Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Peggy Hausman in 2011?

The 2011 Woodlands Township in Montgomery County, Texas election of May 14th is to fill three director positions. Early voting occurs from May 2nd through May 10th at the community center next to the library at Grogans Mill /Lake Robbins across from HEB at Market Street.  On election day, there will be fewer places to vote than last year. See the list and precincts at this link.
 
In this, the second election after the formation of the township, we have only one contested race, for position #6.  What makes this race interesting is the attempt to oust one of the bulwarks of leadership within this community. We are today where we are, partially due to the contributions of our long time resident, Peggy Hausman. If you know me really well, you may be surprised that I am endorsing any candidate. I have never done that before, except for myself. But this contest is quite unusual, and I am going to tell you why there are residents strongly endorsing the re-election of Peggy Hausman to The Woodlands Board of Directors.

It is critical that you get out and vote for her! Don't be passive in this! The challenger, James Stilwell is out to get voters from the masses who may not even know the incumbent. This is another important term  for The Woodlands. The Board of Directors will be working on governance in preparation to elect the preferred alternative for our "final" form of government. Peggy is the candidate who brings the values of The Woodlands to the table and will truly represent the views of the public. I am very confident that she will listen and dig into the governance alternatives and be actively involved in it throughout her term. The final form of government will have huge tax consequences. Every home owner should want to participate in the decision. Yes, she stands up for the residents and has done so for years. I certainly do not believe there is any hypocritical motivation or self gain in her work. She gives herself for the love of The Woodlands and the people who live here. She will not try to limit the options in decision making and edit out the alternatives to suit her own purpose, so that you have few or no alternatives. She is not very egotistical (everyone has an ego). She will try hard to let you decide, different than what I would expect from her challenger. She has a history of questioning the rationale of spending your money and looking for alternatives that are likely to be in your best interest. Believe me! It was not her fault that she had to vote contrary to the other directors in a few instances. She held her ground like she was supposed to do, representing us, instead of representing the other board members, the development company or any other special interest groups.

I have known Peggy for a long time now. Frankly, we need Peggy's prying questions in our government. Her opponent accuses her of voting against safety when her vote was "nay" to the fire stations proposal and one other proposal, but the propositions just were not right for approval at the time the Board voted.  I don't say I agree with all of her votes and decisions, but I do seek directors who openly question the proposals without the bias of social pressure or political ties and will say "no". She is not a member of what is called by some, "the club". I happen to know that Peggy votes the way she chooses based on what she believes to be right or wrong, after conferring with residents and other contacts.  Let's take some examples right from her opponent's platform - I was there for most of them. She speaks well enough for herself, but I will give a testimony of what I have seen and what I believe to be the benefits of electing her to represent residents. I will contrast the two persons running for this position and share with you thoughts of their differing backgrounds and approaches to governing and local politics. I will expound somewhat on three events related to the election that I have personally attended.

Peggy learns the facts, and if not satisfied with the due diligence, economics, probable conflict of interest, or benefits of a proposal, she has voted "nay". What she will do and how she will do it is a known to us. She picks her battles. For example, she might not have been happy with the taxis, but voted for the proposal for the taxis, because the proposal just might work for the benefit of the residents. What is really important in determining outcome is what the residents think and say. Residents get annoyed with spending money recklessly. They get more than annoyed when board members do not listen to their issues. Both candidates say they will listen, but performance is not based on saying so. It is based on doing. This is all about spending taxpayer money and protecting the values of the community. It has nothing to do with profession or technical capability. It has everything to do with the values on why we moved here. Not all residents prize these founding values of our community. Some are here for presence and status. Our assumption is that those who vote are interested in The Woodlands as it was designed to be, not what it has been changed to be. I hope you are reading this because you are looking to support this value system through your tax dollars. If you want to know what I believe to be the value system, perhaps the best place to look is at the articles I wrote on the three propositions. For many, The Woodlands has digressed into something much less desirable than earlier, yet they are willing to put up with some of it it to have lower taxes. There is no consensus on that however. Some people even believe we do not pay enough taxes for local government. It is debatable whether we will be able to sustain our current tax rate in the future. I hope we can for the sake of those on fixed and low incomes. Already the quality of life here has been  compromised by crime, pollution and bulldozing of forest. I trust Peggy to ask the  right questions and make the right decisions to preserve what we have now. I am personally hopeful that we will be able to keep our taxes in check but have a high quality life as well. Peggy falls in line with that ideal. But we have to deal with our issues, and we need help with that on the Board. The Town Center threatens us in that respect, but it also provides the revenue to keep our taxes under control. We need a person on the board sensitive to this and watching for all of our interests. That person is clearly Peggy. We don't need to fire her. Let's have a person who understands what quality means and has the insights and the fortitude to deal with issues so that every single taxpayer is able to have the same quality of life as our shared vision provides. Not one resident should be disappointed with life in our Woodlands.      

