Monday, December 10, 2012

Texas Images on Facebook

Good luck to the Houston Texans football in our game this evening on Monday Night Football from Foxborough Massachusetts.  Texas Images on Facebook is highlighting this story today.

The Woodlands Commentary has not been posting anything recently due to my commitments on the Facebook page called Texas Images.  I thought it might be a good idea for those of  you really interested in The Woodlands because I often post Woodlands photos there. It is very diverse, not very heavy traffic added to your Facebook page, and covers all of Texas with nature, people, and event photographs, both contemporary and historical. A "like" on that Facebook page brings you about 8 photographs a day, but on some occasions could be as many as 15.  You can also forego the auto postings with a "like" and choose the hide postings option. That lets other people know about the site, while giving you the option to rejoin the postings anytime you want. There is no penalty whatsoever, as this is also a public service to all who love our state or even community.

2012 Kemah Christmas Boat Parade
Texas is a great state and now the Texans are something we can truly be proud of in the Houston area.

Come out to The Woodlands tonight at 7pm where we will be hosting a pep rally for our team up north. Channel 11 will be broadcasting live in a 30-minute show from there tonight.

There will be a number of sports bar locations in the area, if you want to see the game at one of them.

Go Texans!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Primary Election 2012 Picks

I don't know about you, but I have not yet voted in The Woodlands Texas or elsewhere. Tomorrow or Thursday I plan to cast my vote in the this year's Primary. Those running for Montgomery County precinct 3 Commissioner, ordered by position on the ballot are: Paul Cote, James Noack, Kenny Speight, and Brian Dawson. This is a very strong Republican county, and the local issues are clear in the Republican election. In some of the more contested races, such as County Commissioner #3, there are driving forces that will probably influence the outcome. In the Commissioner 3 race, I see the County Judge's endorsement and rationale for endorsement to be fairly accurate. As far as likability goes, I am inclined to vote for Kenny Speight. However and unfortunately as much as I would like to endorse him, he is supported by influential party people here (see Conroe paper article). To me, that implies in-position control issues, with a high risk to being acquiescent to others, similar in nature to what some suspected of The Woodlands Directors this past year. There is considerable money in his campaign, and he has resided in this precinct for very little time. If I thought the entire Board was behind him, I would likely change my mind. I am uncomfortable endorsing him. He is considered to be hand picked by a few influential people from the heart of the old time Republican party. So I am rolling with James Noack, because it is a tossup to me between him and Brian Dawson, but James has got a slight edge. I do expect there to be a runoff election in this contest.

For Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable, I favor Lt Dan Norris. He is an exceptional hard worker, has met an incredible number of people and had a long term strategy to be elected. He has stuck to his goal over a year and has won my vote with hard work, consistency and people engagement. His appreciation of diversity will bring ideas and best practices from a number of places. Minorities will be treated fairly. He has sound strategies in place for staffing and training and has a good education and career background to qualify for this position.

I support the re-election of Tommy Williams and Rob Eisler to the Texas legislative bodies. Both will help The Woodlands advance with next step governing needs. I expect both to move forward with legislation to solve our need for ordinances and their enforcement.

The relentless negative campaign from David Dewhurst has driven me to pick Ted Cruz over him for US Senator. In my opinion, he who casts the stone in politics is more likely to be guilty and even pious. Spending so much money on advertising what is wrong with Ted Cruz has an evil flavor of egotism and piousness that is not the mark of a true Texas gentleman, which I demand in Washington from those representing me.  

Kevin Brady should be re-elected to the US House. He has done a great job for us and will continue, by seeking support from all factions of conservative Republicans and conducting Grass Root Town Hall meetings.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Montgomery County Commissioner 3 Primary Election 2012

There are two very significant races in the Texas Montgomery County’s Republican primary that should be on everyone’s agenda of concern and contemplation. One is County Precinct #3 Commissioner. With the retirement of Ed Chance, this position is open to be filled by a newcomer. There are many key issues connected to the 2012 election. So, I am focusing on this very important election to the voters living in The Woodlands, Texas, and in nearby areas. Currently local laws, road maintenance, trash recycling, county parks, wildlife refuge, traffic lights (including camera enforcement), permits, and stop signs and county parks are governed by the commissioner. He represents the area covered by precinct #3 for all county services, including the services provided by the county Sheriff’s department. The commissioner has a vote in every meeting of the County Commissioner’s Court, presided over by the County Judge. Until The Woodlands becomes a city or acquires law making powers by the Texas Legislature, The Woodlands will continue to be governed under the county ordinances. Currently the honorable Ed Chance has a background of engineering and road maintenance. He has expressed strong interests in forestry conservation and amenities for nature lovers. With the tremendous growth of Montgomery County, we must have someone competent to fill those shoes.  Two resources that might help the voter understand the responsibilities of Commissioner Precinct 3, is to review the precinct’s website and the Montgomery County ordinances website.
I asked all Republican candidates to answer these questions below, because they weigh heavily on my mind. Some of these may not be an issue with you.  Some depend on where you live. I ignore the obvious questions, which relate to budget and taxing strategies (responsibility: Commissioner’s Court and County Judge), and instead turn my eyes instead toward actual near-term and long-term issues where one person will have significant control or local influence. If I get answers from any candidate, I will share them with you here.

