Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Mounted Police Contract - Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end

Most people are aware of the mounted police in the Town Center of The Woodlands, Texas. Alpha and Omega is the company providing this service by horseback for us.  You can hardly miss their red uniforms that sort of resemble the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. That image generates a small town atmosphere, so the township concept is boosted by their presence, so it is believed. We have them deployed in various zones within the Town Center as a tourist attraction. Just like the transportation system, however, we tend to lead people to believe these mounted patrols serve another function, that is to supplement the policing of the community. They are not policemen at all and, in fact, cannot secure your safety. They serve no useful purpose at all in regard to law enforcement. Some people will say they are useful in spotting crime and reporting it. In reality, they are no more effective in doing that than any resident who has a cell phone, and almost all residents have cell phones.

The other day I was at Walmart at FM 242 and I-45. I noticed two mounted police patrols in the parking lot there. Then I wondered. Why are they here? Walmart certainly does not present the image we need for a tourist, and the likelihood for a tourist to be present at Walmart sure seems to be small! I have no reason to contract these mounted people at all. If I would see them only at the parks, I would be more apt to support their presence, but why do we have them in the parking lot of the mall, Walmart, and other large commercial locations? These large commercial enterprises have their own way of protecting their businesses and managing security. Perhaps in isolated circumstances, we have a need for them in events and certain hours of the evening to help promote our community. Yet why are taxpayers bearing the burden for this extra amenity? The cost of it is atrocious! Some close to the checkbook say that the visitors are paying for them and this is what attracts them here. The horses are, after all, sort of a mobile petting zoo and children like to talk to these colorfully outfitted  people on top of horses. Even adults find conversation with the riders interesting. We find that the primary functional reason we have them is to dispense information and to help people find their cars in the parking lots. 

Let's take a look at the contract. Budget time is coming up very shortly. Don't you want to know what agreements we have and the alternatives the Woodlands Township Board of Directors should be considering? There will be seven directors charged with making a decision to continue this program, cut it back or replace with a new one. I will give you their email addresses soon, although you can find those addresses on the township website. You will be able to copy and paste those addresses from this site onto an email to correspond with them.

So I want to bring this contract to the attention of residents in The Woodlands. We pay Alpha and Omega company $39.10 for each patrol hour. That is about double what we pay for a Sheriff deputy officer according to one of my sources. Behind the scenes we are also paying for support personnel at the tune of $10.53 per hour. A patrol person is called a Trooper. Troopers provide a courtesy to visitors of Town Center. They are charged with providing information to patrons of the commercial area, but if they see some crime, they are charged to report it immediately, just like a resident would be expected to do. They are to help people find their cars in parking lots as well. The contract provides for a maximum of 700 total Trooper hours per week.  Clerical support is a 40-hour maximum week.  This three year contract ending in 2012 may be canceled with a 30 day notice. If both parties agree to change the contract, the contract can be modified.

Value of the contract is $1,514,920 for 2010. Alpha and Omega was selected based on government staff criteria from two bids. The competing company bid was $1,361,370.

Alternatives have never been defined that I can find. Back in TCID days, there may have been alternatives to the original concept, but we don't seem to have a Board of Directors these days trying to conserve on spending.

What alternatives can I envision?

1. Smaller presence - For this alternative, I suggest Town Green Park, the pavilion, down on the waterway and  the conference center. That makes four locations, 6 days a week. As a rough simple cost estimate, let's say it takes 1/2 support person and 4 Troopers to provide that service. And let's say each patrol would be 50 hours. Per year, it would cost 52* ((20*10.52)+(50*$39.10))= $417,581. That would be almost $1,100,000 savings in 2011, more if we can cut this contract this year. I don't see any reason to continue spending so much for the remainder of this year. This is called "reduced services" by the directors but not in my book. I call it "service by need", not "service by want".  

2. Removal of service altogether - Forget the image. People do not come here for the horses. They come for the waterway, the fountains, the other amenities and attractions. Save an additional $471,581.

