Tuesday, December 16, 2008

City of Houston Mayor White and The Woodlands Government

As many know, the mayor of Houston played a key role to open the door for self determination of government in The Woodlands. His open-mindedness allowed us to be creative in our solution to governing ourselves. The timing could not have been better, since a seasoned mayor was in the position at the time of the government study and election. As a result, we have avoided being a part of that city and have control over our destiny with a government of our own.

Today, Mayor Bill White announced his candidacy for the Senate of the United States1. Although his campaign is just starting, he shows a very good plate of credentials as a candidate for the Senate. I'm reasonably sure he will get support here.

We recognized from the beginning that the timing of the election was critical in moving forward with the township proposal when we did. It was important to have the support of Houston's mayor. Houston had the right to annex us; very little was required on their part to move an annex plan forward and close it in 2013. The city would get 1% sales tax from Town Center businesses and 2% sales tax from the rest of The Woodlands if it annexed us. Who would know then (when we voted on the proposals) how long the mayor would hold his influential position? Now we see him possibly moving on, vacating the position to someone else.

Visionary is the word. That has been and continues to be the word in major milestones throughout the history of The Woodlands. I still believe in our government and seek its success. Let's see what progress is being made and review where we stand in January. The year 2009 will be a very critical one of transition as the associations wither away and the Township takes hold of all their functions and responsibilities. This will be the year when the taxation process must replace association dues process. In the year 2010, we will be paying Montgomery County our ad valorem taxes for the Township AND our property taxes. Therefore, the timing of assessments will be different, coincident with the county assessments. The budgeting process will be different, because you must know how much is needed in the coffers before you can set the tax rate. As we approach 2010, we must be aware of and involved in the transition and its issues.

So good luck mayor! Your contribution to the formation of The Woodlands Township showed thoughtful leadership and innovation. You showed your ability to perceive a win/win situation, be decisive, aggregate political support and bring your decision into action, in time for it to be effective.

1Bill White For Texas Campaign Site

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Woodlands Townhall Meeting - Nov 18, 2008

This quarterly meeting is well worth the time to attend. It is one component of the recent changes to provide more opportunities for the public to be informed and engaged in local government activities. Although there was the usual politicking and emotional comment, at the heart of the event was a true town hall meeting agenda. A presentation was made by the new president Don Norrell, formerly of the Woodlands Association, and a discussion by Joel Deretchin (The Woodlands Association President and Jeff Long (Woodlands Community Association President). Residents were given the opportunity to ask questions and there were many. The questions were fielded by the panel of Jeff Long, Joel Derechin, Don Norrell, Nelda Blair; legal issues were fielded by Mike Page. Residents are showing concerns for the future of the community and their pocket books. It was apparent that some folks share common ideals and others are waving political banners. More than anything, I believe residents just want to hear the story direct from those involved in the daily affairs and leadership of the community. All the newspapers in the world don't substitute for face-to-face communication.

Of the more interesting topics from my viewpoint were discussions on cash reserves, taxes, financial management and community services.

We can expect tax rates to be a little higher than we anticipated back in the elections. Instead of the $0.30-0.33 per $100 valuation, we can expect more like a $0.34-0.35 rate. With the rising assessments of homes in a tough economic era, this is of course a concern to the community. So a home with a valuation of $400,000 computes to as much as 400*$.05 = $200, or as little as $.01*400 = $40 more than anticipated. This is only a ballpark number right now since there has not been a thorough study of the issue yet. That won't come until next year.

Cash reserves sit at about $10 million. It is unclear how much is needed for capital and operating contingencies, so part of the tax rate will have this issue integrated until enough cash reserves are in the bank. The decision of WCA to give residents a tax break in 2008 and 2009 has affected this reserve. Combined with operating savings opportunities and with the economy and its associated risks to the community, we are making rough estimates now which cannot be very exact until the budget is put together for 2010 next year. That first year finalized budget by the way, must be sent to the county by September 1st next year so that Montgomery county can plan their 2010 tax collections and send out notices to property owners. Although the community leaders are optimistic about our economy in The Woodlands, should the economy turn sour, there is no contingency plan and if we need higher taxes to get the same services as now, "we have not considered cutting services!" (Nelda Blair).

The TWA (The Woodlands Association) debt has been decreased by $3mm through some book keeping methods. The $8mm debt will be amortized over 8-10 years to spread out the cost to residents. One cent ad valorem tax produces about $1mm annually. Bond financing to pay the 1/16th cent sales taxes to Conroe and Houston brought out some interesting discussion. Residents want to invest in their community but a privately held bond prevents that. This bond is short lived however and designed to provide the opportunity to obtain a better rate for a long term bond later, when the bond demand is lower. Right now, the rates are too high because of demand. In the Spring, we anticipate lower rates and then the conversion of the bonds should be more timely. Residents at that time should consider investing. Our bond rating is very high, A+.

The plan to proceed towards a future permanent governance model is stated to begin in 2012. That would give the community two years to study, propose, educate and vote when the earliest opportunity to vote for the future model comes on May 29, 2014. However, that tosses out a full year of opportunity to get it right. My take on this is to give this very important matter time to develop properly. Start in 2011 instead of 2012. The community wants to understand the issues to their fullest and make the right decision and not be pushed into it by the leaders her who may (in the residents' eyes) have other agendas. Of course at this time, who knows if we will want to change? Many are adamant on the outcome but cannot back their views with true substance, both financially and physically. Aligning community values to government alternatives must be the educated method to achieve what is right for the community. We have to take out the emotional factor.

