Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Panel Discussion with Woodlands Decides

I attended the Saturday panel discussion, one of the two scheduled meetings for the public during the week of October 11th, 2007. Among the contributors were our state senator and house representative. The panel consisted of various community leaders to answer questions about the three propositions.

Notes:

  • Annexation - Houston could begin its three year annexation plan in 2011. Originally, the deal with Houston was 2011, but as a result of a law passed since Mr. Mitchell made that agreement with Houston, we got a three year extension of time.
  • NO community in Texas such as ours has ever escaped annexation by a municipality.
  • This was a defensive move by Mr Mitchell to prevent fragmentation of The Woodlands through adjoining small municipality annexations. It was to encourage regional participation and cooperation among the regional municipalities. Houston was the best city to take full control of The Woodlands as it existed then.
  • Now one regional project which is in the agreement with Houston is the Hardy Toll Rd extension into downtown. Any resident who travels the Hardy Toll Rd to downtown Houston will appreciate this plan.
  • Will Houston city council sign the agreement? We believe so. There is no indication that they will not. The substance of the agreement remains in place but it is being edited for legal reasons, a word-smithing exercise.
  • The Village of Spring Creek is about 3000 acres and would be part of The Woodlands Township jurisdiction. Harpers Landing would also be a part of the township.
  • In 1996 Kingwood was annexed by Houston. In 1999 we began our dialogue to prevent annexation by Houston. We started soon thereafter with additional legislation barriers to discourage annexation, such as the requirement for a fire station near the annexation area, owned by the annexing municipality.
  • After May 29, 2014, the cities of Houston and Conroe would cease to have The Woodlands under its jurisdiction and The Woodlands would be free to become a municipality.
  • Windsor Hills will be included in The Woodlands Township. They would change their community fees and processes to that of the township.
  • Conroe and Shenandoah have the same sales tax structure that we would have. 8.25%.
  • Texas sales tax is deductible on IRS returns.
  • Why are we rushing to get there? The governance process mandated that we do it as quickly as possible. There were only two legislative sessions left before Houston could begin the annexation process. We did it in the first legislative session, but we are a bit lucky on this. Next time, it is very doubtful we would have this kind of success, if we have to do this all over again.
  • Why would we approve the propositions before Houston signs the agreement with The Woodlands? We are lucky that Houston is working on the final wording of the agreement. Mayor White told Senator Williams that he would try to get it signed before the election as a favor to the residents of The Woodlands. There is no need to have a final agreement. It is like asking the cart to go before the horse. Our neighbors to the south are being very cooperative and neighborly.
  • Sales taxes will include cable and telephone, just like within municipalities.
  • MUDs will continue to lower their debts by the annual taxes. We have some good people there, utilizing the monies efficiently. If we were part of Houston, we would probably see about 5 times the water rates of The Woodlands. It is common in municipalities to use the MUD taxes for additional items to be funded as well.
  • In the MOU, TCID can dissolve itself after 2014 as long as assets are totally transferred to another governing body, such as a municipality.
  • If The Woodlands residents wish to have a different number on the Township board, our legislators are willing to go to bat for it as a fine tuning goal next session.
  • Service contracts and schedule of implementation are designed to protect service levels from politics.
  • Ad valorem tax can be implemented in 2010 if needed. It would be optional even if the proposition is passed. The third proposition is just there to confirm what the public wants for association assessments. As it stands, association assessments are not tax deductible. An ad valorem tax could be assessed the Township without public confirmation, but that will not likely occur. Property tax assessments via proposition 3 would be required to be uniform.
  • 1/16th of the 2% sales tax will be applied to regional projects. That amounts to approximately $1,000,000 annually.
  • There will be no changes to the school districts.
  • To make changes to the covenants, 2/3 of voters are required.
  • There would be stronger controls of ad valorem taxes than association dues because of more stringent state regulations. There would be a dollar for dollar offset of ad valorem taxes towards the reduction of association dues.
  • Why not a debate on the issue between the pro position and the anti position? The Woodlands Decides is neither. It is here to clarify the proposals and encourage the public to vote in this very important decision for The Woodlands.

