Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mobility Plan Woodlands Texas 2008 Update

The good news is that something is being done to improve movement of vehicles through The Woodlands without serious effects to our tree buffers. Projects for 2008-09:

FM 1488 - by now everyone knows that 1488 is under construction. We must wait a while to see the project completed. There will be four (or is it 3?)lanes all the way from I45 to Magnolia. This project will be completed in 2009. 50% traffic capacity increase?
FM 242 - Flyover construction begins in June '08 and ends in 2009. Improvements are planned to provide dual lanes for turning left to Gosling and dual turn lanes at one other intersection (I did not catch which one).
Research Blvd -traffic lights and widening by using the shoulders will improve traffic capacity by 30%. All the infrastructure has already been completed. Widening begins Nov '08. Completion in 2009. Added lane under I45 freeway to David Memorial - project starts late this year, completes 2009.
Lake Woodlands - traffic lights being installed now. Completion in 10 months. Speed limit will be increased to 45 with a 30% traffic capacity increase. There is currently a discussion underway to build a flyover onto I45. It is very early in this discussion.
Sawdust- Also a traffic light. Completion 2009.
Woodlands Pkwy - complete by October 2009. Widening to Kuykendahl. Bridge ready to re-stripe for additional lanes. 30% traffic capacity increase in widened section.
Gosling - Complete from post office to Flintridge. Higher traffic capacity. Start this year, complete 2009.
Flintridge - widen in traffic light area. Dual turning lanes from Panther Creek to ??. Complete this year.
Kuykendahl - widening plan in limbo pending financial resources.
Park and Ride (new) - expansion to 600 vehicles. Expected completion this year.

This all sounds great, right? Now the bad news. Higher capacity + same surface + speeding vehicles = noise, lots of it. There is no plan to mitigate noise. Construction is apparently guided by federal guidelines on building highways, not streets. There is no need to build any sound barriers because the federal guidelines are being followed???? Is there no one looking out for home owners? Here is where I want to stand up and be counted! Excess noise is generated by modern day tires on outdated surfaces. We need noise reducing surfaces on our roads! I feel we live on highways, not city streets. Now I think I am seeing evidence why.

How do we make decisions on selecting our leaders in The Woodlands Texas?

I know I am a bit tardy on giving this election postscript, but I believe it is better to wait for a while than comment on it immediately afterwards. So here I am.

As I was going house to house to encourage residents to vote in the coming May election, I came across a person who wanted to vote but did not feel that he could make a meaningful decision. The trouble was that the ballot was a total blank to that person. Who are these people? I ran into another who thought that we would not be electing anyone on the board until several years out. Surprised to hear that we were voting on our government officials now, she stepped back and asked how could she participate in something she did not know anything about. She was a little apathetically minded also. I could see there are many differing levels of understanding. These two residents were not going to vote, but folks, both end up saying that they would go to the polls. How many more people out there felt that they should leave the voting to others more knowledgeable than they or just did not understand the situation?

Apathy in local elections is partly our own fault. We have not yet found a good formula to get the voters to the polls in local elections except to go door to door. Even at that, there are a number of residents who disdain a stranger at their front door. Amazingly enough, I was confronted by only one of these person-to-person. Snarling, he asked "why don't we have a law against this?". "Well", I replied, "that is partly what this is all about. Why don't you read what the candidates have to say? Here is the flier." There was nothing in my blog about soliciting, but the idea that someone was trying to prevent someone else from communicating the availability of information just did not seem right to me. There was no gain to anyone except for the person being approached. He seemed a little more aware of that by the time I left.

Residents had an excellent opportunity to select five candidates from a slate of fourteen to begin governing The Woodlands Township by residents. Many residents were not prepared however. I personally delivered fliers to each doorstep in Indian Springs to help inform its residents of the availability of candidate information. Considering the number of visits to that information in the blog (I measured it daily), I believe the method used in the blog was influential, but I have no way of determining how many votes it may have actually created. I just did not get to enough households in the Woodlands as a whole, probably only about 1000-1200 homes (however many there are in Indian Springs). Candidates pushing for votes with mailers, signs etc did not generate sufficient confidence building to get people to the polls. That is the same as advertising, and we get too much of that in the mail anyway. Each voter must make a decision for selecting a candidate on his own. A piece of paper in the mail just didn't do the trick for many. A confident voter is more apt to go to the polls than one who just knows he should, but feels he is armed with insufficient information. The websites of the candidates helped considerably to generate confidence, so maybe the fliers did have a large impact after all. There is more to this than apathy.

