region.

A multisector recovery leadership council is not a pollyanna perfect final answer. Recovery will be difficult in the extreme. But I call upon your humility when I say you cannot lead this with the existing structures. This disaster transcends the existing structures of all three (public, private, philanthropic/faith) sectors. Which is why we need the interests, experiences and resources of all three at the table to craft a way forward. To do what we can with what we have, where we are. Right now.

Creating this group does not diminish your power, it increases it. You will get nothing but chaos from D.C. and nothing but cowering from Austin. The only cover you will have, the only wisdom at your disposal, will come from other leaders in this region who care about people as much as you do. Please be aware though: hungry people cannot eat empathy. Caring is wholly insufficient.

Lives and livelihoods are at stake. And while actions to date may have flattened the curve of this disease, they have deepened the valley of social and economic despair. Isolation is a breeding ground for rage and despair. If we’re to avoid rebellion against restrictions, if we are to steer through economic and emotional depression, we must gather together to act in concert to recover what we can and recreate what we must.

You ordered us home to save lives. Now it’s time to bring us together to save livelihoods.

I do not know how to interpret your unwillingness to act upon this recommendation which has come to you from every experienced institution and person in this region. But you can be confident in this: if you don’t act, others will.

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