1 comment:

Michael Donnelly said...

Wordsmithing
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IEEE Spectrum Magazine, January 2005
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There is a critical time that happens for nearly every group conducting a study when, although the ideas are still imperfectly formed, the final report becomes ominously due. The leader puts up a blank PowerPoint chart on the screen. The moment of truth has arrived.

Everyone stares quietly at the lonely bullet icons floating on the white background. Participants shuffle papers and sip coffee, staring with seeming unconcern at far corners of the room, waiting for someone else to volunteer some words to go on the chart – words that will be deemed unacceptable, of course.

After the pause has become sufficiently uncomfortable, someone ventures wording to go behind the bullets to represent what they think should be the conclusions of the study. There is zero chance that these words will survive. A feeling of resentment gathers among the other participants that their authority has been usurped by this pushy person.

Now a feeling of energy fills the room. The real work has begun – the wordsmithing battle has begun.

“I notice that you say in that first point that the committee recommends alternative A,” says one of the members. “Don’t you think that word is a little too strong. What happens if this doesn’t work out, and we’re blamed for the recommendation? I think we should use a more tentative word, like suggests.”

Then someone else objects. “But that word doesn’t carry the right nuance either. We were constrained to consider only the alternatives presented to us. Maybe none of them was really any good. We should use a comparative verb, like prefers.”

And so it goes on. This is only one word, and there are many others yet to engage. In contrast to the lethargy that had characterized the room earlier, now everyone is engaged and energetic. This is good stuff!

It seems to me that wordsmithing is the natural ground state of a committee preparing a report – the state that the committee always falls back into when external stimuli are removed. At a recent study I commented at one point in our deliberations that we had spent more time wordsmithing than we had on considering the substance of our report. Everyone looked at me blankly for a moment, and then resumed the wordsmithing. I got into it too. Doing wordsmithing really makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

It seems to me that language by its very nature is imprecise. I think of each word as inhabiting a fuzzy ball of uncertain semantic meaning. Moreover, the ideas we’re trying to express are fuzzy balls too, particularly when it’s a committee, each member of which has a slightly different interpretation of both the ideas and the words. The intended audience for the report will read something else entirely into the words anyway, and in my opinion, a lot of wordsmithing is wasted effort.

Whenever I think about wordsmithing, I recall with embarrassment a day some years ago when I took my management team offsite to write a mission statement for my research organization. We needed a sentence or two that would properly express an uplifting vision for what we’d like our lab to be in the near future. With great enthusiasm we started out with phrases like “leading the world in such and such.” But of course those words didn’t last long. Was ‘leading’ the right adjective, and did we really mean to say the ‘world’? How precisely did we want to describe the ‘such and such’ that we were supposed to ‘leading’ in?

About this time someone made a bold suggestion. The mission statement should be: “We do things for money.” That stopped discussion for a while. We all smiled, but I imagined each of thought secretly that was the only truthful mission statement we were going to hear.

Well, it was a long day of hard work, slugging out that mission statement, but we had our precious sentence. I went home tired and happy, feeling that it had been a successful exercise. I’d print the sentence here if I could remember it, but I can’t. On second thought, it would be too embarrassing to print anyway.

The next week we had a meeting of the whole organization, and I proudly presented our sentence. I wonder what the people were thinking. They probably thought that while they had been working hard trying to make money, these managers had spent a whole day crafting a silly sentence. I’m sure that by the end of the day, they had forgotten the sentence. By the end of the week, I’d forgotten it too.

By coincidence, there was a management meeting of the company’s executives the next week. Our chairman asked how many of us knew the corporate mission statement. I avoided his eyes, because I hadn’t a clue. Neither, apparently, did anyone else. The angry chairman pointed out that the mission statement was prominently displayed in the lobby, and we all passed it by every day.

So many words. So little meaning.

Robert Lucky