My eyes were opened up a bit with the resident encounters above, so that now, I can more clearly see that we are not all on the same page. Therefore, I write a little more to explain what I see happening and perhaps this will give some readers more insight to future elections and the need to cast his ballot.

I provided a major part of the issues to consider for the last election, using what I read and heard. I also considered team personalities.

Now I also provide an informal checkoff list so that we can think from a list. Actually, for the next election, I plan to have a document to print, but right now we only have a frame for thought. This will be the frame from which I might launch a guide next time around.

Issues template
Foremost, we want to align our thinking with the issues at hand. Think about what is most important from the issues listed below. There could be more, so we won't assume these are all of them. I am just offering an organized methodology and starting point. Order these in the sequence of your perceived importance. There are quite a few, but I would check off 10-12 at most to look for in each candidate.

+ ( )Taxes - Lower taxes or have a maximum tax? How about special rate protection for the elderly or maimed or veteran who are on a fixed income?
+ ( )Law enforcement - Do we need additional police protection? Should we continue to use the county Sheriff to police, with county judges and courts?
+ ( )Fire protection and emergency response - Do we need additional protection?
+ ( )Merger of the associations with the Township - The Township has to assimilate the associations (not the village associations but the main four). Who can get that job done effectively?
+ ( )Enthusiasm for establishing a future efficient and permanent government
+ ( )Support for a city government structure - do we really need to he a municipality? We do not have to be one, you know. There are alternatives.

OK, enough of important issues. Let's go to another dimension to consider.

Candidate Background template

+ ( )Church - does the person need to be a member of a church?
+ ( )Family - does the person need to have a spouse and/or children?
+ ( )Age - does age make a difference?
+ ( )Experience in Government - is this a critical factor?
+ ( )Knowledge - of local governing processes, contracts, legal constraints
+ ( )Education - do we need post graduates in office? Is a High School education enough?
+ ( )Leadership credentials - others follow, follower of others, leader of leaders, able to make presentations, decisive, stand by decision, confidence
+ ( )Innovation - thinker, "yes" or "no" person, challenger, acquiesce to others
+ ( )People Networks - an adequate network of people to get things done
+ ( )Personal Motivation - Is the candidate motivated to seek this job for the right reasons?
+ ( )Time Capacity - is the candidate able to put sufficient time and effort into the job?
+ ( )Ethical behavior - fighting among peers, accusative, personal attacks, private business ethics, law abiding resident, cooperative, supportive, ... do we know how this person acts among others?
+ ( )Village affiliation - should some representation mix of candidates be selected because of their home village? (Should we be voting for certain individuals because they are from a particular village?)

One more dimension to consider. The election of the team is the first step in building a team. To get things done, projects and tasks must be distributed among the team members. To make decisions, the team must effectively communicate, delegate, negotiate resolutions, and champion progress.

Team Player template
+ ( ) Role playing - has a potential and clearly defined role on the team
+ ( ) Respectability - probably would be accepted by others on the team
+ ( ) Attendance - past performance on doing the job, exhibited even without being part of the team
+ ( ) Helpfulness - willingness to provide others on the board relative information instead of trying to surprise the board member(s) with info at the last minute to embarrass some in public. In other words, does not use position to play politics with the other board members.
+ ( ) Enthusiasm - this could end up being the most important, so consider this for your list. Try to ascertain whether the perceived enthusiasm will be enduring or just the election fervor.

Now that the the May 10th election has passed, we have a board of ten and one vacancy (until appointed) governing all villages, including the Town Center. Our hometown is growing up! How are we now represented, and will we see substantial progress towards the ultimate self-governing vision we all seem to have? Of course we have differing views, but each of us has some idea what we should grow up to be.

Who did we elect and what was the outcome? From where I sit, we did pretty good, electing officials with desired characteristics and potential roles in our future government.