Candidate Questions:

1. Is our Commissioner Court’s meeting place appropriate, considering the aggregation of population in South County? Do you have any ideas to make the court more accessible?

2. Should county taxes be lowered as The Woodlands assumes more responsibility for self governance, including law enforcement and possibly road maintenance?

3. What do you propose as governance responsibilities for precinct 3, as The Woodlands assumes its own law making and enforcement (should that happen in the next legislative session)?

4. What outcome do you see regarding the traffic stop light enforcement by camera during the next commissioner’s term? And strategically?

5. What is your view of speed enforcement using traffic cameras?

6. How should the roads be maintained in The Woodlands? What strategies do you have?

7. Are county taxes too high or too low to maintain the quality of life in The Woodlands?

8. What is your position on noise? Motorcycles, trucks and domestic animals?

9. Do you support the traffic stop sign “California Crawl“?

10.What specific changes in organization do you propose in the services and staffing of our county precinct?

11.What is your position on The Woodlands Parkway being extended to the west? Do you feel The Woodlands should be a conduit of traffic, expanding the road as the traffic increases, to be good neighbors to those of the west? This includes SH 242, SH 2978, The Woodlands Pkwy, Kuykendahl and Gosling.

We could ask other questions, but I peeled these from the top of recent discussions on the role of county government in our community.

Montgomery County Election website

Candidates and their websites
Ordered by ballot position + Website link. Facebook Page

1. Paul Cote , Facebook
2. James Noack, Facebook
3. Kenny Speight, Facebook
4. Brian Dawson, Facebook

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Montgomery County Women's League of Voters The Woodlands Debate

Each year the League of Women's Voters of Montgomery County conducts a question/answer session with candidates for The Woodlands Township Director election. Last night, all candidates participated except for Margaret Chavez. I will share my impressions below.

Position 1 
Claude Hunter won points by his typical "service oriented" pitch to the voters and he demonstrated that he understood some of the issues from experience. Claude's simple summary of the incorporation issue won him points. However, Gordy Bunch has arrived on the scene and offers a fresh look at what is needed and how to solve some of the issues. "We should not copy other communities" but rather be ourselves. New blood in the position continues to be my preference.
Position 2
Mike Bass was the clear leader for this position. His city council experience and his matter-of-fact approach to the questions was the mark of confident experience. He sees opportunities to reduce taxes and has a clear vision of managing the convention center funds. The signage issue is a strength also. He is a "can do" person. Ted spent a lot of time defending himself from some email that perhaps some voters saw, but I sure didn't see it, so I saw that approach as a personal thing for him, and nothing for the voters. He also slipped up on misquoting something Bass had just said and that did not go over very well.
Position 3
This was the least clear of the positions to assess. We have four excellent candidates vying for this position. I appreciate some of the answers from  all of them, but lean towards Borey's views of The Woodlands most of all. As he stated, "We came here to the invisible city." That pretty well  describes what we are and how we do or need to perceive this place. Insight and common sense go to Borey. He was the only candidate that said it is possible to change the covenants. "Think outside of the box." That is a "can do" fresh attitude, so I am 100% in his court. His doctorate in Biology and environmental experience would go a long way to help us in our ecology and tree issues. It also helps to have the Chevron Oil value system in his blood. That emphasizes  integrity, excellent capital stewardship and protection of the environment. Of particular mention from Nutt was his humor and his view of politics.    
Position 4
Two years ago, Ed Robb was unable to attend this forum. This time, he had some things to say to win some points. For example, a sign ordinance needs to be consistently enforced. His introduction was a simple thank you to the organizers of the forum. He however in his closing remarks made claims that "he" accomplished the lowering of crime. Crime has been lowered in all municipalities and the entire area, so if we are to be fair to his challenger, the truth of crime in Southeast Texas needs to be weighed in with the stats. I should point out that apparently nothing has been done about excessive noise and speed on our roads by any Board Director. I wish some humility in what was not done right would also be stated, and then he would have made some points with me, but not the case. I liked the statement by John Risher "I am not a proponent of outside studies" in his response to the question "What steps need to be taken before incorporation occurs?"  He advocates decision making for a roadmap that states clearly what we intend to do, so our partners know how to plan their future (county especially). I continue to believe we need a change in this position and now endorse John Risher for this position, even though I do not perceive that he understands some of the services and who administers them (based on one answer about maintaining green areas).