Many of us are here for the trees, natural surroundings and the enjoyment of nature through The Woodlands amenities. Peggy has an appreciation of that although I feel it might fall slightly short of my own expectations. Some residents live here to be close to work. Some are here to live the rest of their lives. Some are here to live as they did as a child and as their parents did when they were raised here among the trees. This is not a community designed to be steel and concrete, but we accept some of it for convenience. I do not consider ourselves business-centric, but business-tolerant instead. Peggy had demonstrated the same to me. Many of us work outside of The Woodlands. It is based on the natural state of the East Texas woods.

Let's talk taxes for a moment. Peggy does not want to spend our dollars unless necessary. She does not want to put money into reserves needlessly. In the WCA, there was an excess of fund for reserves. Residents complained about that almost every year. She supports the concept of experts being contracted to study and quantify that reserve for adequately maintaining our hard assets (mostly parks and amenities), instead of Township staff defining it. Combined with her support for a study of how much police protection is actually needed here and her conviction that we need a homestead exemption for property owners, I believe her financial perspective is quite sound. She understand the low interest for bonds and how that spreads the cost of assets to homeowners over 20 years. She understands it all and is totally aboard the boat on our behalf. This is one of the most important election issues for us to understand as voters. I hope and perceive that the other two other incumbents in this election share that same view.    

Crime and automobile traffic is attached to commercial presence. Issues with safety and unruliness is often attached to bars, alcohol and drugs.  All of it has to be managed through law enforcement. Earlier this year, our bars had become a nuisance with drunkenness and fighting. It had gotten so bad that the Sheriff's officers were looking for small signs of drinking in the parking lots to try to expose DWI possibilities before a person even started driving their automobile. As an example, I was recently accused of being drunk when I walked through Town Center one evening and after I entered my automobile. Those who know me, know I may not even drink a beer for months, yet I was required to take a sobriety test. The reason? We have issues here. It was the relaxed way I walked! The officer said he knew drunkenness when he saw it! I learned at that moment that I had to stand up straight and walk like I was taking a sobriety test all the time to keep from being under suspicion of drunkenness. I could not relax in my walk in Town Center. It is a funny story now, and I tell it now and then just to underscore the need to not be over-policed, but at the time I did resent it.  This is indicative of the magnitude of the issue faced by our law officers and the change from our quiet suburban existence in the forest to a somewhat wild and woolly commercial center on the outskirts of Houston. Peggy is tuned in to this issue. We need balance and a cautious approach to law enforcement. It is not about increasing numbers; it is about number and quality of policing. In a way, we avoided being part of Houston, so we brought part of it here. I admit that we are better off with a commercial center,yet we currently lack control of our own destiny. That has been in the hands of the developer all along. We cannot make the vision, they do. This may seem superfluous and not pertaining to the subject, but it is very pertinent. Stilwell has a history of service to the Chamber of Commerce and therefore ties to special interests in the Town Center. He also has ties to the developer as a contractor.

After two debates, I have discerned two very different people running for this director position. One is a lawyer who seeks to be a future leader of the community. He emphasizes his youth and potential for being a future leader. Would it be silly to keep the director who has the experience? Peggy Hausman's challenger,  James Stilwell, has played in what I consider a relatively minor role in the decisions of  the Township. Yes, Stilwell worked to prepare legal documents for the Township in its infant stages, but that was technical as a contracted lawyer. Yes, he supported the three propositions. I worked with him in that effort and was glad he helped. Peggy on the other hand was part of the communication team deployed to tell residents about the propositions in an unbiased manner without revealing her position. James has business ties to the development company which gives some people the suspicion that he has made a deal with that company.  He does have some good notions on private enterprise vs government enterprise, as he has consistently reinforced. That I like about him, but so does Peggy. Both he and Peggy would likely deal with the ice rink in the same manner except in voting. We would not likely hear the arguments or the prying questions from Stilwell. James would likely vote for the ice rink as a business of our government, in order to vote with the others, but he may not like the approach. The destiny of the boats has been set by the board recently. He had no part in it that I know of. I am glad he has positioned himself against government enterprise, but quite frankly, I believe he would have voted for the taxis when the time time came to vote against them anyway. He has said he would vote with the rest of the board, not against them. Peggy has been involved in every facet of the township, in key leadership roles. She is motivated by fact, principle and progress for her constituents in every village in The Woodlands. She is always looking for a solution and is willing to fight for the right solution. That is indicative of a listener and a doer. Her values relate to her memory of The Woodlands in the past, as well as the present. She is a realist as she has totally adjusted to the current situation and weighs everything in context of what is needed now and for the future. In day-to-day life, Peggy usually responds to residents' issues quickly. I would expect Stilwell to be slower to act like the other directors who do not have sufficient time to do their homework or respond personally to resident issues. I recently asked for help for my neighbors in some noise issues. Peggy was the only board member to take any visible action. Can we afford to lose her? I think not.