3. Drop the contract and solicit new bids for reduced presence. That would likely lead to a smaller rate since we do not have to contract such a large company to provide the services and we can go out for bids again. That might save an additional $50,000.

4. Replace the entire mounted horse service with cameras. I cannot price this, but it would necessitate monitoring personnel and a station. This is a common practice and enables visual contact with law lawbreakers from high strategic points using technology and monitoring staff to add additional security for all critical areas in the Town Center. This would require a capital outlay for a communication infrastructure but probably could share some of the county's  resources.

5. Replace the entire mounted police with bike police patrols. No cars would be required. They could operate out of the existing Sheriff building near Town Center or Constable police office nearby. A deputy should cost us about half the amount of a mounted Trooper. 12 policemen patrolling on bikes would cost approximately $639,600 per year, a savings of more than $900,000. We could probably shift some of the township patrols and thereby increase police manpower in the villages for increased security services. One option would be to take perhaps three existing patrolmen with cruisers, shift them to the villages and then put six patrolmen by bike in the town center. There would be no cost for cruisers. True, they would not be wearing red uniforms and they would not be on horses, but maybe they could ride horses. I don't know the answer to that question, but I believe the bike provides a faster and more effective response to crime or call.  

We could mix and match these alternatives. There are likely many more scenarios. If you can think of any, please let me know through the comment section. During the budget process, you should demand your board of directors to give you the alternatives considered, why they selected one (hopefully the best that fits the community) and say exactly why they rejected the others. That is their responsibility in managing your money and communicating back to you their stewardship of it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Election 2010 Apathy and Politics - Randy's opinion

I have heard various accounts of what happened on May 8th. Each one has its merits. However, most skirt the real issues by just calling the turnout “apathy”. One person characterized the 92% no-show as the "shame of America". From what I observed, the lack of turnout has numerous reasons that could collectively be called apathy. Many residents here believe the local government is complicated and beyond their available time and effort. Why vote on something that you don’t really understand, especially when things seem to be OK? We have had this problem ever since I moved here and long before. Apathy is just “leave it to the others to determine”.  If anything has changed since we became a township, we have a much better voting turnout than we did before, but the quality of the turnout may not have been so great. The turnout in my precinct was probably the highest ever, but not good enough to make a difference.

I’ve heard this question - "who knows what is right anyway?" And in some cases - "I don't even know what directors do! Do they have job descriptions?" Then there is the other simple perspective - "I go vote for someone I know, but I have no idea what the issues are. I trust the person, not the words." Personally, I understand both viewpoints. As a voter, I have been in both places. Circumstances around an election can create a feeling of ignorance to many and discourage people from coming to the polls, but that does not adequately describe what happened.

There were basic politics not too difficult to understand in this election. One candidate sought his position through one issue, thinking that issue was significant enough to get attention, and his solution would get him a position on the board. Nope. That does not generally work. The public was leery. Crime and policing seemed overstated anyway. There were other candidates who did not clearly set themselves apart from the incumbents; change is usually needed to take a position away from an incumbent. My team thought we had a good shot at Robb, because of his attendance and voting history, along with a solid issue platform which would have retained the waterway strategies of TCID for tourism and commercial expansion, but at a much lower cost. None of that seemed to matter, as it turned out, due to apathy and personal loyalty. Then there was a third person who entered the contest the same day as I did. She was endorsed by what I call the “anti” group of people. I am not an anti-establishment type of person; I am just a resident who wants to have an affordable quality lifestyle. I know how to get it done and why one needs to do it. The fourth candidate was not seriously running, so he was not on our radar.

It is tough for the working resident to sort out the issues and be able to make an informed decision on them. In this election, the voter had significant information provided by The Villager and the League of Women Voters, in addition to candidate websites and literature paid for by candidates, but many residents were not even aware of them. Unfortunate to challengers, the safe position for many voters is to vote for incumbents. After all, they have the "insights" into how things are run and have a great deal of knowledge and contacts, right?  Actually - wrong! Can you blame the voters? Yet there could be significant consequences from that attitude. Status quo through incumbent support eventually leads to a decay of living quality and lost opportunities for improvement. In this case, leaving it to others holds fast to the commercial-centric doctrine in lieu of residential needs. Consequences of this doctrine are not seen for the moment, but when the time comes, they will become evident. Then it is too late. Remember the stock market? Despite all the communication attempts, our residents generally remain an uninformed public.