Monday, April 30, 2012

Who is being recommended for the Woodlands Township Election and References for Resident Consideration

Each year, various Woodlands Township Directors in The Woodlands, Texas will put out their choices for Director positions. I rarely say anything about this, but I believe voters should know who is the favorite in the eyes of the incumbents or those leaving office. Who would they prefer to work with, of those on the ballot? Who would they like to have in their position when they leave office? I will give you what I know plus my own picks below. Updated 5/3/2012 to include my impressions from the debate last night.
Position 1
Incumbent - Claude Hunter wishes to be elected again into this position. He has incredible knowledge and will speak up for what is right. He is a nice fellow who I respect and like, but needs to step down. In my opinion, his time is up. He is unable to effectively bring his view forward, strong enough to be accepted by others on the Board. It is time to find someone else for this position, who not only casts his vote right but stands up to the others and can win support from them for what is right.
ChallengersRichard "Gordy" Bunch, Henrietta Riddiford. Gordy Bunch has achieved a great deal in his business by being prudent and creative. I like his business model and creativity and have been a customer of his for years. Henreitta Riddiford is somewhat known in the community, but in my opinion, not enough to be an effective leader on the Board until she is better known. I will be interested to see her performance at the debate on Wednesday. Hausman Pick: leaning towards Gordy Bunch. Matthews pick: Claude Hunter. Campbell pick: Gordy Bunch. My pick: Gordy Bunch. He is the best equipped to effectively lead this community in this position and can summon strength among his constituents to support him and get the job done right. The question mark is - will he listen to others for guidance on community issues?
Position 2
Incumbent - Tom Campbell, who is stepping down after public service for many years, has been an independent popular conservative thinker, offering bold alternative views of what is required to provide quality public services to residents and businesses.  His views often went unappreciated by other members of the Board, but in my opinion, those views have been excellent when one understands the reasons behind them. Our community missed opportunities just because most of the Board members were clearly against him personally and his conservative perspectives. On debated issues, he often found himself aligned among the Minority Three - Peggy Hausman, Claude Hunter and himself.
Challengers:  Mike Bass and Ted Stanley. Mike has not been here all that long, but his grit and his logical assessments seem always on track. He was on the DSC but recently resigned, standing on principle.  I applaud his grit to stand up for what is right and to do as he says. Don't just talk the walk, but walk the walk. He resigned and now is running from Director to have more influence in the community to make it right. Ted Stanley is a long time resident who has served in many capacities. Although I respect him, I see him acting in the same role as the Foursome. We need individual contributions and aggressive consideration of spending and taxation, like the incumbent Campbell. That role will go unfilled if Ted is elected to this position. Campbell's pick: Mike Bass. Hausman's pick: Mike Bass. Matthews pick: Ted Stanley. My pick: Mike Bass
Position 3  
Incumbent: Lloyd Matthews has been aligned politically over the past few years among the Business-centric Foursome of Ed Robb, Nelda Blair, Bruce Tough and himself. He has at times voted contrary to the Foursome but never in my memory impacted any decisions in doing so.
Challengers: Roland Borey, Jeff Long, Tim Nutt, Margarita Chavez, Jay Mac Sanders. This slate does not seem to have one standout for what is needed in this community. (1) Roland Borey is an unknown to me. It will be interesting to see how he does in the debate. However, I cannot endorse someone I don't know. He has not made a strong campaign, so I consider his presence as a rookie. He has some good ideas, but let's get them out in the open and come back next time as a leader. (2) Jeff Long has led the Board of Directors in the WCA and understands the workings of the government. He is a strong candidate, but has at times limited the role of government to what I believe to be the detriment of the community ("not our job" syndrome). He has the capability to lead the community, but in my opinion needs to listen to residents better. I am on the fence with him and wish I could wholeheartedly endorse him, but cannot at this time. I will be listening to him at the debate on Wednesday. I hope he will have specific remedies and not present us with rhetoric about the obvious, i.e., the municipal issue.(3) Tim Nutt is involved in community activities, but I have seen and heard little of him during the campaign. He seems to be a rookie at governing, although he has lived here for 20 years and has a good reputation in the community. (4) Margarita Chavez is not a viable candidate in this election as far as I can determine. She has not been specific in her goals and has not demonstrated a capability to lead the community. She is a voice of the Latin community, bringing diversity to the table which is certainly needed in The Woodlands. (5) Jay Mac Sanders is back for the second time, looking to be a leader among the community. He has served on the Panther Creek Village Association. Based on my prior knowledge of him and his platform, I cannot currently endorse Jay to serve in this role. Hausman pick: leans toward Tim Nutt, Matthews pick: Jay Mac Sanders, Campbell pick: Jeff Long, My Pick: Roland Borey. I find Roland to be a qualified fresh thinker with great perspectives and a "can do" person.
Position 4
Incumbent - Ed Robb is a vestige of the Town Center (TCID). He is one of the Business-centric Foursome. He does not step up and speak out for the residents, but always plays a supporting role to the staff and other directors. He has stepped up to the plate recently and showed interest in the drought issues of our community, but I do not see a community leader in him. He needs to be voted off the Board of Directors. In my opinion, he has never belonged there as a community leader. He is there as an icon, but we need someone to look out after our interests, both residential and business. I believe he does not have sufficient time necessary to do the job right. He complains that there is too much discussion on issues at Board meetings; I as a resident want discussion and look for proposals to be questioned openly. Open government, open discussion, prudent spending.
Challenger - John Risher is a newcomer on the block, but an old timer in the WCA association. Although the Tea Party endorses him as a conservative, I have some issues with a few of his key doctrines. He has rejected the idea of taxation relief to residents in the form of a Homeowners Exemption and has shown an apparent affinity to the business community. In our community we need improvements. I perceive a frugal person here. The question mark to me is whether he will listen to residents. Lack of evidence on that attribute makes me hold back a bit on him. He criticizes the over-65 tax exemption. His logic is not sound in my opinion, especially in regard to shifting the burden of taxes from residents to the business community. He also does not seem to understand that we have a low tax rate among our peers at this time. Ours includes association fees that other communities have, in addition to municipal taxes. I liked his responses in the debate and have shifted to support his candidacy. Hausman pick: John Risher, Matthews pick: Ed Robb, Campbell pick: John Risher, My pick: lean toward John Risher because we need the fresh ideas and change he would bring. Ed Robb has been in this and a related position (Town Center - TCID) for many years, tending to protect pet projects.
Candidate Websites 
Position 1
Claude Hunter - Website  Facebook
Gordy Bunch   - Website Facebook
Henrietta Riddiford - Website Facebook (none found)
Position 2
Mike Bass - Website Facebook
Ted Stanley - Website Facebook
Position 3
Roland Borey - Website Facebook
Jeff Long - Website Facebook (none found)
Tim Nutt - Website Facebook 
Margarita Chavez  - Website Facebook (none found)
Jay Mac Sanders   - Website Facebook  
Position 4
Ed Robb - Website Facebook
John Risher - Website Facebook

