Thursday, May 29, 2008

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.

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