In 2010, the community associations will be dissolved. The village associations will not. Interactions and representation with the Township are still ill defined. It is relatively certain that each village will continue to have a liaison representative with the service company to work on issues of the village. What is unclear is on how the village associations will formally operate relative to the Township. The presidents of the village associations have decided to have quarterly meetings but they do not want to be legally accountable for what transpires in those meetings. So the meetings are invitational and not open to the public, not subject to the Open Meeting law. If the presidents or president designates play a formal role in the government starting in 2010, they will likely be required to conform to the open meeting act. This communication/service model needs to be fully developed. Although the Town Center is not officially designated as a village, it will in the future also have a place in this process

Of additional interest to us all was a comment by the water authority on our future requirements for surface water. By 2016, we will begin a program to convert to surface water. This will cost residents of Montgomery County $500,000,000. The Woodlands will have to foot 1/3 of that cost. One way or another, that will have an impact on taxes, whether we are a special tax district or a municipality. We are depleting the underground water rapidly and are now under a mandate to reduce that depletion by 30%.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Woodlands Association Dues and Budget for 2009 - a few things every resident should know

At times, we see the advantages of paying for projects and services through taxation rather than through association dues, especially from the governmental position. In that we are in transition from one method to the other, we need to pay attention to the observed advantages of one over the other. We all should be equally concerned about the possible issues that could come from taxation and from taxed being assessed association dues. As a reminder, since we are speaking about WCA in this article, the WCA is the association for Grogan's Mill, Panther Creek and the eastern of Indian Springs. Its residents were promised two years of low association dues because of the excess money in the WCA bank accounts at the beginning of the transition to a township entity. When WCA dissolves in 2010, the residents do not want to transfer the cash over to the new Township. That would be applying past collected dues to the future benefit of all Woodlands home owners. Since the method to be used now is considered logically to be a tax, it would not be right to use the funds for the Township when residents were over assessed in prior years to build bank account padding for a future "rainy day". WCA had been using a higher rate than required to meet financial obligations. So this strategy to return the excess money to homeowners is reasonable to me. Instead of paying so much for association dues, this year we paid a low rate of 14%. Next year we would pay the same low 14% on assessments. However, accounting for the committed expenses by the WCA to be incurred in 2010 after the merger, WCA needed to raise that rate to 16.5% to give the Township about $1.1 million to meet those commitments that need to be paid after the dissolution of the WCA. That will balance the books for the Township during the transition, meeting WCA's obligations described in the transition agreement. WCA will exit its current domain leaving no burden on the remainder villages. I hope this makes sense without visibly doing the math. This 2.5% increase in dues will fulfill a requirement of the transition agreement

On Wednesday night, November 12th, 2008, The WCA board passed this increase but had two conflicting proposals amongst its members. All in all, the resultant accepted proposal was a compromise, because some board members wanted to just cut the accelerated capital projects from the 2009 budget and continue with the 14% assessment rate. The compromise comes as a check and balance measure. Each and every capital project will be reviewed individually in 2009 to make sure the economic climate supports executing the project(s). In other words, if there is a reduction in property value and our assessment base decreases, we may need to cut projects. The board has indicated that it will. Right now, we go forward with the intention of executing the capital budget in its entirety. Remember this! Lowered value is a real possibility. Homes are being foreclosed here. People are beginning to leave their mortgages just like everywhere else. We may be slow to be recognizable victims of the crisis but not immune to these difficult economic times evidenced throughout our nation and world.

So what does 14 billion 320 million 302 thousand 913 dollars have to do with this? That is the 2009 total assessable value in the WCA. If this were a tax, I would probably and simply call it the tax base from property values. But for now, it is merely a means to fairly assess the association dues to pay for all the services and capital projects the association administers. Home value is a critical component of that.

Increases in assessable value as a result of market pressure will likely halt as the economic crisis takes hold here and home values stop increasing 10% per year. Actually, assessment revenue increased a whopping 12.6% for 2009. I for one cannot continue to pay taxes on assessments that are increasing at such an alarming rate. The tax rate must be reduced to compensate for rising assessment value. We should not have inflation of our operations at 12.5%.

In 2010, our dues will all change to a uniform tax rate for all residents in The Woodlands. Of course those taxes will also be computed from the county assessment values. We all remember the promised lower association dues in the form of a Township tax. 2010 should be the beginning of that new method and lowered rates. In the meantime, we in WCA get to enjoy the extremely low rate of 16.5% in 2009, but it will be higher in 2010 as we assume our responsibility as an equal taxpayer in the Township. That means we assume some debt from newer villages. There will no longer be separate entities for paying down debts. As home owners in the Township, we all will equally share in that responsibility starting in 2010.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Houston and Conroe's share of the booty, actioned upon by Project Planning and Development Committee

By agreement with Houston and Conroe, we share 1/16 of 1% of sales taxes collected here with these two cities collectively in order to be "free". This has seemed reasonable from day one. There should be no big issue with it. The reasonableness comes from the fact that we enjoy the amenities of Houston and Conroe, using the roads they maintain, and other services (parks, garbage pickup at public sites, etc) that they provide. A city always uses some of their sales taxes for capital improvements, but they are restricted in what projects are eligible.1. Houston's general sales tax is 1%. Ours is 2%. They also have a 1% transit sales tax, so their total tax is 2%, the state maximum - same as ours, 2%. So if Houston had annexed The Woodlands, we would be paying 1% sales tax from all stores to Houston for their improvement and use, which would include The Woodlands area, apportioned as they would have seen fit to whatever projects they see fit. We assume we would also be paying 1% transit tax also, but that was never determined. Conroe has a 2% general sales tax. So 1/16th of 1% does seem to be quite a reasonable cost for being free from annexation. We are The Woodlands and control our own destiny.

We have a committee in The Woodlands Township to administer our role in this part of the two municipal contracts. That is called the PROJECT PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE. That recommends which projects the Township supports to execute with the funds we provide. What seemed like a rubber stamp when the committee made its recommendation earlier this year, probably was just that, a rubber stamp to Houston's proposed projects.