Let's take the Indian Springs Fire Station as an example of the differences between the two candidates. Peggy's opponent accuses Peggy of voting against the two new fire stations and thereby against safety. What Peggy voted against was the priority order of the construction of the two new fire stations which was defined in the proposal. This assertion is a very obvious misunderstanding and totally incorrect. I did not agree with the motion either, and I can guarantee I would not have voted as the other directors did. I have pleaded for some time to build the Indian Springs station and build it first. I even raised the issue in the last year of the WCA before the merger. The board however voted to construct one in the Village of Creekside Park first, where there was a temporary station at the time. Fire response time in parts of Panther Creek (Peggy's village) and parts of Indian Springs (mine) was atrocious and still is not as we need it to be. When everyone was bragging about obtaining the level two ISO rating, in my neighborhood we were worried that we might never get to that level. Response for emergencies had been mediocre to poor for years. I count seven years at least in our effort to get a station built! That station I am told was in the master plan. It was in the WCA capital plan for five years that I am aware of. Peggy was very aware of all of this. The new fire station construction had been delayed a full year due to the formation of the township. The new fire station for Indian Springs is now nearing completion, not because the board had the foresight and understanding to do it right, and not because they had not acquiesced to the development company and fire department wishes. They just had no alternative but to change the priority, because the construction for the Village of Creekside Park station was not yet even feasible. Yes, the board had passed a measure to build a fire station in the new village before the one previously planned for Indian Springs, even though it was not feasible. Peggy clearly stated that she was not going to agree to the new village getting a station first, so she voted "nay" to the proposal. That was the correct, appropriate thing for her to do. Why did not the rest of the board do the same? It is my intuition that tells me the position of the development company was to attract buyers in the Village of Creekside Park. It was an idea sponsored by the development company but put on the shoulders of the fire department.  That is my guess and others as well. As it turned out, the Creekside station plan ran into technical difficulty, so the station could not be constructed on the planned timeline. Therefore, the timeline was changed to build the Indian Springs station first. Personally, I was also unhappy with the original motion and thanked Peggy for casting her vote in protest. Was I against safety? Logic must rule in this. Peggy was very thankful that in the end that she was part of the right decision, but months later than it should have been had the correct station been put on the table for construction. Valuable and possible life threatening time had been lost for residents in Panther Creek and  Indian Springs due to the lack of due diligence and rationale by the board. Peggy voted against the proposal for very obvious reasons, and I applaud her for doing that. Thanks Peggy! We need more independent questioning and practical decision making, not less. No one on the board spoke out for the station except Peggy, quite contrary to the claim by Stilwell.  He would have voted FOR the proposal! He has made that very clear. Now her opponent is attempting to use her wisdom against her. Sorry to break the bubble, but she did the right thing. Good judgement must be a quality we look for in our directors.  We seek our dollars spent appropriately with the urgency and priority that it direly deserves, where safety is first. The board's decision was not based on sound principles of safety, and Mr Stilwell still does not see the logic in it.

There are other cases where she voted against a proposal, and I admire her for doing so in most of those cases as well. There were reasons for each one. I did not necessarily agree with everything, but I wasn't on the board, she was.  Why did the other board members vote for these proposals? I want to stop for a second and remind everyone that we have two other board members who also show independent thinking and vote "nay". They also offer alternatives that the other Board members often reject.  I invite residents to watch or even attend some of the meetings of the board to see for yourselves.

Success is achieving quality through diversity.  Why would we need a third lawyer on the board? We already have two! They happen to be the candidates unopposed in this election. So we would elect three lawyers to these positions in the same election? Quite frankly, I question the need for more than one. And that is based on the need for diversity of background and thought.