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Woodlands Election Imminent - what to consider

Every year, we elect about half of the Directors for The Woodlands Township. Some of the questions you could ask the candidates are outlined below.

I was asked recently who is in charge of The Woodlands. This stimulated me to act in a rather bazaar manner to this coming election in The Woodlands. I just jotted down some questions that need to be asked. Well, why didn't Randy ask them? Well, not this time. I decided this would be a family focus year and not to spend my time on politics. However, I will write what I have time to do and this is one of those.
As you probably know, I ran for a position a couple of years ago and had many people say they would come to the polls to vote, but did not. Some old timers will tell you that the low turnout we get is what they expect; don’t even bother with those people who did not vote in the last election. Well, I again plea for residents to vote. We need a change of the guard and new keepers of the 83 million dollar money purse of The Woodlands, but in some cases status quo may be desirable. Two incumbents have decided to step down this year, leaving room for at least two new candidates.  For those of us on fixed income, we need to keep our taxes low and living quality up, if we are to stay.

Ask the candidate some tough questions:
  • What is your position for incorporation? Do not accept the answer that residents will vote on it, because some candidates will lead campaigns with their influence to gain a certain outcome that favors their own view. Get the candidate’s view! They want and have the influence to push their personal agendas on us. 
  • Many people rightfully complain about noise in The Woodlands. Find out if your candidate intends to solve the existing problems. Do you hear speeding motorcycles in the middle of the night? I do. I also hear speeding, racing loud muffler cars. The noise echoes in the woods day and night. 
  • Was the tree situation in the drought handled appropriately by the current board? I contend that it fell quite short. There was no disaster plan in place and no means to mitigate the effects of a drought on our most prized assets – our mature trees. This is something the board did not do. Many had the attitude that “nothing can be done” or “it is natural, just let it occur”. We have faced drought for the past decades. Ask them why they have not confronted it and resolved how to fight it. They have all been leaders here for years.
  • If your candidate is an incumbent, ask him/her what he does to understand and act on proposals from the staff. One candidate is rumored to never read the material in advance and also not read his Township email. Some incumbents spend hours reading, contemplating and questioning the proposals. 
  • If your candidate is challenging an incumbent, ask that person what he would have done if he had been there. That does not mean just voting, it means doing! You would surely want a challenger to have been tracking and questioning the business of The Woodlands over the past year, not just jumping in at the last minute like a rookie. He would likely perform like a rookie in that case. 
  • Are you a self thinker and leader, or are you a follower? Do you really listen to constituents or do you allow your personal experiences as a resident or business owner guide you? 
  • What is more important – quality of life or taxation rate? 
  • Does every resident in The Woodlands have the right to the same quality life as provided by taxation dollars of the Township? 
  • Do you support equal treatment of both resident and homeowner? Some homeowners are investors, owning property to rent out to others. Those of us who seek quality of living are not exactly happy that non-residents make money off our work while we pay and work to make the community better. It is rare to see renters contribute to the community. 
  • How does the candidate feel about business vs. resident taxes? Hopefully, those elected will have a balanced view. Consideration goes beyond this however. For example, one candidate believes if we have resident homestead tax relief, that businesses would have to fork out more tax money. I believe not. Prudent spending and business management is the way to keep both business and residential taxes down. The reason for resident tax relief is to encourage home ownership instead of making a business from renting homes. Get residential taxes as low as possible to make homes more affordable to live in. Well, that is one my personal agenda items, but an example of what to think and act on at the polls.
  • If we suddenly had a large sum of money to spend on The Woodlands, where would you want to spend it?
  • If you had to cut spending dramatically, say by 20%, where would you cut? Don't let the candidate deny that it is possible. Assume a tough situation and get an answer. One of the problems with many politicians, they seem to want to paint rosy pictures and deny possibilities. Those able to prioritize and communicate are more apt to be able to make logical decisions. The answer to questions such as this will often reveal the insights and values of the candidate. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Beauty and the Beast in Wildflowers