This year, Houston listed projects directly from the eligible list as a starter to this process. We agreed to the list. We actually agreed as residents when we voted "yes" for the Township. We as a government agreed to them via this committee's recommendation. A few of the projects are a little obscure as to our benefit, but the scope of the expenditures does not have to include our specific interests. Benefactors are those who live in the region, not residents within The Woodlands, although we are of course direct benefactors from some projects such as the extension of Hardy Tollway. Houston does not in fact have to even seriously consider our thoughts on these regional projects. They do it as a courtesy but as a requirement of the contract. This makes me wonder why we even bother to review them and maybe we don't. Yet I cannot help but think if we came up with a reasonable project, the city would consider it amidst the others. If we are astute on this matter in the future, we would seek ideas to add to Houston's and Conroe's project lists that would influence the northern area's interests. Although at this time, we need not be very involved in choosing projects, the time will come when we should be participative.

For the time being, we can continue to agree to the cities' projects, being a rubber stamp, since the improvements will be made there, not here and we have actually agreed upon them anyway at the onset of a new government. All current eligible projects for the Houston/Township agreement were listed in an attachment to the agreement with Houston.

So the booty this year is $16 million to Houston and $320,000 to Conroe. This money has already been paid to those municipalities by financing a short-term bond at 5.25% that can be discontinued at any time, when we want to buy a long term bond at a better rate. The Township managed a good financial arrangement where it has excellent flexibility. Hopefully, our economic environment will become more stable within the year and money for long term bonds will be readily available again.

For your additional reference, I have included the pertinent text referencing these projects, extracted from the signed agreement with Houston. I thought about summarizing them since they are written in typical legal jargon, but decided not to "interpret" the text. Have fun of you want to go take a run through the text!

2Eligible Projects
Eligible Projects for purposes of this Agreement shall mean and include any program or project described in Section 43.0754(d) of the Act, and such other similar projects or programs as may now or hereafter be permitted by law and mutually agreed upon in writing by the Representatives. All of the Projects listed in Exhibit “B” attached hereto are Eligible Projects.
Section 3.2. Selected Projects. Except as otherwise provided in Section 2.10(b) above, and after giving consideration to the sufficiency of funds on hand in the Regional Participation Fund, and the likelihood that any alternative or additional sources of funding may be or may become available in the foreseeable future from gifts, grants or contributions or payments by others, the Representatives shall endeavor in good faith to periodically select one or more Eligible Projects (the “Selected Projects”) for funding and implementation pursuant to this Agreement, with priority given to the Projects listed on Exhibit “B”. If the Representatives are unable to agree upon the selection of Eligible Projects, then the selection proposed by the Representative of the City shall be deemed to have been adopted, subject to the right of any other Representative to invoke the dispute resolution procedures of this Agreement to determine whether such selection complies with Section 43.0754(d) of the Act. The Projects selected by the City Representative shall be conclusive unless the arbitrators determine that the City has abused its discretion by selecting a Project not included on Exhibit "B" or in Section 43.0754(d) of the Act.
Section 3.3. Project Reconsideration. If, for any reason, binding obligations in the amount of the lesser of $100,000 or 10% of the estimated Project Costs of a Selected Project (other than a Project listed on Exhibit “B”) have not been made or incurred within eighteen (18) months after the selection of the non-Exhibit “B” Selected Project, the Project Manager, upon request of a party, shall provide the Representatives with a report detailing the reasons for such delay and the anticipated constraints upon and time requirements for successful implementation of such Selected Project. Upon receipt and review of such report, the Project Representative for any party may request that such Selected Project be suspended and that the selection and continued implementation of such Selected Project be reconsidered. If implementation of such Selected Project in the foreseeable future is not reasonably expected, and if suspension and reconsideration of such Selected Project has been requested by any Representative, implementation shall be suspended by the Project Manager as soon as practicable pending such reconsideration. Within 30 days of suspension of implementation of a non-Exhibit "B" Selected Project, the Representatives shall apply the procedures set out in Section 3.1 and 3.2 to determine whether the Project will be reinstated as a Selected Project and with what priority.

Other References

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Conroe School District - 2008 Rezoning Controversies for Mitchell, Deretchin, Coulson Tough and Galatas

Here in Indian Springs, as well as adjoining villages, we face an issue with school zoning and feeder systems. After passing a bond issue last fall to increase capacity, there is a controversy on how to proceed with rezoning the elementary schools, a necessary consideration for capacity change. A group of interested residents in this and neighboring villages have put their energy into studying the proposal and petitioning the ABC (Attendance Boundary Committee) committee in CISD to not rezone the schools, as has been recently proposed. Today and tomorrow the ABC committee presents their conclusions to the parents of these schools. "If the ABC’s newest “Combined Scenario 1” is put in place, overcrowding problems are shifted to Mitchell in just two short years."

Changing zones affects many different things - busing, whether a child can ride a bike to school, friends, and graduation years (to higher level school). It even affects the rationale for moving into a neighborhood. As mentioned earlier in our blog supporting the election bonds in 2008, there are principles which govern the construction of buildings and the use of temporary facilities in the schools. Administrative governance using those principles is a best practice. Now the residents are questioning why there seems to be an effort to deviate away from those principles. They say they are under a time crunch to dissuade the ABC committee from recommending going forward with one option for rezoning Deretchin and Tough. Indeed there is a time critical consideration. A process is being followed that includes parents, and there are parents on the ABC committee from Deretchin and Coulson Tough. The process includes meetings with parents to communicate the results but does not appear to have a means for dissenting parents to affect the outcome.

"They want to move 300 students from Deretchin to Tough and move 400 Tough students out to Galatas and Mitchell. We believe that students should be moved out of Deretchin to Galatas and Mitchell." notes Jennifer Reitmeyer, a resident of Indian Springs and one of the leaders of this movement. She goes on to say, "With the passing of this referendum, Coulson Tough will add an additional 8 classrooms to the school. With the new addition, the capacity, according to the ABC, is 1185. Current enrollment at Tough is 1295. If you do the math, that means we will be at 109% capacity!". She notes the statement of Dr. Stockton, directed to me personally, 'I read in your article that you asked Dr. Stockton about contingency plans should there be a change in the actual growth. His response was, partly, “Actually, we do not consider a campus over capacity until it reaches 125% of the building capacity.”'

