Thursday, June 17, 2010

The first Woodlands Township Workshop Meeting


Today, I attended the first workshop of the seven-member Woodlands Township Board of Directors. The stream-lined constituency was more visible for individual contributions, as the team was more engaged than normal. With seven members, each member must now take more responsibility in questioning and understanding the issues. Our goal is to peek into the boardroom to see how this new team seems to work together and how the new dual meeting schedule might work out.
First, we have a new chairman. That has changed the tone of the meeting considerably. I felt that, as I expected, to be fair with Robert’s Rules of Order. Bruce Tough met my expectations in fairness and order, and as usual, he was also a keen listener. It looks like the team will be in less conflict than it has been, and the members will be treated equally.That is my hope and expectation, but only time will tell.  I did notice a few body gestures that were not needed, but it was the exception rather than the rule today. Let’s hope it stays that way.       
My impression is one of a better team fraught with fewer personal issues. Some people may have been shocked by the question by the past chairperson Nelda Blair on order. In a way, I was probably different from others in my perception. I was not shocked by the lack of process, because it has been stated to me in the past that there is no process manual and no binding rules of order – all is done by verbal agreement among members of the current board. However, Robert’s Rules of Order was not a book written just because it sounded like a good idea. It was written because meetings need rules of order to make good use of time and resolve conflict of opinion. Today, the largest conflict occurred at the end of the meeting. Claude Hunter wanted to resurrect the general homestead exemption and put it on the meeting agenda for next week. Mrs. Blair challenged that request saying the motion was already passed in a prior meeting and that would violate a rule of order. The new chair stated that in Robert’s Rules of Order, it depended on how Claude voted before. If he voted for it, he can renounce his vote based on new information available. In a court of law, I believe new evidence is allowed under certain circumstances. Claude could not recall how he voted on the motion. Tom Campbell said he voted yes. In any event, there is a need to clarify rule of order. Personally, if key data changes unexpectedly, and there is an opportunity to reconsider a motion, I don’t care what it is, the motion should be reconsidered by the board if a director has a reason to reconsider it. The issue is that it is possible to disrupt the board by doing this regularly. A two million dollar windfall in the five-year plan was sufficient to change Director Hunter’s perspective and others as well. Let’s be flexible enough to manage situations, not necessarily follow rules to the demise of the taxpayer. Set politics aside. What says the homeowner? In the end, it appears that the motion is not to be put on the agenda for the evening meeting next week by discretion of the chairman. Considering the lack of clarity of order, that was appropriate. Considering the importance of the decision, I believe it should have been put back on the table. Are residents missing the window of opportunity to have a general homestead exemption next year, just because of a rule of order? Personally, I doubt $2 million of capital will make much of a difference in cash flow anyway.
This year we will have a consent agenda to help speed up the evening meetings. This consent agenda format will help the board be more efficient. It is the way that most county and cities generally work. Focusing on the more important, most likely-to-be-discussed items will create a shorter meeting next week. Discussing the consent agenda in the workshop meeting produces ideas and lends itself to establish possible battlegrounds so that the directors and residents can study them before next week’s meeting. It is believed about 1/3 of the agenda items can be passed with one vote in the next meeting, using this technique. There was some shuffling of the list this week, but the number of items on the consent list increased as the non-consent items were discussed. That was good.
Of interest in this meeting   
·       Introduction of Development Review Committee candidates. There were several very good candidates for the Township Board of Directors to consider in their appointments. Each candidate gave his background and qualifications for the position. I wonder what criteria the board is going to use to select the appropriate candidate for the job. I hope by needed team roles, not by qualifications. My observation is we have some critical needs on the DSC.
·       Effect of the number of directors on the Township Board to the CVB this year. It needs to be whittled down to three, because four would be a board quorum for making decisions and then be subject to agenda notification and other Open Meeting rules. More work apparently has to be done to make this a clear workable proposal. More information will be presented at the next board meeting.
·       With 8 audits, some of which will close the books of the associations, this year is stressful to the finance department. These activities could affect what and how much is done during the budgeting process.
·       Discussion of the results of the residents’ survey is expected to raise a number of questions and interest next week.
·       Negotiations for an international Ironman triathlon have been completed. A proposal will be formally presented next week. This will require $30,000 per year from the township. It will produce more revenue than cost to the township. I will be interested to see how this is handled financially. To me, it should be taken from an existing budget item of the CVB, not more money provided to them. Successes do not mean more money to spend. Money has to be justified on need.  I can see the argument to spend more money coming. We need to go the other way. However, there is good reason to do it. Let’s see.
·       There will be an emergency preparedness presentation next week by the fire chief. Hurricane season is here. Our community needs to know where we stand.  
·       The fire station construction contractor has been selected. The process was described. Next week, the board will vote to select that contractor. Looks like a slam dunk.
·       Pink trash bags for extra pickup needs to be increased in price from $1.50 to $2.00. The cost to the township constantly is increasing and now each bag full of trash costs the township $1.64. There may be a consideration for a discount price for buying the bags in bulk at the local grocery stores.
·       The Texas state firemen convention will be held here in The Woodlands. The fire chief negotiated that deal. 4500-5000 delegates will attend.
·        Mosquito trapping has started.
·       Starting to work on the solid waste contract. It will take a year to complete the work on this $5 million, 3-year contract extendible to 6 years. It expires in 2012.
·       Working on the parks and pathway maintenance contract which expires at the end of this year.
·       Invasive vines are being removed on Flintridge, but what about Rush Haven? Actually, the vines are not invasive species. They are generally native species but on roadsides with a lot of sun. The vines thrive better under these circumstances than in the shady forested areas, thereby strangling the trees.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Excellent reporting here on the latest meeting. Robert's Rules of Order can often get in the way of a productive meeting, rather than assist. They are most useful in contentious situations. When things are humming productively along, good men and women should be given the leniency to get things done effectively and without interruption.