Trouble is, this imported wildflower, the beast called Bastard Cabbage, is taking over our pastures and road side areas. I just completed a wildflower photo shoot of Texas wildflowers, especially the beautiful Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush. What a  surprise to find such brilliant yellow fields, adding a new level of brushed color for early-to-mid-Spring. Not all yellow flowers are this species, but the large patches of yellow you observe from the road are almost exclusively this plant right now. We need to eradicate them, but in all honesty, there is little that can be done except to pull them up over and over again. They are known to displace our natural wildflowers by their large leaves which shade out the sun in the fall, a requirement to survive, especially for Bluebonnets. Most of these photos were taken just South of Brenham, Texas.

Bastard Cabbage
I visited several patches of this wildflower during my recent scenic road trip in Southeast Texas. This plant is spectacular. Butterflies are feeding on nectar everywhere inside these patches.
Observed on Highway 290 north of Brenham - should be Bluebonnets!

A native yellow wildflower - Showy Nerveray with a Monarch feasting

Invasive species - Mediterranean Mustard also known as Bastard Cabbage with an Orange Sulfur Butterfly feeding
There are actually many yellow flowers indigenous to Texas. This flower has four lobes and blooms concurrently with the Bluebonnets.
Note the cluster arrangement of the invasive plant. Butterfly is the white form of the female Orange Sulfur butterfly. 
Painted Lady on the wild (Mediterranean) mustard
Our problem with this invasive plant is similar to that of the invasive vines growing in Tennessee and Arkansas.  They would not be so bad except they dominate the ground on which they live, to the point of depriving survival of the species of plants we so love. The seeds of this beautiful plant are small like Rye grass. It is speculated that the seeds have been introduced to this country from grass seeds and in organic materials from gardening supplies imported from European sources. Once started, deep roots will spread in the ground. The plant re-leafs at the same time in the fall as our wildflowers are trying to sprout. Their seeds also propagate through birds feeding on them and wind blowing the small light seeds from place to place. The plant is more than a nuisance, it is a threat to Texas!

One thing for sure, our butterflies are gorging themselves with its nectar and in turn making sure the plant is germinating many many seeds.

+ Invasive Database reference
+ More information published on the plant by KXAN News - "Invasive Plant Threatens Bluebonnets" 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Governance Forums Approaching

Governance in The Woodlands Texas is again a subject of anticipation and concern as we approach the time for residents (stakeholders) to critique the work of consultants thus far. What do we want to be when we grow up?  That is the million dollar question, or in reality, the very large multi-million dollar question. Some questions come to mind:

What are we willing to pay for our ability to self-govern? We passed by on the opportunity to be governed by existing municipalities, e.g., Conroe and Houston. Now that we find ourselves on our own, we have to make some tough choices on how we determine our ultimate fate. With dependence on county services, we are always at risk in maintaining the quality of life that we expected to last forever when we got here. We chose this place for our own reasons and did not want to put our destiny in the hands of Houston. Doesn't it strike you as amazing that we have such rich amenities here for about the same tax burden as Sugarland? We are about to see why. We do not maintain our standards for quality of living here, and every homeowner does not have an equal right to a peaceful quality life in this place.

Regional Participation Agreements (RPAs) entered into with the Cities of Houston and Conroe prevent the annexation of The Woodlands and allow residents to determine their own future governance structure within the next 50 years. In 2007, residents overwhelmingly approved the change in governmental structure to become The Woodlands Township; however, the RPAs provide the opportunity to change the current governance structure, including the option to incorporate as a municipality after May 29, 2014.

The Township’s Board of Directors has been working through a process to proactively examine whether the current governance structure is best suited for the community now and into the future or whether changes need to be made. Over the course of the last several months, the governance project team has been preparing a “gap analysis,” an evaluation of the effectiveness of existing service delivery and the potential future need for expanded and/or new services and governing tools as the community evolves. Additionally, a preliminary financial analysis has been completed so stakeholders can better understand the financial implications of municipal incorporation. The upcoming governance forums will present this analysis and allow participants to provide feedback on the future of The Woodlands. That means you, the resident, has the opportunity to speak out now! It is a good opportunity to get involved and protect your home investment.

Registration for the community governance forums continues through noon on March 28, 2012. To ensure your seat at one of these events, please register today by visiting the Township’s Web site, or by contacting Kim Cogburn at 281-210-3800. Participants who cannot attend these events will have a chance in April to watch an informational video and provide feedback online. However, that process will prevent your thoughts being discussed in the process itself. I am unsure how the offline dialogue will function, but recommend you attend a forum personally to get the most out of this that you can.