She along with several others have petitioned ABC to redirect their efforts to an alternate proposal which would better serve the district. "Many of the scenarios presented by the ABC at the original forums moved children out of Coulson Tough to then move children into Coulson Tough from Deretchin. That just did not make sense to many of the parents. The majority of the people we spoke to agreed that moving the least amount of families would be in the best interest of everyone involved. So our main objective was to present the committee with ideas that impacted the least amount of children while maximizing use of CISD facilities. Another concern of many parents was the bond referendum that was passed in May. Many feel that it was presented as the solution to overcrowding at Tough. Nothing was said about rezoning back in the spring before the referendum was passed. This whole issue of rezoning took a lot of people by surprise because they thought overcrowding was not going to be a problem at Tough once the eight classroom addition was built."

The data for the ‘United We Stand’ petition was collected by Deanna Clark and Jennifer Reitmeyer. The signatures were collected by scores of concerned parents and taxpayers. It was amazing to see so many families come together and work so hard! We had 676 people sign the ‘United We Stand’ petition. These words are really at the heart of the petition from which I quote: Our students and families would rather all stay at our school with a few “portables”, lovingly named “Tough Town”, which easily meets the goal of “providing for the education and welfare of all students…” rather than be forced into a new school and new school configuration after seven years. The newest and undeveloped areas within the Deretchin feeder zones make the most sense to convert, if necessary, to K-4/5-6, since fewer families will be affected by the reconfiguration and those that will be affected have only been there a short time, in most cases less than a year or two. Many of our families purchased our homes based on a having a CISD K-6 Flex school configuration, for the sake of our children. Many of our children and their siblings have attended Coulson Tough since its inception in 2002; strong roots develop into strong academic performance! We OPPOSE rezoning the Coulson Tough School feeder zones. The most recent response of this group is presented here just before the meeting with parents today. As the proposal has have shifted over the past couple of weeks, many of the parents not on the ABC committee are frustrated that they are not being heard and fear a poor decision is imminent.

Total number of students at Mitchell after rezoning:

School Year 5th Grade 6th Grade Total % Capacity
2009-2010 637 591 1228 102.3
2010-2011 667 637 1304 108.7
2011-2012 672 667 1309 111.6
It appears that very little attention has been paid to the effect the rezoning plans will have on Mitchell in just two short years! Mitchell Intermediate will be overcrowded as soon as this rezoning occurs, at 102.3% of building capacity. As well as looking at the current student census, you must also consider how the upcoming classes will overload the capacity of Mitchell to an even greater extent. Mitchell will be at 108.7% of capacity only 12 months after its newly rezoned students are moved in, and at a 111.6% just 24 months if this “massive student shuffle” is allowed to occur in the current Tough-Deretchin feeder zones. For CISD to ask those families to be rezoning yet again is not efficient nor is it fiscally responsible to the public.

Other Resources

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Woodlands Township Meetings venue

As one might guess, there is something to say about the current controversy on meeting places and times of The Woodlands Township. We as a community are in transition from an association paradigm to a government paradigm. In that, I recognize the desire of those who serve now, to do so in day time hours at a convenient location. In this interim transition, the Township board has decided to conduct business later in the day, at 9AM instead of 7:30AM, which is personally OK with me but not so for some others. Additionally, to compensate for not being available to some residents, the meetings will be video taped. Additional services are being provided such as quarterly public meetings to provide an additional venue for residents to discuss their issues and the board to connect to issues on the minds of residents. Budget meetings will be held at 9AM. Although not optimum, this may be fine for now but I believe it is far short of what is needed by the year 2010.

The idea that the operation of the government should be established equal to other towns of this size is not a very good one. The operation should be based on the needs of our community, not the needs of other communities. We are unique, and we can design an operation around that uniqueness. We do not need to be like other communities of this size. We need to be our own community based on our demographics and needs.

These changes passed at the last monthly Township meeting are all good but again, insufficient for the long term. What we need is to totally reset the venue. The current location is too small. My suggestion is to have one meeting per month now in the evening in a location where residents can participate, maybe even a local school would suffice. Proceedings must be open and transparent. Transparency is provided through the video taping of the proceedings, openness is not.

Why would this be so important here in this little community? The town has a large population of professional people who commute to downtown Houston and other locations outside of The Woodlands. Morning meetings are out of the question for many. The reason our town continues to grow and flourish, even in poor housing development times, is the oil industry. The oil industry is booming! Most people living here and working in the oil industry commute during hours before dawn. They typically arrive home in the rush hour with everyone else so that their family life is in sync with children sports and other activities. We have to consider that those things which affect our homes and family lives are attached to the governing body of our hometown. In in the past, that personal link from our leadership has been provided by the association in the evenings. In the future that link becomes the Township.

I am firmly for the new changes but call for a stronger availability of our government to the residents. The changes made in this month's meeting to improve meetings are but a step in the right direction. Our village associations will certainly need to play a stronger role in providing residents a better quality of life, but the government must be available to the residents as well, and we cannot afford to leave out the backbone of our community, those who commute to work. Decisions are not made quarterly. They are made in special and regular meetings monthly.

Township reference link: Newsflash

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Two Months after Elections - Woodlands Township, Texas

Now that the newly elected directors have had sufficient time to acclimate to their new community paradigm, we as residents have to ask - how is this government entity working out in the larger schema for May 2010, which is less than 2 years away? In 2010, the remainder of the seven resident directors will be elected. Until then, we will have eleven directors consisting of six Town Center Improvement District legacy directors and five at-large Township resident-elected directors. This is a government in transition with substantial issues on its plate. 