My personal observations of what we get from the election:
Leader of leaders - Blair
Enthusiasm to work with others as a team - Hunter, Blair, Hausman
Tax advocate for fixed income residents and disabled - Campbell
Experience in fire department - Hausman, Tough, Campbell
Experience in The Woodlands governance - Tough, Blair, Hausman, Hunter, Campbell
Knowledge of The Woodlands service processes - Tough, Blair, Hausman, Hunter, Campbell
Attendance - Tough, Blair, Hausman, Hunter, Campbell
Networked - Tough, Blair, Hausman
Respected by Business community - Tough, Blair
Respected by Residential community - Tough, Blair, Hausman, Hunter, Campbell
Helpfulness, resident advocates - Hunter, Hausman
Police protection advocate - Hausman
By-the-people governance - Campbell, Hausman
Water district experience - Campbell, Hunter, Hausman
School district experience - Tough, Hausman

All in all, we could have done a lot worse. So did it really matter that we had such low voter turnout? Not really. The proof will be in the pudding though. I feel we were overweighted demographically by the older age group, who have been here a long time and who had more time to consider the issues and know the personalities. That is intuition and cannot be proven except being derived from the county's records. The only threat I see from the apathy is the shortage of opinion diversity and ultimately the lack of ownership of the outcome. Those who did not vote might not be so inclined to support the outcome of the board's decisions, if they disagree with those decisions.

My advice is for all of us to watch how the transition unfolds and how well each of these candidates do in their jobs, especially Campbell and Hunter whose terms end in 2010.

What can we do better next time? I believe we should have some television debates and discussions. Let people come into resident homes through the media. That is much less intrusive and fits almost all lifestyles. I would have discussed this election in a panel format. I believe many would have listened. We can use our creativity to get voters to the polls and that will occur only with efficient educational techniques. How do we get them to watch a local channel and what would it cost? I cannot answer that right now, but my idea would be to go through the other processes to get the people to the TV. Do it on the weekend when people are home, say Sunday evening, or perhaps varying days. We could even have slide shows with music background that repeated all day. My bet is that cable providers including AT&T and Comcast would be glad to provide a community channel; perhaps even the satellite providers would provide a channel.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Community Service Available - Woodlands Alert

This long awaited electronic means of communicating to the residents of The Woodlands is now available for registration. It displaces the outdated manual cascading telephone calling process of the Woodlands Watch and adds several additional sources of information to be broadcast. The selectable services available are:

Woodlands Fire Department
Woodlands Watch Message
Neighborhood Services - General Information
Woodlands Recreation Center
Parks and Recreation
Environmental Services

You can choose which communications you wish to receive and through selectable media. You can receive direct telephone calls, email, fax and/or TTY for each subject. The services are explained on the association's website. Once subscribed to these information services, you can change your options or media at any time.

I recommend using this service! It is easy to register and the information will be valuable to keep you informed of emergency situations as well as routine. Click here to sign up at their website or make changes to your account

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Woodlands Township Directors,CISD,Lone Star College Bond Referendum , School Board Election Results May 10 2008

The CISD Bond Referendum (yes=60.45%) and the Lone Star College Referendum(yes=59.92%) both passed.

The Township Results at the county website:
Jeff Long 8.17%
Ted Stanley 3.78%
Tom Campbell 10.48% - two year term
Kenny Speight 6.52%
Bruce Tough 15.33% - three year term
George Van Horn 2.13%
Karen Booren 5.51%
Renata Tyree 1.13%
Nelda Luce Blair 12.81% - three year term
Bev Earl 6.03%
Joe Merrill 1.27%
Peggy S. Hausman 11.28% - three year term
Paul Martin 6.31%
Claude Hunter 9.25% - two year term

Lone Star Trustee Position #3
Jerry Albrecht 23.03%
Robert Gandy 14.55%
Stephanie Marquard 32.29%
Fred Blanton 30.13%

Lone Star Trustee Position #4
Robert J. Adam 48.33%
Terry Morton 51.67%

Lone Star Trustee Position #6
Bob Wolfe 39.94%
Jason Roper 35.62%
Alan Quintero 24.43%

County Results click here
Woodlands Township results click here

Friday, May 2, 2008

Crime investigation using fingerprints in Montgomery County Texas

Do you know we have a new machine at the county jail to take fingerprints? Our county took a big leap this year to improve response time on identifying criminals wanted elsewhere and building a database of local criminals. In the Sheriff's department, there is a full time employee just for taking prints and acquiring data on each person brought in. Why would we emphasize one technique of criminal investigation so strongly?