Here are the basic issues we will face:

(1)  Do we want to maintain our own roads? Some roads are falling apart in the older sections of the community, especially in Grogan's Mill. They have far outlived expectations, yet we still cannot get them replaced. The road bonds issue for the county was voted down; that removed the capability of the county to replace our roadbeds that are in a state of disrepair. One reason for this outcome is that we were outnumbered by people at the polls who do not want any additional tax burden in the county. The last election would have been a perfect time to begin projects to replace the roads, with such low interest rates for bonds. "Anything to do with The Woodlands", people outside of The Woodlands say, "we do not want to support financially. Hey, you are a rich community. You can pay for your own (expletive) roads!" So how do we vote? Do we have any choices in the matter? I have not seen a viable alternative. We must maintain our own roads.
(2)  Do we want a peaceful community? Without our own laws, we have to abide by state and county laws. What is good for the rural residents is good for the urban residents and vice-a-versa. If dogs bark, well we abide by rural law of the county where homes are further apart and barking is more tolerated. We try to enforce rules but have no power to do so. For example, one of these days, our property covenants will be challenged, because we attempted to legislate law into them, beyond property maintenance. We have no legal authority to legislate any law.
(3) Do we want control on the use of properties in our neighborhoods? We have no control on the height of buildings nor their placement, as demonstrated by development over the past few years. Zoning is not an option for us, only the enforcement of covenants is. Watch how gasoline stations have infiltrated our communities. They attract traffic, loud noise and create light pollution. We just have to accept what the development company wants to do. They do not seem to understand this issue, or if they do, it affects their bottom line too much and is financially risky, so they will be against a municipality. We need peaceful neighborhoods, especially at night. We need control over zoning. Stop building gas stations in residential areas and stop building high rise buildings in residential areas!  
(4) Do we want to have control of our streets? How about the speed limits of our roads? Engine and pavement noise are enemies of many residents here. Who bought a quiet home here but now face loud tires, transmission noise, exhaust noise and loud radios in cars? The county can do nothing, because the rural areas do not have a big issue with this. Loud mufflers on motorcycles are an ongoing issue, just as loud mufflers on cars are and trucks are. The cyclists will tell you they need those mufflers for safety. Nope, I cannot accept such justified means for making noise. The problem is deeper rooted than that. The whine of a motorcycle accelerating to 100 mph at midnight on our roads cannot be reported as a noise issue, someone breaking the law. Catch the speeder and that is enforceable but they are gone and no one really knows if they are speeding anyway. Rumbling engines must be quieted. Many cyclists like to hear the echo among the trees. Although our roads have speed limits determined by county safety studies, the county allows automobiles to go 10 mph faster than than that before enforcement. We need strict enforcement to get the problem under control. In fact, some areas should not even have the speed limit so high. Often, those causing the noise seem to be from outside of The Woodlands. They are often contractors and rural residents, visiting our commercial areas or working in our neighborhoods. I have often wished I lived in a community like El Paso, which has enforceable noise regulations.
(5) Water water everywhere? But in fact, this past year, we experienced water water nowhere. It is only going to get worse. Rise of costs and reduction of subsurface availability will haunt us for some time to come as the population of the area grows. We are at risk for water supply in bad droughts such as experienced this past year. To become a city, we must manage our own water supply. In actuality, we do anyway. The issue here is that if we must immediately own the MUD districts' assets, then every homeowner in that municipality must pay equal taxes based on property value. Therefore, a homeowner in Grogan's Mill would have to pay their part for new water wells in the Village of Creekside Park. This is the reason that many do not see a viable path towards complete self-governance. The tax burden would be too high. MUD (Municipal Utility District) assets are poison pills, guaranteeing that we will not become a full fledged municipality for another 20 years. So from where I sit today, we might as well get used to the idea that we cannot become a municipality. Really? The question is: how much are we willing to pay in taxes to get the quality of living we expect here?
(6) Another issue I have encountered is related to road signs and speed bumps. The county has an ordinance against speed bumps, so we cannot regulate speed ourselves to protect our children, even in cul-de-sacs. Traffic volume must drive any change to stop signs or traffic lights. The county has its guidelines and will not deviate from them in special situations.  

For more information on the governance project, please visit The Woodlands Township’s Web site.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Elections? Redistricting? Heavens sake, what a mess!

Have you ever wondered what has become of the principals of our democracy system in the United States? Well, OK, that is a deep subject and far beyond this article, but we will just slightly touch it anyway. There is an issue at all levels of government and political arenas. Believe me, it is not only one party. In The Woodlands, Texas, we are part of the issue and problem, even in local politics. The thinking that seems to go on in some people's heads is questionable. Let's explore a little of that.

First and foremost, who was the politician or group who manufactured district boundaries to favor their own party's position in elections? Or is that my imagination? Ask the DA. Well, then let's just remove those people from office. Something is dramatically wrong with some politicians' methodologies and thinking processes. Manipulating elections is about the same as fraud in my book. If we cannot have level ground democracy, with fairness in elections, why do we have a democracy at all? Of course every one involved has some reason why they are right.