Leaders of the community have a job to do in order to get more voters to participate, but that would not serve them well. They need to educate the public in a way that is clear and short, not in the terms of those seeking deep understanding, but that is not going to happen. Many of us question the status quo, but many also defend it as a safety net. A candidate's challenge is to gain voter confidence, so that the voter will truly listen. I understand that. I dealt with it daily when I was trying to describe my position on issues during the election. The more depth one wants to know, the more difficult it becomes to get the point across. The bottom line is that the public wants to elect candidates it can trust to make the right decisions for it, never mind the issues. That becomes the psychology of endorsements. What I call "limelight advertising" is reality in the eyes of many. Focus on the people around the candidate instead of the person. That hides the candidate's capabilities and presents an image rather than a person. It is also a social issue, blinding to the eyes of those who are not interested in local issues. It takes the common resident to vote in order to make a difference.

I felt most issues were simple rather than the reverse. Spending too much, wasteful spending, the need to have better alternative and contract selection criteria, the need to measure better, and last but perhaps more important than anything else, the absolute need for a director to tend to the business of the township instead of being absent from decision discussions and voting. Some people argued that work conducted behind the scenes of the township board meetings was more important than attendance at board meetings. I strongly disagree. Government should be transparent and arguments visible to the public. Otherwise those working in the invisible background should not claim any responsibility for successes. The evidence of performance is at the board meeting when one discusses a proposal and casts a vote. That participation could also be evident in open discussions with the public, but that is rarely seen in local politics. We do have town hall meetings for this purpose, but they are not sufficiently leveraged to affect many projects. Hot resident issues can be heard at these meetings, but they are not very frequently discussed with residents. I conclude that the Board of Directors remains a closed door operation to most of us, with political influence constantly used to gain support for individual ideas and perspectives behind the scenes. As long as that happens, we lack diversity in decision making, and our money is inadvertently channeled into pet projects. That was evident in the strategic planning exercise. Residents were not invited to participate in those proceedings, but the budget is justified on the outcome of that process.

So what happened out there on the 8th? I witnessed three groups of residents. (1) Those who feel like they don't have sufficient exposure to the government in The Woodlands or have no interest in local issues. These folks normally do not vote in local elections. This group constitutes at least 50% of the registered voters. (2) Family life comes first - hey it was Saturday. During the early voting there were homework assignments, getting home late, leaving early, and the old 50+-hour work week. No time for voting. This group is also very large and comprises most of the remaining 92% no-shows. (3) The voters – 8% of the registered voters who are oftentimes die-hard Americans, involved in local issues, appreciating the opportunity to speak out, and selecting the candidates who they deem best to serve the community. They are exercising their American privilege to choose.

In the 8% who did vote, I can think of six categories. (1) Status quo - give me an incumbent. I am afraid to change; (2) First on the ballot; (3) Loyalty: I know the person, have organizational ties, or I am from the candidate’s village; (4) Name recognition: I have heard of the person; (5) Issue-centric: based on ideals, desire for change, or values; and (6) Duty:  I am supposed to vote. Research often occurs at the polling location for these people. I believe the majority of the 8% group did their homework and were prepared to cast their ballot on arrival at the polls, but most of them voted personal loyalty for at least one candidate. If one looks at the voting demographics, I suspect the median age of voters was very high relative to the median age of the registered voter community.

What did the candidates do to get voters to the polls and vote for them? Money buys votes. There is no doubt about it. With money, you can also claim about anything you want. You have name broadcasting power. You can buy the biggest, the most, and the labor to get your message to the population. If you are an incumbent, you can claim virtually anything that went right when you occupied the position, to be your personal accomplishment. If you did not vote against it in an open meeting, then you are safe. You can also buy a following of people. If you have organizational power, you can influence your people's role and support from within the organization, including financial support.