First, Frank Robinson has stepped down from his position as business manager for the Woodlands Township. This will affect our government operation. He had very significant influence. The many times I discussed issues with him, I always found he was on top of them with a clear vision of direction and outcome. He accepted the city manager job in Apple Valley California (pop 78000). His move is only the result of personal opportunity and the need for a change in his life. He will be missed here after some 14 years of contributions. This puts an additional burden on the Township board. Three vice-presidents of the Township have taken his role in the interim, while the board seeks a replacement. We the residents of The Woodlands wish him the best! 

Second, Bob Kinnear, a Woodlands resident and former director of the Township, has been appointed to the Township Director board to replace Mr. Tarrance, rather than placing the decision in the hands of the voters.  Kinnear's credentials in big business, stakeholder as a resident, and director experience became the dominating factors for replacing the vacated position. His appointment is intended to balance the board constituency during the transition period, while the association turns over its responsibilities to the township. Since he is not one of the directors of the association and has the transition knowledge needed to move forward,  Kinnear is believed to be the appropriate choice for the position. Bob Kinnear did not, however, seek the office through the election in May. This does not seem accidental. However, he is qualified to hold the job. Residents might have preferred to vote for a new director, but the wisdom of the board must prevail in this unique situation.  It was entirely within the legal right of the board to appoint whomever it believed to be an appropriate replacement for the resigning Tarrance and the work ahead. In my own opinion, the appointment process is unfortunate, yet we will nevertheless have an excellent person in the position to help during the transition period. Perhaps we would miss the training aspect of a resident who wants to participate on the board after 2010? This transition period is a training frame, an opportunity to position potential candidates for the future. The alternative person, who might have been appointed from the election slate, is heavily engaged in the transition and will remain an influential stakeholder in the process, so the knowledge base has not been eroded nor opportunities lost. I conclude now that the argument for using the ballot box to install a new director is primarily a political one and has little substance for gain except for voter confidence. I am of the opinion that the right person was appointed to this position, despite the controversy on how the decision came about. 

Third, a significant key to success will be how the board performs as a team. This has concerned me from day one in the transition phase of the Township. It is imperative that the board operates inclusively and as one unit. We must avoid polarization and cliques. This cannot be a board which seeks to exclude selected individuals by using internal politics as a means to further future political ambitions as some people have claimed. The selection of  individuals on committees does present an appearance of this phenomenon, but based on what I am told and have observed, there is a genuine attempt to have everyone engaged equally. Committee assignments are a bit overweight toward a couple of individuals as one observes the committee table. I cannot rationalize that fact. Hausman has the time to work on many things and contribute in many areas. Now that the committees have been selected, the challenge for the chair person Nelda Blair will be to ensure buy-in by all of the directors in the programs and decisions. She needs all of their support. Decisions must not be based on who made the proposals but the quality of the proposals themselves. That is all that really counts in the end - timely progress and decision quality. Diversity of thought will be essential to quality decisions; we will not get that diversity unless all of the directors are active and supportive in those decisions. Continual challenge by individuals because of political bickering will weaken and erode confidence and respect, so essential for good teamwork and progress. For that reason, our board must find ways to ensure that there is an inclusive means of participation, so that there is not any one director feeling that we have an inclusion issue. When the 2010 elections come around, I hope not to see this problem perpetuated. Two months into the transition, and we have this dissent. Personally, I am in favor of conducting team building exercises to strengthen the team for the remaining time in office and patching any dissent that may linger for the next two years. That investment could reap great reward. 

Our newly elected directors have spoken on several issues, which I will bring into focus at this time. For the moment, we will look into their comments, not seeking the related opinions of the legacy directors. We will defer focusing on that input until a more appropriate future date. As we will recall, two of the newly elected directors have returned to the board after being previously appointed - Peggy Hausman and Nelda Blair. The latter is the chairperson, playing a key role in the cooperative team. Every director is expected to be part of that team. Blair has experience and significant respect in the community as a leader. Hausman has a great deal of experience in various government entities and has earned significant respect in the community as a neighbor as well. Tom Campbell, Claude Hunter and Bruce Tough are new kids on the block but not in The Woodlands governance nor the association nor in services. They have a great deal of experience in the founding of the new Township as our governing body. Campbell is respected for his energetic and detailed contributions. Hunter has helped many a resident with community issues and has been working for us over the years in the association. Tough has worked for us in the association, services and various other activities including the governance project.

Here is the lineup on the committees:

Township Committees by Director
Director Type Committees
Nelda Blair elected 1. Public Facilities Admin
2. Governance & Nominations
3. Executive (chair)
4. Convention and Visitors Committee
Tom Campbell elected 1. Fire Dept board
2. Audit 
Bruce Tough elected 1. Museum Ad-hoc 
2. Project Planning & Development
3. Governance & Nominations 
4. Fire Dept Board (chair)
Peggy Hausman


1. Convention and Visitors Committee
Claude Hunter


1. Public Facilities Admin
2. Fire Dept board
Vicki Richmond


1. Audit 
2. Museum Ad-hoc (chair) 
3. Executive

Kemba DeGroot

appointed 1. Audit (chair) 
2. Public Facilities (chair)
Ed Robb appointed 1. Museum Ad-hoc
2. Project Planning & Development
3. Governance & Nominations
Alex Sutton appointed 1. Museum Ad-hoc
2. Project Planning & Development
3. Public Facilities Admin
4. Executive
5. Governance & Nominations
Lloyd Matthews appointed 1. Project Planning & Development (chair)
2. Convention & Visitors Bureau
3. Fire Dept board
4. Executive (vice-chair)
Bob Kinnear appointed 1. Governance & Nominations
1 "elected" strictly refers to the at-large election, not the Town Center elections
1 "legacy" refers to the TCID legacy directorship which includes Town Center elections  

We readily see a spread of committee assignments  in this organization with one exception.  We must keep in mind the state of our government as we consider who has been assigned to what committee and role. There may be a need for additional committees in 2009 as the transition continues to unfold. In the meantime, one director (Hausman) has been assigned to only one committee. Are we under-utilizing ready, willing and competent manpower? This situation poses an opportunity for the board to get her working on other matters as the need arises. I would encourage the leader of the board to leverage that capability as opportunities arise. Again, I believe team building exercises might go a long way to promote unity in purpose, direction and shared responsibility through mutual understanding.  

