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