Standing out in the hot sun earns votes. Being the last voice or image a voter sees before going into the voting booth is highly valued by the candidates. Being on location to greet them is appreciated by voters. I guess that depends though. I felt that the “hawking” done by candidates at the early convenience election location was frankly distasteful. Many voters chose not to be bothered and parked where campaigners were not allowed. The hawking had no value in attracting voters to the polls, but possibly helped to persuade them to cast their votes for some candidates. I was one of the few who preferred to go house to house and ask people to come out and vote. Calling friends brings loyal supporters to the polls. Going door-to-door educates the public. A personal “please vote” goes a long way.

Some of the things I heard occurring behind the scenes of this election made me bristle. Politics are not exactly ethical, you know. Candidates can be ethical, but their people may not. Signs were stolen out of yards for example under the cover of darkness in apparent attempts to remove advertising of targeted candidates. There were even reports of coerced contributions of skilled labor. Some activities by “supporters” disappointed me and some advertisement falsehoods disappointed me. There was no avenue to contest those claims except to spend more money.

In this election, residents were blasted by propaganda in every media possible. Many did not want to be blasted, so they turned it all off, throwing away the newspapers, and not answering or ignoring the calls. I heard "enough already" several times. I sure felt that way myself. "Another d*^# call from a machine!" How is it that a candidate can use a machine to call your home numerous times when you are on the national no-call list anyway? Is that ethical? Is it breaking the law? Also, why would anyone call from a church when that is against IRS regulations? Why did I get a call from Tommy Williams? Why did I get a call from Kevin Brady? Politicians were actually advertising themselves on someone else's campaign contributions. Maybe robo calls should have said "This has been a paid political advertisement for Tommy Williams and Ed Robb by the campaign committee for Ed Robb."  Why would anyone spend so much money anyway for a non-paying job? Ego? Issue? Ideal? Fun? Experience? Why? I am a voter and a stakeholder in this government, so I ask these questions. Don’t you? What is the motivation and why do certain political figures want to have a certain candidate in office, especially in light of that person’s past performance? Some people have connected the dots and made their own calculated conclusions.  Advertising can be informative and appreciated, but the repeated immersing of people in it is not.

Personally, I had one reason to run for office. I believe what has occurred on the board is not exactly right. That was exemplified by the all out campaign spending to maintain control of the waterway spending strategies and other projects. I bet there were some people who would have raised $100,000 and spent it, if they thought that was necessary to reach their goal. I draw parallels with the spending of our taxes. That leads me to think there is big money in getting all those people into office. Doesn’t it to you?

Look back at who endorsed the candidates and start asking yourself some of these questions. Politics here appears to run much deeper than any concerns about The Woodlands itself. Those currently in office are not suspected of neglecting township business in my mind, but I know the job can be done better at a lower cost. Government watch groups are chasing the money trails to check if there is foul play with money. They believe through those connections that we have an under-the-rug political machine operating here. They insinuate that some of the people on the board have personal agendas. The suspicion is raised to a much higher level when one looks under the umbrella of endorsements and favors. It is not about the quality of living in The Woodlands.  One person compared it to Chicago. That was because of the apparent money trail and endorsements. Well, let's see, a church where candidacy was announced from the pulpit without equal time to others (perception: my organization, I can do what I want). This raised the question of church vs. state in the minds of many. If one would compare the voting records against the church's membership role, some say the outcome would be obvious. I do not plan to conduct that study, but perhaps some organization or watchdog group should.

I have heard these thoughts from several sources, some from activists and others from long time residents. Several people say they are afraid to speak out, because they fear that they will not be heard in other matters, or their business relationships would be impaired. Influence and power drive them to be quiet. I am not one of them. My strategy is open and much easier to understand. We need to focus on one thing here – Be a great place to affordably live, that serves the entire family and community. Everything else takes a back seat.