Our system has been slowly decaying, but the root of the problem has been here from the start. It is called human nature, translated egotistical and/or self serving. Have you heard the complaints of those fed up with the system? "Let's get rid of all incumbents." Anyone listening? The Tea Party has emerged as a power house to counter the political mess we have and the overspending of government, but the mainstream politicians are joining it to stay in power, and they are making noise as if they are a part of the movement. I guess that may be OK if they embrace the principals behind it, like sticking to the principals of the constitution and having a government that is by the people and for the people.

Once, I thought whistle blowing was a good thing, but when I ran for office, I discovered those who are doing it are also power hungry with an agenda of their own and not necessarily embracing ethics as they pretend to do. They often focus on the most trivial things imaginable. Once one sees inside political circles, one easily gets a bad taste in one's mouth, and discovers it is simply indigestion. That is, it doesn't last long because there are simply too many other better things to do. However, it can go to the puke stage if you let it. Our system is lacking in every place I look and go. Does it seem that way to you also? Anxiety can be about family, friends, work, and yes Big Brother too.

Well, now we see unfair redistricting is about to defer our elections. Maybe until the summer! The courts are having to deal with the current situation brought on by the 2010 Census and the decisions in the legislature to realign precinct boundaries. I read today that April 17th for primaries is out of the question. And now the situation includes a case in Washington D.C, which will likely be used as a benchmark for other similar cases. Not to complain, because that is of course the role of the court system and part of our inherited governmental checks and balances system. Thank you forefathers for balancing our government with an arm that is not elected, because the other branches of government seem to have a hard time doing things right and for the right reason. And does a double wrong make a right?

Now how are we part of the problem? Last year, our local government decided for us to not conduct local Township elections as part of the November elections of 2012. This was made possible by a law passed in the last legislative session enabling local elections to be moved from the municipal or general election in May to the November election. There is wisdom in that law, but this particular decision makes me have doubts about the foundation of thought by our local politicians in office.

People complain everywhere about the frequency of balloting in the year of national elections. You get a primary in April, a general election in May and the final election. On top of that, you often have a runoff election in June. In the year 2010, we had people confused and disgruntled with the entire election schedule. "I am supposed to vote again? You've got to be kidding! Hey I got a life too you know." Boy do I empathize with that! Spring is the time to celebrate life, to enjoy nature. But politicians think we have to serve them instead, by studying their positions and the like.  Then we have to show up at the polls after work or on the weekend.  It is the same politicians who do not provide a computer election by which we can vote. How many times must a person go to the polls anyway to do his duty? The people making the decision not to have the Township election in November may not be thinking about their own influence being threatened and their power in the community, but I can't help but be suspicious about their motives. They will tell you they are interested only in the consistency of timing and the general routine expected by voters. Well, guess what? Only a small fraction of the voters show up at Township elections here in The Woodlands. The outcome of the voting has not been the clear decision of the stakeholders, only the voters. It has been only those who have the time and interest to vote. It is even worse than that, because the system encourages polarity and the good-old-boy form of government. You know, scratch my back, and I might scratch yours? Let me see your cute little baby, it is so precious. Can I hold it? Now did you say you would vote for me? Hey my name is Charlie, spelled with an E. Don't forget now...., with an E!

Believe me, there was not a consensus of opinion on the Board of Directors about the decision on moving the date of the election. One director in the Board Meeting discussion actually said that that the people who vote in the November election are not as informed as those voting in May and would not probably intelligently vote for local officials, if we held the election in November. Those going to the polls would feel compelled to vote on every position and many have no interest in local matters. They say we need "informed voters" voting for Township Directors, not those uninformed voters voting in the state and national election. That could translate to more like this: "We can better focus residents' eyes on the local elections in May than in November, so that we have more influence on the outcome." Pardon me ...? Yes, that is the name of the game, isn't it? Influence and power. You would hope it would be for the betterment of the community. But it is more likely, how to achieve personal agendas.

We need stakeholders at the polls to choose the best candidates for the job and need to do whatever we can do to legally get them there. If more residents show up at the polls, the better and more diversified the outcome will be. Do residents want the loud noise of traffic on the roads? Find a candidate with a realistic plan to do so (not the standard "I will try"). Do you want liqueur bars in this community? Night Clubs? Do you want to own boats on the Waterway and how about a skating rink or roller skate rink or maybe even a new theater under the stars? Is that where you want your money to go? There are a lot of questions. When I moved here - no bars, no nudity on cable, a quiet community, a haven away from the city. It was even quiet at night on the streets. Look where we are today? I thought when I moved here that we were getting away from Houston, but we are bringing it here and fast!

Now, we have drunks picked up on the street. We have drunk drivers on the road. But these are different issues than the subject matter, just the outcome of our system, being run by people who promote the business climate that has emerged. The basic issue here is that we need people at the polls to vote on candidates who will represent issues, represent the public, not represent business,and make life a better quality here. Business is important, but what says those who live here? The power is in our/their hands, but residents just do not exploit that privilege. Taxpayers here are not just residents, but residents are the ones allowed to influence what happens here. How about the two poor families in Georgia and Alabama who helped pay for the boats? And then the tourists who came here and have no idea they are paying for maintenance of the boats which they don't use. All of this makes perfect sense?