To start, are identical twins identical in every way? Genetically they are. Are there any two people in this world with the same fingerprint? Not to any one's knowledge. So you see, identical twins do not have the same fingerprints. The reason is that the development of the ridges, swirls and circles in a fingerprint are affected by environmental factors, not genetics. This applies to foot impressions, hand impressions AND fingerprints. The right hand is also different from the left. This is due to pressure points and the position the fetus when laying in the womb. The print can even be influenced by factors outside of the womb during the fetal development. The science of finger printing is amazing these days. Yet it remains tedious and time consuming. Therefore, we have more than one expert on our county's criminal investigation staff to work with fingerprints.

I had the good fortune to see the equipment and meet the operator in the county jail, and meet a CSI (Crime Scene Investigator) in a seminar recently. Caryn is one of seven CSIs who might be assigned to a case here in The Woodlands. In 2007, 2200 fingerprint enquiries were run through the AFIS state database, 13000 palm prints taken and 31000 fingerprint cards created.

Fingerprints are very important in a criminal identification. It is the quickest way to positively identify a person. There are at least five formal classes a CSI should take to become an expert in the field. Fingerprints can be taken from a straw, piece of paper, a sugar envelope in a restaurant, inside a latex glove, and extracted from many other places we would not think would be possible. Very strong evidence is often the result of acquiring reasonably good fingerprints. Can one alter or mask his fingerprint so he cannot be identified? Yes, but the techniques used will be evident on the body or fingers of the individual that the prints have been altered.

I laughed when Caryn told us that when she sees a Giraffe or a Zebra, she immediately thinks of fingerprints. Every Zebra's striped body is different, and so the analogy. Must be tough to have this profession. I prefer to see a beautiful Giraffe instead of a bunch of unique lines.

You want to know a little more, like the anatomy of a fingerprint? I can give you a fundamental technical principal. A print has three basic elements. (1) Loops - concentric U shaped lines. Think of the end of a string starting in position A and laying it in one direction then bending it at some location C and returning the other end to a parallel location with A, call that B. Now you have sort of a triangle. You looped the string. (2) Whirls - oval closed shaped concentric lines. Take a piece of string and make a circle by placing both ends on top of each other. (3) Arches - lines that intersect each other but do not return to the beginning. Take a string and just place it in a straight of curved line that looks like a highway and you have one arch.

What makes the process difficult and time consuming is that a CSI must identify at least 20 places on each print and put them into the database. For example two ridges intersecting at an (x,y) location. These 20 points help the database respond to queries finding potential matches of a fingerprint. The eyes continue to be the best analyzer tool for determining if there is a real match or not.

Over many decades of refining the process and developing tools to make the process effective, today we have a sophisticated "fast" identification capability, yet unlike the CSI show on TV, it still takes hours or even days to come up with a positive ID if that happens at all. It is just one tool for a CSI to help unravel the crime scene and provide sufficient data to detectives to find the suspect(s) or to the court for a verdict.

Another aspect not to be overlooked! Our children and ourselves should be fingerprinted. If we get passports or are immigrants, we have already been fingerprinted and the print is in the national AFIS database. If not, we can take fingerprints ourselves and store them in a safety deposit box just in case one of them disappears sometime. Just use a stamp pad and ink the prints. Use a photo of the person and print on the backside. The prints are good forever.

Another significant aspect to not be overlooked! Do you know that all county employees are finger printed? More significant than that is every single licensed tow truck driver is finger printed and has a special colored identification card. That means every deputy who might want you to get in a car must have proper photo identification and every tow truck driver who may have you accompany him must have a photo ID badge. All licensed attorneys also have such a badge. A tow truck driver must have a PINK ID badge. The color is very significant. He must also have a green sticker on his windshield in order to operate in Montgomery County. This is very important to know! Do not get in a car without the driver having the proper photo identification. ASK FOR IT! DEMAND IT!

Montgomery County has a strong Crime Scene investigation staff with excellent credentials. Hopefully we will not ever need one to be working on a case in our neighborhood or in our own family. But if we do, there are some very fine folks in Conroe able to help solve the crime, fingerprints just being one but significant tool to do so.