For me, my values stand with those who originally came here, who developed the feeling of a hometown, those who walked to the store, even at night to get a gallon of milk for breakfast, in the darkness of the tall tree shadows. That is the way it was when I moved here, and that is the way I seek it to be in the future. Some people say we should not be out at night. Bah humbug. Quality and security is not defined in that way. Quality is defined and measured within certain focus points, namely safety, amenities, mobility, pollution, affordability, services, livable homes and our natural forest. Excellence in mobility gives us the complete freedom to move about anytime of the day or night. If you make the place not livable, then it is not the community we have known with the advertised values seen in marketing.

Residents missed an opportunity to make a difference on May 8th.  Other opportunities will come along as life goes on. My hummingbirds returned to the yard five days after the election; I am going to double the number of grandchildren this year with my son’s announcement on Election Day. Yes, there are better things to do, but I do want to thank my supporters for their confidence in me.  A person can only offer to help. Some force it down the public. I will not. The community will likely continue to flourish but at a higher price than necessary. It will be a community of distinction, but maybe not one of quality. We continue to grow, but we are beginning to see deterioration, and we are only two years into the township. Now seven directors will manage your tax money. One of them was absent from voting for 37% of the decisions for the past several months. His loyal following and political allies voted for him to be on the board. 92 % of our registered voters remained quiet and allowed that to happen. If you are one of those quiet ones, will you allow it to happen again next year and the year after? What will it take to get you to help drive your own destiny?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Transit Consulting Contract 2010 - Woodlands Township

Two contracts of The Woodlands Township should be on residents' radar during the next few months. The Goodman contract was budgeted and let for transit consultant services, primarily for trolley and water taxi services. The other contract will be considered in a separate article.

The total contract is for $100k. It is to advise the township and provide reports on air quality to H-GAC (Houston-Galveston Area Council)as part of a pilot project, in addition to the transit consultation. $20k is to provide a recommendation for transition of the water "taxis" to the township. That includes the capital improvements needed to bring the boats up to specs that includes dining and completing the maintenance facility for the boats. It does not include a look into alternatives such as custom pontoon boats. Another $22.5k is included to pursue funding sources from federal and state agencies, among others. Another $22.5k is allocated for interfacing those agencies.

Additionally, at a cost of $27.5k, Goodman is contracted to conduct a survey for determining the interest and value of conducting a pilot trolley program between the village centers and Town Center. In this survey, residents will be asked questions at each location. The results will be compiled and reported back to the township. Residents in apartments and homes nearby to the village centers will not be part of the survey unless they visit the village centers and participate in the process there. It seems to me that multi-family dwellings would be a primary source of passengers for such services.

Right now, I am unsure what the actual vision is for the pilot program. Perhaps the contract includes that, but if so, it was not evident. The questions are apparently designed to see what interests residents have, so the vision should come out of those questions.

The trolley system in Town Center has been quite successful. If you have not ridden on one before, I highly recommend doing so, just to have a feel for what the service provides. With a trolley system to the villages, an avenue would also be introduced to visitors and tourists to go into the village centers to eat at a restaurant or shop at a boutique. I am hopeful that we can produce a good vision that serves both the public and the visitor, to reduce gas emissions and take traffic off of our roads, while stimulating the financial health of our village centers. A trolley system has a high chance of success in my mind to improve mobility here. The same question gets asked though. Should that be a function of the government or a private enterprise?

On the other hand, the operations of the cruisers is not a good investment, at least as currently defined. Goodman has already delivered on that part of the contract. They reported a probable loss of $240k annually is expected. However, with some tweaking and additional ridership, the operation could break into the black by "privatization" through the CVB. The taxis are perceived as a major component of drawing visitors to The Woodlands. They are perceived to be the unique difference between a visitor electing to come to The Woodlands in place of another nearby destination in the Houston area. However, the ridership statistics do not demonstrate that conclusion.

The Woodlands Development Co owns the taxis free of any federal dependencies or commitments, and it owns the underlying interest in the waterway corridor. The Federal Transit Administration owns an equitable interest in the waterway corridor. The development company has a long term agreement to extend the waterway westward to the lake. They have acquired federal ARRA money to extend the waterway starting this summer, along with the maintenance facility. Additionally, the company is arranging for federal funding of another parking garage next to the existing one on Lake Robbins at Six Pines.