Look at the voting records. Check out Peggy's website and James' website. You will see a marked difference between the two candidates. One accuses; the other answers and defends. Rubber meets the road through experience, not through a rubber stamp. Peggy's opponent has established his strategy to go with the flow. Since we have open meetings to discuss the proposals and issues, one would expect the Board members to raise questions and issues, yet that modus operandi is not there. The opponent of Peggy has stated that he will vote with the other members of the board if elected.

I respect many of the board members, but I appreciate due diligence with my tax dollars and not routine acquiescence to the developer. Now I will reveal what I observed at the kickoff campaign of Peggy's opponent, James Stilwell and the two debates between him and Peggy.

At the campaign kickoff in the country club, two board members were present - Director Lloyd Matthews and Director Ed Robb, dressed in what I call Penguin outfits, in apparent support for James Stilwell, of course also dressed formally. When members of the board throw their weight into a campaign against a peer director, one knows that the politics of the election most likely trumps the principles of the campaign. Directors who support a candidate are probably trying to establish a network of consensus behind the scenes instead of transparent and open interaction for the public to see. That is always a red flag to me. Behind the scenes is often money, alliances, and communication. The guy on the street is not a part of that.

In this kickoff meeting, speaking on the behalf of Stilwell was the former development company appointed association director Joel Deretchin, who formerly presided over the western section of The Woodlands (TWA) as appointed by development company. I have always had considerable respect for him. He was a long time employee of the development company, retiring in 2010. He began his political speech by using a smear tactic aimed at Hausman's tenure in office. I could tell immediately that this was going to be a campaign not of what Stilwell can do for us, but would instead be a campaign against the actions of the incumbent. That would not be so bad except the testament was (to be nice about it) twisting the truth. Why was that necessary? It wasn't. It caused a negative reaction for me. What was said, in my opinion, can arguably be stated to violate the agreement Stilwell made with the Township to have a clean campaign. At first I was OK with it, because he can say anything in ignorance. But in the debates, Mr Stilwell maintained his campaign kickoff strategy despite Hausman's explanations and continued to attack Hausman for how she voted. He sent out a brochure in the mail, "I am running a positive grassroots campaign..." You probably received one. I have to disagree based on what I have witnessed and the tone of the kickoff campaign. That would be good and believable if I had not heard Deretchin's kickoff speech myself. Stilwell might have been able to win me over by an apology for misconstruing the facts and smearing his opponent. He did not. As nice a guy as he seems to be, the campaign in my opinion was started in bad taste, totally different than what I would have expected of him. A leader always establishes the tone, so afterwards, the talk around the tables followed that tone. The 40 or so people attending were anti-opponent instead of pro-candidate. We should not elect a director based on mis-perception of fact and a negative campaign. One must stand up for ones own convictions, not against ill-perceived opponent actions. We demand integrity and honesty in those we elect to office. Peggy lives that integrity.

I want to bring something to your attention, because no one else is likely to. In the campaign kickoff of Stilwell, one of the speakers stated that Peggy interrupts Township meetings and said that the staff of The Woodlands Service company can't get their jobs done because of the questions of Hausman. Imagine! I could not rest until I got an answer from the service company on that statement. I had to understand what is was that would make Deretchin make that statement. Yes, Hausman does seek information. Would not you if you were a director? I sure would. When you are a leader, you are accountable to the public for the outcome. If you have a questioning mind, you will ask questions. So I asked the president of the Township about Peggy's direct influence on preventing staff to perform their jobs. His answer was quite simple, generic and straight. Amazing to me, this was clearly and brashly waved in front of his constituents as fact. As stated by the president - "staff receives a number of contacts from Directors. In most cases these contacts represent residents who have contacted the Director because of a particular issue, a service need or simply seeking information. If these residents were not contacting Board members, they would typically be calling The Township offices or sending an email. These inquiries and service requests from residents, whether they come directly from the resident or through a Director, are not interruptions to staff but simply a part of our work day...". In my former days, I had a job to question project managers, turn over every leaf looking for gaps and holes. From that I gain an appreciation for what someone like Peggy does for us to improve the outcome and seek excellence in decisions.

Not everything was smear in his kickoff. A large part of the campaign kickoff was devoted to talking about the candidate. James had one of his supporters to present his background, and then Mr Stilwell presented his ideals and his strategy to show the differences between how Hausman voted and how he would have voted.

At the first debate sponsored by the local chapter of the Tea Party,  the campaign strategy of Mr. Stilwell continued, but with much more caution. I heard the same arguments expressed in a more refined manner.  I thought at the time, and concluded later that Stilman indirectly criticized the two other directors as well as Hausman when he criticized Hausman for voting against some of the proposals.  Like I said earlier, she is not the only person who votes "nay". That would make a good story for later. Then again, some directors have never recently voted against a proposal, unless it came from one of  "the three". You can view the voting history on Hausman's website.