Let's assume for a moment that we had changed the date of the local election to November. What effects would that have had? Would there be uninformed voting in November? Sure there would be, just like there is now in the May election. People showed up at the polls and thought that would be a good time to start learning about the candidates. Oh well, vote for him because he seems to be savvy about things here. Oh, I remember her, she is the one with the big sign on Kuykendahl!

There are other issues, but surely they could be overcome. One example is the budget which would have to be set by those ending their incumbency, instead of beginning it. That is not so bad though. It preserves the momentum and allows for change to occur more gradually. And change we do need!

So now we wait to see when we can really have local elections - maybe June, July? Budget time is always right after the elections. Since our government's wisdom decided for us to not have the elections in November,  it may soon face the issue of having only three elected Board members, out of the seven in office, at the time of developing the budget. The May election could be deferred until June or maybe July after the runoff elections. Maybe we will see a local election in November after all? Maybe we will have a state runoff in July on the same day as our General election.

It would be so much better to have an internet site where a voter could cast his vote electronically. Fears of security should be abated. The technology to secure voting is available. How do you know a person is who he says he is? Let's get real and stop the insane contradiction of values. How is voting security and identity more important than banking security anyway? For heavens sake, we do not need to see bodies and photographs to prove identity. The voting process is ruled by the Czars of Insanity, the same ones who determine whether there should be a mounted rider on a horse in the parking lot of Walmart, simply because we are The Woodlands.

We need more rational people in our government, without their own agendas to protect, people who are regular citizens with moderate income, who deal with everyday issues, as the masses deal with issues. We need diversity (I plan to write on this subject in a separate article). By the way, have you seen a penguin lately? If not, go to a Township meeting and maybe you will understand what I am saying.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Red Light Cameras - Houston's Failure

Red-light cameras are here to stay but only if they are deployed intelligently for good reason. The Woodlands, Texas, practices good use of the cameras and is having success.  It is a successful program by Montgomery County, initially implemented by precinct #3 commissioner Ed Chance. However, cities have some issues with their deployments. For example, making sure an automobile comes to a complete stop before turning right at a red light is questionable. It is the law, so it is a valid use of the camera, but does that practice result is positive and desired results?

I get feedback sometimes about my enthusiasm for red-light cameras and receive comments like "You are the only person on earth who likes red light cameras." It is true that I like them, but I like them, because we have deployed them here intelligently. I am not the only person who endears the cameras.

If you are going to repeal anything, don't repeal the enforcement of the law. Enforcement is what the cameras are doing and doing so for less cost than hiring law enforcement officers. We have traffic laws for safety and for mobility. Houston just ended their contract, because of the activists in that city and their constant deluge of complaints to the media saying the practice of using technology to enforce the law presents safety hazards.

We need to be careful about the rationale of deploying law enforcement cameras. It is the way the traffic lights were deployed in Houston, and the purpose for which they were deployed, not the cameras themselves that were the problem. Many people do not understand how they work, so some united to fight the use of the cameras. We deployed them to keep traffic moving. We had too many people breaking the law and thereby affecting the movement of automobiles on our primary traffic arteries. The practice of intentionally running certain lights has been stopped due to their deployment. We could have put traffic cops at intersections, one to monitor and one to chase law breakers, but instead we use technology. If there is not a penalty for breaking the law, many people disregard the law and pass their own (mentally). "No need to stop before the light turns red! No need to stay within the determined safe speed of the roadway! No need to stop before turning right. No need to stop at stop signs. I can safely cheat a little." That makes for a lawless society. Let's get real folks. The law is clear. The cameras are not the problem. Much of the problem is simply with modern society. However, people do listen to reason and need to be educated on the rationale behind using technology for this purpose.

Houston has failed, but hopefully someone with sufficient intelligence on deployment strategies will come back for a future project and make their strategies work. This was a failed project, because Houston had the wrong reasons and wrong plan for deployment. To use the cameras for reducing the number of accidents was not the right approach. In any given project, one must define the purpose clearly and have measurements of the project's success afterward, and assess the risk of failure. Houston had measurements, but did not have a good exit strategy. Always plan for the best but provide for failure and a means to deal with operational issues. You must measure your goals in the operation phase of your project and if you cannot get the job done, an exit plan must be envisioned, if not detailed, ready to execute. That is the way business works, it should also be the way government works. An exit strategy should be supported by the contracts.  This was an example of not following excellent project management practices, including the education of the stakeholders - those on the road.

Here in The Woodlands,  we have the opportunity and need to use cameras for speeding, as well as for enforcement of traffic lights. However, we would have to be careful how to deploy them. People will momentarily speed up in an intersection to make sure they are out of the intersection as fast as possible when the light is changing. Therefore, you don't want to measure speed in an intersection. It is best measured on open roadway approaching a light. There is of course an issue in the legislature with enforcing speed limits with cameras. Enablement for the right reasons is something we must continue to pursue.