Another project to fund with federal money, is a fleet of electric cars.

So it goes. The development company has plans for additional services and eventually we will have to assume some of that operation. It would be good to have the corresponding proposal and expected burden on taxpayers. I have yet to explore that part of the development company's plan. I just hope the board is aware of this and has visibly bought into the idea before the project is initiated. What is the plan and when does the township take over the operation and at what cost? I suppose those are the questions for the board.

Related Links
+ Federal Transit Administration

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Election 2010 - No shows at the polls

Have you wondered as I have about the no-shows in The Woodlands Township election, 92% of registered voters who did not vote? I took some proactive steps as I canvassed neighborhoods to check on the pulse of voters. What I found out was simply amazing!
Top Issue Number Percentage Percentage removing the no issues and unknowns
MUD 2 1%         1%
Other Svcs 2 1%         1%
Trees 5 2%         3%
Other 4 1%         2%
Schools 1 0%         1%
Parks 0 0%         0%
Mobility/noise 12 4%         7%
Animal Control 2 1%         1%
Garbage 0 0%         0%
Crime/law enforcement 17 6%         10%
Safety 4 1%         2%
Alerts/watch 1 0%         1%
Ad valorem taxes unfair or too high 17 6%         10%
Common area maintenance 4 1%         2%
Covenants and related services 16 6%         10%
No issues 104             38%       
Unknown 53 19%
Big government and local politics 17 6%         10%
Against commercialization 5 2%         3%
In favor of commercialization 2 1%         1%
Loyalty 4 1%         2%
Total including no issues and unknown 272 100%
Total less No issues and unknown 168 62%       100%
This was not a scientific survey. There was no attempt to balance demographics or lifestyles. It was collected solely from middle class neighborhoods. I did sample different types of neighborhoods. All villages are represented by approximately equal numbers. Generally speaking, each village was different and each neighborhood was somewhat different in responses. A total of 168 unique responses were generalized into categories. The question was "What is your top concern in The Woodlands?" Five categories accounted for 47% of the total. Some people skirted the question, which resulted in the 19% unknown. The "No issues" category came primarily from newcomers, who explained they had not been here long enough to understand local issues. Some were perfectly content with the way things are run. Others just do not understand the political arena nor how things work here.

Safety signifies true safety issues such as children in the middle of the street without adult supervision, or ants on the trails establishing a high risk to allergic children and adults. Crime concerns are mostly from the press or politicians, not any first hand experiences except for one. Mobility issues were generally the result of living close to a major road. "Close" is rapidly changing from being the adjoining street to the major road, to three streets away from the major road.  Access and noise were the focus of those discussions. Loud trucks and motorcycles are the primary concern, but the constant hum of traffic is also irritating.

Covenants were large issues in several neighborhoods. I have passed on the complaints to the administrative staff. I found issues in almost every village.

The big government category is a serious one. Many people beyond this exercise have expressed their concern about putting too much power in the hands of a few, especially when it seems there is a little voting club along with what appears to be some rubber stamping and inept, unprepared decision making. Term limits has been suggested to overcome the "been there too long" and to remove defensive attitudes associated with pet projects. After all, taxes belong to the public, not the government.

So what gets people out to vote? You can immediately strike off the "No issues" crowd or in this case 37% of the registered voters. They were happy. If we assumed the 19% unknown group also are no-shows, then we have 56% of the registered voters expected not to show up. So what happened to the other 36%? Could they have been out of town for mother's day? Some yes. Could they have had other priorities? Maybe, but my assessment is that at least 36% of the registered voters were just not sufficiently interested enough to go out and vote. Ball games, picnics, children activities, and all those things you want to do on a Saturday were beckoning on such a beautiful day.