Peggy is proud of her accomplishments, which includes the raising of a family in The Woodlands. Her opponent is in the midst of raising a family also. I would much prefer to have the broad experience of Peggy in office than an inexperienced person. She has served on about every Board and local governmental agency there is here. I do not believe the The Woodlands Board members have sufficient time to look at the details of the proposals and do not give the proposals sufficient independent thought. Peggy is an exception to to the rule. She is a home keeper and makes the time to work on Township issues. I have been to her home to observe what she does to prepare for a Board meeting. She takes that responsibility very serious. Her work is apparently not in collaboration with other Board members and should not be. That work should be done in public. If not, it is arguably not "open government". It defeats the purpose of openness and having a diverse board for quality decision making. I don't think residents want penguins with rubber stamps to be levying taxes and spending their money. Peggy finds the facts and makes her decisions based on her independent knowledge and research, using staff, friends and contacts.

In the second debate, sponsored by the League of Women's Voters, both candidates were drilled for their views. In a way, I felt sorry for them, because the other two director positions are uncontested and all the attention was focussed on these two people vying for this one position. Again, Stilwell answered some questions with an attack on Peggy's voting history. There weren't any more than 120 people attending, and there seemed to be that many questions. Let me share some of the statements I deemed noteworthy. My notes do not compare the two contenders directly. They are what I considered to be interesting excerpts in getting to know the candidates. I'll share the first five.

Intro: Peggy - "I believe in transparent government, and asking questions. I won't vote until I know the answer." James: "My wife is a United Methodist minister. We have lived here since 1995 in three villages."
Q1: What is your vision for The Woodlands in 20 years? Be specific. James: I will not support anything that threatens our being a part of Houston. I support what is always number one in value in the surveys - the natural environment, one of the most important things to preserve.  Peggy: Steve Burkett expounded the vision long ago. The Woodlands will be the place where our children will opt to return to live and play. We will preserve what we have now.
Q2: Did you support all three bonds?  Peggy: I was part of the Woodlands Decides Committee. I taught the public about all three. It was my job to educate the public and not convince them either way. James: Yes I did, unlike my opponent who did not support all of the bond proposals. I was in favor of them.
Q3: Should the two year tenure of the directors be different than today? James: I support a 2/2/3 instead. We will need to change the law to alter it. Peggy: I would go further. The at large election has some flaws. We need to extend the election to consider where the directors are seated.
Q4: Would you lower the tax rate or the amenities? Peggy: we need to accumulate reserves to protect our assets and operations. Your tax check will be higher next year (due to increased assessments). James: No, neither one. We appreciate the style of living we have here and the $86.7mm budget is sufficient to support it. The tax rate we can bear.
Q5:  Where do you stand on the controversial improvement of the Grogan's Mill bridge? Is it appropriate for the Township to be spending money on it?  James: It is not Township property, so your tax dollars can't be spent on it. Commissioner Chance  says it is not in his jurisdiction either. Peggy: I agree. We need to find the owner, facilitate improvements and see to it that it is up to code.

Those were just the first five questions. I am not publishing everything, just too much, but want to give both candidates credit for their thoughtful responses. I noted 19 questions.
Closing: Peggy - Two promises: (1) No robo calls from me. (2) Before I vote, I will read, listen, and ask questions and watch your money like it is mine. James - I have presented a catalog of differences between us. Peggy was against the tax break for over-65. She voted against every proposed park. Instead of spending money earmarked for parks, she favored giving back WCA taxpayers money to WCA's residents in the last two years of the WCA's existence. I am a leader who will listen to you. I will fight for financial strength and for the high quality of life here. I am 40 years old and will be here in the future and do what's right.

The debates are ongoing in the websites of the two contenders for this position. James throws darts at Peggy in "Ask Peggy Why". I do not know James as well as I do Peggy, but I can attest to Peggy's unrelenting commitment to the community.  We need her to remain there and lucky she is willing to serve. James is too much like the others on the board.  Maybe in the future he will mellow out and run for a position based only on his commitment to the community instead of telling the public his twisted view of why Peggy did what she did or didn't do. I go with truth, sincerity, diverse thinking, and honor. That is what The Woodlands deserves for a leader. Please go vote and vote Peggy Hausman.

Resources:
James Stilwell election website 
Peggy Hausman election website
Hausman, Stilwell receiving support in upcoming election (Villager)
+ Township election website