Bellaire residents will vote between three new candidates for City Council Position 4 in November, including Nathan Wesely, Winfred Frazier and Kevin Newman.
Community Impact Newspaper sends out questions to candidates ahead of local elections and publishes their responses. For fairness, each candidate is asked the same questions and given a word limit to answer each question. Answers, if needed, are edited for length, spelling and grammar.
Occupation and experience:
I am an attorney in private practice, primarily practicing in labor and employment law. I have served for six years on the Bellaire Board of Adjustments, with two as chair. I also was president of a not-for-profit corporation with a $6 million budget that, among other things, processed a $300 million per year payroll for 25 companies that employed union longshore workers in Texas and Louisiana.
Occupation and experience:
I am retired after spending nearly 47 years with Walt Disney/ABC-TV, Inc. Thirty-eight of those years were spent as a manager/vice president. I am also a licensed attorney and an associate with Paris & Associates Law Firm.
Occupation and experience:
Entrepreneur and small business owner in Bellaire since 1999.
What issues do you care most about addressing in Bellaire?
Wesely: First, city spending and debt must be reined in. We have $123 million in debt, with more to come. Corporate America does more with less—the city can do the same.
Second, the city must be more responsive to its citizens. The council and city manager have made decisions that run counter to what citizens want—e.g., the pathways project, the logo change and the Spruce Street demolition. When citizens mount a petition drive because of city proposals, there has been a failure to communicate.
Third, there needs to be more accountability and transparency with the city staff.
Frazier: We can not forget that flooding is a regional issue and that Bellaire can not protect itself solely on its own. I currently serve on Bellaire’s Flood Mitigation Task Force. I believe coordination with Houston and the Flood Control District is a necessity. We need to leverage regional, state and federal dollars at every opportunity. We should continue to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town. This is best done through programs like The Citizens Academy and others where citizens can get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into the services that make their lives what they are.
Newman: 1. Crime: Home and car burglaries are happening every day. We need more police patrolling the streets. We need to admit the problem and add more police. 21 total officers, when not sick or on leave, is not enough to staff 24/7 and provide premium service. Police staff is the same size since the ’80s.
2. Fiscal responsibility: Stop wasting tax dollars on projects that are not needed. Balance the budget while planning for the future expenses of infrastructure and equipment.
3. Bringing back the city seal to all vehicles, city properties and city letterheads.
What is your position on Bellaire’s approach to zoning?
Wesely: Zoning is an important protection for property owners and developers. Zoning creates clear expectations for the type of development allowed on adjoining land. Those expectations translate into enhanced property values. Bellaire should encourage development that complies with its zoning requirements. Bellaire should not change zoning at the request of a developer. If it does so, there is no point in having the zoning in the first place.
Frazier: I spent several years on Bellaire’s Planning & Zoning Commission, many of those years as chairman of Planning and Zoning. I support Bellaire’s approach to zoning. The zoning code needs to continue to ensure the protection of residential areas. Zoning should not limit positive growth. Improved buffers and screening between commercial and residential areas are needed. Traffic studies need to be formalized and integrated into the development codes to ensure that all issues are properly considered and addressed, not just for new development, but for increased use of property and Special Use Permits (SUP’s).
Newman: If they like the idea or business it will get approved, but if they do not like it then it will fail. There seems to be hidden favoritism towards some developers/owners while others are held back. Fifth Street is a perfect example of gentrification and what I feel is the city’s attempt to close down businesses that do not “fit” their image of what Bellaire should be. Council and P&Z seem to forget that the free market dictates what businesses come to Bellaire, not their dreams and desires.
How would you approach balancing the city’s budget amid state limits on property tax increases?
Wesely: The state limit is a 3.5% increase—much higher than current inflation. There is no reason Bellaire cannot live within these limits. In fact, the goal should not be 3.5%. The goal should be no increase with a steady year-by-year reduction in debt. Bellaire currently pays almost $10 million per year in debt service.
Frazier: The state passed legislation this year capping property tax revenues at 3.5%. The one thing I would do in the budget process is to protect public safety from the city’s revenue cap to ensure police and fire would not be adversely affected. The budget increases will need to be cut, but I shall put public safety before budget cuts. There have been concerns about dollars spent on consultants. As the city continues to tighten its belt, it will need to rely on outside providers for specialty areas, but I would make sure that what the consultants provide is useful, impactful and implementable.
Newman: I would cut non-necessities from the budget until the city had a surplus. I would do a total scrub of the 2020 budget and ask hard questions of the city manager as to why his department’s budget has doubled since he was hired. I would stop the city’s feeling of entitlement—we are not West U.—and accept that tax revenue will be down until new homes are built and added to the tax roll. I have always been for raising taxes if needed to provide premier level services such as more police and better roads, but the real issue here is stopping the waste and funding projects we do not need.