How do we fix the problem?  It is fairly hopeless. So what do candidates do? There is not much hope to tell you the truth. Incumbents get the draw because there are no intelligent voters. This is what some are saying and this is what will bring America down. People will complain when their taxes go up. Hey - not my problem say those who challenged the incumbents. People will complain when they suffer from a crime because of the wrong metrics and an ineffective police staffing method. They will complain when the traffic is bad. Those who can see the future issues cannot reach the general public, who is too busy to discuss the issues.  Urban living is more complicated than people seem to realize. That makes the issues more complicated as well. What everyone needs is a means to understand the issues with little time invested. Based on the discussions I had, we are a society that crosses our fingers and hopes for the best. That is, things will work out out of natural order and process.

Elections are great but we won't have many contenders, given the lack of consideration of the process. Who wants to throw away their money on a public that does not care? This is a new The Woodlands? This is what it has become?

Consider that the 2% who responded with a "you are wasting your time here. He is my pastor" attitude. Instead of 2%, it probably turned out to be in the neighborhood of 25-50%. I will likely explain that in another article. These are the loyalty votes, not based on issues, not based on anything, except that the man preaches sermons on Sunday mornings, has lived in this community a very long time, and is an expert collector of people's money. Sad but true. There really is no way for the public to be educated. As it turned out, there was probably no reason for his team to spend so much money, but they were not sure.  What is apparent is that the election for some reason was very very important to him and his team, enough to spend lots and lots of money to make certain he was elected for this two-year term. These two years are the critical years for establishing a new government. The people of this community will be hand fed into the desired results by those who are commercial-centric. Issues such as expansion west will be pushed onto the population of this community. You can expect the quality of life to continue to deteriorate as a result. My family is a victim of the general issue of development, so we know first hand about it.

If you are one of those who did speak out by voting, make sure your voice is again heard when we consider a new government, have a meeting on taxes, establish a budget, and every major major issue along the way. I hope to publish major subjects that need your attention as we go forward. There will be two meetings a month. One will be in the evening where you can speak out.  Those who did not vote I do not expect to take part in any of the proceedings, but realize at least some of you missed your chance for good cause. I hope you participate in the meetings. Now I have to say that you will not likely be pleased with the opportunity to speak out. The Board of Directors will continue with the before meeting / after meeting method of resident comment. It is a cold governmental process. Residents will probably never be able to engage in the actual discussion and deliberation of issues. Well, maybe at town halls.

I hope this makes some people stop and think about what happened on May 8th and will help those interested to overcome the election process issues. We have only begun to fight. We will take it wherever it needs to go to get fixed. Maybe, just maybe by some remote chance, we will see some reforms, stoppage of arrogance and actual representation of the real public. I am not holding my breath.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Unions and Politics

I have learned many things in this election. One of them is the lack of ethics in some activities. As many in The Woodlands know, our fire department has a union. That is not atypical but what they try to influence is simply not acceptable and not ethical. Candidates were asked to complete a questionnaire. OK, why not? I did not know that the deck was already stacked. The questionnaire  was apparently for show only. There is one purpose for the process, to appear to be "fair". While candidates were doing everything they could to get their views to the public, the union was working as a special interest group, taking precious time away from the candidates and for what? For what I am about to reveal to you.

True, they are not yet employees of the The Woodlands Township, they could at least act like it. They chose the most likely to succeed to serve their special interests (spending more money than required, supporting programs that have no value to residents). For that reason, until they stop their (possibly illegal) attempts to swing an election, they will not get my support. I will advise all candidates to not complete their questionnaire next year.

When will the residents stand up for what is right? Some candidates endorse the union activities. This activity has to stop. I do not think it had much of an impact, but I noted a dark non-open method of approaching voters.

Here is a copy of the flyer passed out at the polls. At least an apology to the public is needed from those responsible. I have met the person who was passing these out before when I worked at the polls. I am told he is a representative of the union.

Notice that there is not a PAC (Political Action Committee) nor a union nor an association placed on this document. It is a product of the "employees" of the Woodlands Fire Department. Next time you see a firefighter, ask him why they tried to influence the election outcome. Try to get real information, not settle for just words that say nothing. They were out there at the polls. This needs to be investigated and whoever is accountable should be held accountable.