Elected Directors opinions and perspectives

  1. Nelda Blair - Blair has assumed the same duties that she had before the election - Chairperson of the board . She seems quite comfortable there. Given the question, "Have you noticed a difference in the content and progress of the board with the addition of elected residents?" Her thoughts are "the content of the Township Board has changed somewhat, of course, in that new ideas and leadership styles naturally come with new members. But, since a portion of our Board members has always been elected residents, and the appointed members were residents or area leaders, the ideals have not changed. I expect the progress of the Township Board will only become more forward-thinking with our current transition." In essence, from my (IndianSpringsGuy) personal viewpoint, the representation breadth of the board has changed, but the concept of partial representation has not and will not change until the 2010 election. That is part of the transition process. She goes on to say, "The changes that I believe are taking place as a result from the expansion of the purposes of the Township in general. The newly merged entity will handle economic development as well as residential services, so the focus is broadening. I fully expect that our Board mix will be very valuable in properly handling those functions."  She and I have a similar vision in this respect. Diversity of people will provide a  meaningful approach to governing processes and strategies. As the economic development strategies are transitioned to resident-elected directors, the resultant responsibilities of those directors will shift to a broader perspective than that of the association directors. Every opportunity to expose the new directors to the economic and development strategies will be paramount to our future economic health. Commenting on committee assignments, Blair emphasized that she took every measure to spread the load and provide opportunities for everyone equally so that they could contribute as they wished. We had five Directors who asked to be put on the Fire Dept board of four possible positions. I nominated all of them, and four of them were elected by secret ballot to the board. Hausman asked to be put on the Public Facilities Admin committee "but it was already full". She was instead nominated to the Audit committee where we needed her, but to which she declined. I nominated her for the Fire Dept board and the Convention & Visitors Bureau and placed them on the written ballots.  "I also treated her no differently in this situation than any other Board member."   
  2. Tom Campbell - The board got off to a rough start in May when Bruce Tough was not elected as a co-vice chair on the executive committee with Lloyd Matthews. Unfortunately policy would not allow it; the board will review policy later this year. Campbell emphasizes the representation of residents on the board, coupled with good communication. He feels that some of the committees could have been chaired by an elected Director. The newcomers were asked on what committees they would like to serve and generally, they got nominated for them. The Fire Dept board has been established just as the transition agreement stated. On another plane, there is an issue with the timing of the monthly meeting, because many residents cannot attend an early morning event. They are often commuting or have other obligations. Another issue in the operation of the board is the executive committee. With the exit of Robinson, we have a void. Of additional concern are the six Vice-presidents and two presidents. Seems a bit top heavy. Campbell supports replacing Robinson with Don Norrell, manager of the association service company. "The good news is the (community) services are continuing seamlessly under the direction of our very competent, well qualified general manager, Don Norrell. The policing, waste pickup, Parks and Recreation, streetscape and covenant administration continue uninterrupted. Also, the Economic Development and Visitor Bureau continue.". 
  3. Peggy Hausman  was disappointed in the outcome of the committee assignments. "The chairman recommends and then the board ratifies. I did request Special Projects, Woodlands Fire Department, and Waterway (Facilities)" committees. The chairperson "chose to not place me on any of my choices" and "I was never asked to serve on anything except the once an hour audit." Hausman is the senior member of the board and feels some injustice on the outcome. Both Matthews and Tough drew heavy responsibility on the committees. Hausman has much she would like to accomplish , thus her frustration.  
  4. Claude Hunter - Hunter has not responded to my inquiries. I have to assume he is content with the board, its progress and his role after two months.
  5. Bruce Tough - Tough is taking a wait and see approach. He has been included on several committees. It appears that he is content with his role on the board of directors, but his view on teamwork is not yet apparent. He intends to reveal his perspectives at a later date.

Operating Conditions

There are two issues on the plate for operating conditions. (1) As an open meeting, there is insufficient space for residents. Blair has stated that the board is looking into alternative locations for the meeting. Another possibility is to provide residents with a video-taped and/or internet-streamed or TV/internet broadcast of the proceedings, to enable a more open meeting. (2) The time of the meeting is inconvenient for residents, many of whom must commute to Houston. The board will be discussing the pros and cons of changing the time in the near future.


Our journey from one form of government to another will not necessarily be a smooth ride. We can expect rough spots on the road. All members of the board in my view desire success for this community. They are making the decisions the best they can under the circumstances imposed by rules and law. They are not seeking conflict; it just happens when something goes awry. The goal is to resolve the issues. Now we have an issue of dissent along with the burdens of change. A certain sensitivity exists which needs to be worked out. Wounds need to heal. Our community will thrive as long as we all put all we have into it and remember that we are neighbors. We are in this together for the long haul. Let's keep on trucking.       

Reference sources

  • Many thanks to the continuing cooperation of the Township Board of Directors for providing timely feedback to my questions, sometimes even unsolicited. Residents here appreciate candid insights to our government and the efforts of our public servants.
  • Committee assignments from The Woodlands Township website.
  • Frank Robinson - Apple Valley City website

Last updated committee table 8/2/08

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Woodlands Texas Township Meeting March 26 2008

Since many residents do not have the opportunity to attend these meetings, I wanted to share my impression of and the contents of the Township Meeting today. This was the first meeting I have attended. These meetings are scheduled early in the day, at 7:30AM, making it impossible for residents commuting to Houston or early workers to attend. The meetings are open, but the conference space is relatively small. Today, the room was filled. There was probably more interest than normal due to the coming elections. Several of the board candidates and/or their representatives attended. Or perhaps, these folks attend normally.

General Meeting - Township

Overall, my impression is that some members of the board do not speak loud enough for visiting residents to hear their comments or questions, especially if the visitor sits in the back. There were microphones available, but it seemed that some speakers used them more than others. This fast moving large agenda meeting had few comments or questions by individual board directors. Their question or comment was pertinent to the subject. The pace set by the chairperson (Nelda Blair) led the group to a rapid conclusion. Prior to the meeting, a book of reading material was distributed to each director. More often than not, the directors were asked to make and approve motions to keep the meeting as short as practical. I assume everyone not only had the chance beforehand to read the material, but also to seek answers to their questions. The book of documents had well over 100 pages of material. Two separate meetings were conducted, for a total duration of about 90 minutes.

Financial report: consisted of budget plan variances and explanations of those variances. Projects might start late or the timing of certain payment transactions might not be as expected. "We are seeing a tax receipt slowdown." However, the Township remains on budget, and the receipts are larger than last year.

Fire Department Capital Project Status in Economic Zone 4: This $11.9 million dollar project is within budget and on time. Station #6 is 75% complete with an expected opening in June. Its equipment has already arrived and is being circulated through the other stations to shake out the bugs. The training center is 68% complete and should be operational by September. These two projects will open the path to a better rating and a lower resident insurance rate. Fire Chief Benson presented an excellent review of the projects, complete with photographs.

In Waterway Square, the grand opening is scheduled in April. A maintenance agreement process was proposed and approved, to enable a contract for the contractor Progressive Inc to maintain the fountains and equipment for about $15,000.

A proposal was made and approved to add a standing agenda item for reporting Woodlands Association issues and progress when needed.

There are various marketing initiatives and events coming. The Logo contest closes at the end of April. A celebration of the local "public heroes" will be in April. The Waterway Festival will be a good one with lots of activities April 12-13. An RFP (Request for Proposal) is almost ready for Ambassadors to print directions for visitors and to print coupons. Continental Airlines will soon have an article for The Woodlands, a campaign partnered with the development company. Texas Highways magazine will have an article about The Woodlands. Austin American Statesman will have an article on weekend getaways to The Woodlands. A new website for visitors will come out in April. This will contain a guide for visitors that will include the villages.

Montgomery Transportation Plan - presentation for information:
1. Countywide paratransit/demand system: this is a means to transport people by prior arrangements using county vehicles to destinations. There are several programs already in operation.
2. New county service to Sam Houston State University: from south county to SHSU up the I45 corridor with various pickup points along the way. This is an exciting initiative. There are many obstacles (hurdles), but we are making progress. Only two more hurdles must be jumped before we can implement. We are optimistic. The cost of this service is $23 per passenger but passengers will not have to pay that much.

Public comments are allowed and encouraged, but there were none.

Board gave their support in an initiative to acquire funds from a Texas Wildlife Commission grant for building a new park in Sterling Ridge. The development company is working with MUD 386 to acquire these funds. Maintenance of the park will be by the MUD district. The park will be very similar to other parks here in The Woodlands.

Board approved the operational rules for the Waterway Square. Hours of operation will be 6AM to 11PM daily. This can be changed later if needed. Generally the rules are the same as Town Green Park. There will be a wade pool.

Economic Development Zone Boundaries: Exclude Harris County until surveyed. This will have no impact on tax receipts since there are no businesses in Creekside Village Park. The 1% sales tax will be collected. However, the second 1% will be postponed indefinitely in Harris County until this issue is resolved.

Second meeting - Economic Development Zones

A list of 14 items were proposed and approved. Most were required for the operation of the Economic Zones. Those were modeled after the Township operational processes. Exceptions to those seemingly routine items included the combining of financial Year 2007 reports of the four zones into one report, and a reimbursement agreement between the Township and the economic zones for the Waterway Square project.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Getting to Know the Candidates for 2008 Township Election

Ballot Order and Documents available for viewing:

Randy Scott

Table for Candidates menu

1. Jeff Long  Interview Bio Website  Email
2. Ted Stanley  Interview Bio Website Email
3. Tom Campbell Interview Bio Website Email
4. Kenny Speight Interview Bio Website Email
5. Bruce Tough Interview Bio Website Email
6. George Van Horn Interview Bio Website Email
7. Karen Booren Interview Bio Website Email
8. Renata Tyree Interview Bio Website Email
9. Nelda Luce Blair Interview Bio Website Email
10. Bev Earl Interview Bio Website Email
11. Joe Merrill Interview Bio Website Email
12. Peggy S. Hausman Interview Prof Website Email
13. Paul Martin Interview Bio Website Email
14. Claude Hunter Interview Press Website Email

The information contained within each document linked to a candidate has been published with the express consent of each candidate. The candidates and myself, Randy Scott (otherwise known as "IndianSpringsGuy") have provided this information to the residents of The Woodlands as a public service. Every voter has the "right to know". Each candidate has one or more links attached to their name for your convenience to quickly access information. Keep checking as we will update this as new information is available. Also note the Grogan's Mill Village link below.

Dates to remember:
- April 10th: last day for voter registration.
- Monday April 28: May Uniform Election Early Voting begins
- Tuesday May 6: May Uniform Election Early Voting ends
- Saturday, May 10: May Uniform Election Day

Other related information:
- The Woodlands Township for other related Township election information.
- Montgomery County election website pertinent information for locations and dates.
- Grogan's Mill Village Candidate Questions and Answers

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Congratulations to Tommy Williams and Rob Eissler

Here in The Woodlands, we are interested in continuity of legislative work by our government for the people of The Woodlands and surrounding area. Both Tommy Williams and Rob Eisler worked hard for freeing us from annexation by Houston. Tommy Williams negotiated with the City of Houston and the both of them sponsored legislation to enable a special government in The Woodlands. Their work was remembered in the voting booths here. Voters were very aware that action and results were the themes of our legislative representatives. Now as we move closer to our new form of government, we will asking for additional supporting legislation to enable better self determination and a stronger hand in our own future matters. Let's get it done guys. Find out what we want and why. That is our expectation, that you continue to represent our interests in the coming legislative session. The job is never completed, and we look to you to lead us to a better future. Congratulations on your Primary election results.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Its official! Consolidation agreement between Woodlands Association and Township

The transition agreement finally cleared all the hurdles and was signed on February 29th, 2008. This is a key agreement necessary to consolidate some six entities into one governing body. There remains much work to be done and surely we will see complications arise through the process until 2010 when all functions of all entities should be incorporated into the new governing structure. Efficiency should reduce overall costs after all is said and done. Further reading: Woodlands Online

Jeff Long announces candidacy for the Woodlands Township

Jeff Long, a veteran engineer and public works specialist, recently announced his plans to run for the board of directors of the newly created Woodlands Township. A four-year elected member of The Woodlands Community Association board, serving as president the last two, Long touts his experience in leading the community association and his previous work in municipal government as assets. “I love living and running a small business in The Woodlands,” Long said. “I have gained a special appreciation for how great a community we all enjoy.”

Long said his priorities on The Woodlands Township board would be to:

· Ensure the voters get accountability from the board during the transition from village and community association governance to township governance
· Ensure that voters see assessments lowered and their overall out-of-pocket costs decreased with the new sales and property tax structure as promised
· Ensure that the board is accountable for each and every tax dollar raised and spent by the board

"We have to provide accountability in this new board so that voters know they are getting what they voted so strongly for,” Long said. “I am committed to preserving and building all that is good about what we have achieved.”

Jeff Long was elected to The Woodlands Community Association Board of Directors in March 2004 in an “At-Large” position, and was elected as President of the Board in 2006. Mr. Long is retired from municipal government and public works. He has also served as president of the Design Standards Committee, and has served on the Joint Ad Hoc Cost Recovery Committee and the Election Committee. Jeff also served as a leader of The Woodlands Decides Committee – the group responsible for educating voters on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 to keep The Woodlands from being annexed by Houston.

“I am ready, willing and able to devote the time necessary to see that the voters wishes are carried out.” Long said.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Peggy Hausman sets the records straight

There has been some confusion expressed by residents on Peggy's position in the election last November. She has released the following statement regarding her position for the three propositions. This statement affirms what she has previously stated and is being published just to set the record straight.

"As a member of The Township board and Past President of The Woodlands Community Association, past member of the Woodlands Fire Department and past chairman of The Woodlands Service Corporation, I would like to set the record straight and the rumors to bed.

As a member of the Town Center Improvement District Board of Directors, I initially took the same position as the staff and other key board members in not making any public pronouncements that could influence residents to vote for or against The Woodlands Township proposals. Of course, I was personally excited about the opportunity for our community to begin an era of self-governance. After all, I was the lady who testified in front of the senate committee at Montgomery College to ask Houston to take the gun of annexation away from the people of The Woodlands. Let us become the Masters of our Destiny. Let us choose!!!! With all that said, as a Woodlands Decide member I signed a document that stated I would provide factual information without showing personal preference and I did just that. I agreed with fellow directors like TCID’s vice chairman of the board, Lloyd Matthews, when he wrote: “I have agreed not to take a position supporting nor opposing the three propositions in the November election. Directors of both boards are supposed to provide factual information to residents without being an advocate so that they may make their own informed decision on the election.”

As a community leader for the past 25 years, I learned long ago that I can best serve the residents by keeping them fully informed on issues that directly impact their quality of life. We are a smart community that can make our own decisions if given all the facts. Look to your leaders to tell you both sides, the ups and downs. We the people of The Woodlands will do the right thing and we have. Now that 86% of the residents have elected to proceed with The Woodlands Township form of governance, I hope to continue to serve them by retaining my board seat and ensuring, by example, that every member of the new Woodlands Township board performs their duties in a responsible and accountable manner. Thank-you for your time and wisdom."

Peggy Hausman

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Woodlands Association Election - Nelda Blair's perspective

Press release of Nelda Blair: If you are one of the 13,000+ residents of The Woodlands who voted FOR one of the November 2007 propositions for new community government, then you will definitely want to vote for SKEETER HUBERT, JEFF LONG and RICH JAKOVAC in The Woodlands Community Association (WCA) elections. Why? This month’s WCA elections boil down to candidates who were FOR the November 2007 ballot issues, and those who were NOT. Period. Quite simply, the other candidates opposed all 3 ballot issues, and worked against our new form of government through The Woodlands Township. In my role as Chairman of The Woodlands Township, I know that the transition from homeowner association rule, to truly community-wide elected government, will take teamwork, dedication and cooperation. Skeeter Hubert, Jeff Long and Rich Jakovac have pledged to stand for what the residents clearly expressed in November: “We want a unified government for our community, protected from annexation by Houston.” Right now, residents can vote early at the Community Associations Building at 2201 Lake Woodlands Drive from February 4th through 15th. Election day is Saturday, February 16th. Get all the details at the web site www.thewoodlandsassociations.org. Please vote for Skeeter Hubert, Jeff Long, Rich Jakovac.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Woodlands Association - Don't forget to volunteer and vote

We have just a few days to place ourselves on the ballot for the 2008 Woodlands Association elections. We need diversity and fresh ideas on our boards. This is a very interesting era for us and there are many personal rewards for helping our neighbors. Please consider being a part of our destiny and volunteer for a position. Also, please vote. Remember if you do not vote, you are empowering others to make the choice for you and have no real reason to complain about anything.

1. Association link for the 2008 election
2. Link to other commentary on the subject