Q&A: Learn about candidates for The Woodlands Township board of directors, Position 5

Voters will choose between three candidates in the race for board of directors, Position 5. Board members serve two-year terms.



Here are candidate responses to several questions prepared by Community Impact Newspaper. Some responses have been edited for length.


Rashmi Gupta


Experience: degree in business and economics; local volunteer; member of several Conroe ISD PTO boards, booster clubs and Hindu Temple of The Woodlands board; Realtor for 17 years
Top priorities: ensure independent voice on board, be a voice for residents, represent facts on incorporation, ensure diverse representation, address suicide rates
936-314-9640
www.rashmiguptafortownship.com


Why are you running for The Woodlands Township board of directors?
Our local government needs an independent, pro-resident voice. As special-interest groups spend more money to gain influence over our township, I pledge to serve our diverse community and act only in its best interest. I’m concerned that residents’ interests are not being fully represented. My relationships with home and business owners give me an understanding of what works and what can be improved. Exemplary schools are one of the main reasons for The Woodlands' prosperity and success.


How do you feel your previous experience will help you to serve as a board member?
As a 22-year resident, local business owner, volunteer and hard-working Realtor, I understand firsthand what keeps entrepreneurs and families in The Woodlands: amenities, safety and schools. That’s why I support the upcoming CISD school bond. Since I am not a politician and I have no political aspirations, I am here to serve as long as the residents of The Woodlands need me.


What are the greatest challenges the board will face in the next two years?
Our greatest challenge will be keeping those who live outside The Woodlands from influencing decisions our board makes. We must ask ourselves why these groups are spending money to impact our hometown election. Our revenues have stagnated as we’ve approached residential build-out; revenues from hotel occupancy has declined; and economic outlook has been adversely affected. Repeatedly increasing the tax rate isn’t a viable way to cover the shortfall. We must find solutions that do not burden homeowners.


Do you feel The Woodlands should call for a vote on incorporation in 2020? Why or why not?
Not at this time. Incorporation is a costly proposition that cannot be undone. The Woodlands can’t be annexed by Houston or Conroe until 2057. SB 6 further protects us from forced annexation. HB 347 requires majority of voters … to vote before annexation can occur. There has yet to be a clear argument to take on significant additional expense without improving traffic or controlling flooding. We need to find a way to fully engage and educate residents.


Will your current employment or activities present any conflict of interest if you serve on the board, and how would you address this?
My campaign does not take [political action committee] money, and I did not seek endorsement from any special group, including the Houston Association of Realtors. I would like the residents to know I am only looking for their endorsement. I firmly believe that as director, my loyalty must be to the residents alone. Should any of my business contacts attempt to influence my actions on the board, I will gracefully decline.







Walter Cooke


Experience: Partner in the law firm of Orgain, Bell and Tucker LLP Top priorities
Top priorities: Managing the township budget, working to ensure that The Woodlands does not incorporate at this time
832-603-9962
www.cookefortownship.com


Why are you running for The Woodlands Township board of directors?
I have considered running for the board for several years, but family obligations prevented me from doing so. This year, however, I had the time to run. I see board service as a way I can attempt to use my talent and experience for the benefit of the residents of The Woodlands.


How do you feel your previous experience will help you to serve as a board member?
I have practiced law for 45 years ... My family and I moved to The Woodlands in 1990. I have served on several nonprofit boards over the years, such as Montgomery County Youth Services, New Danville, Montgomery County United Way, Education for Tomorrow Alliance, the Pavilion and The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce. In 2005 I was honored by Interfaith as a Hometown Hero. And I served a term on the board of The Woodlands Community Association.


What are the greatest challenges the board will face in the next two years?
Managing a budget that will continue to maintain the high standards to which The Woodlands has become accustomed without a tax increase. Appraised values should increase, but at much lower annual rates. Also, this year we experienced a decrease in sales tax revenue, and the uncertainly over the future of the Anadarko buildings caused the board to reserve $2.5 million for an anticipated sales tax shortfall in 2020 … deficit budgets are predicted for 2021 and subsequent years.


Do you feel The Woodlands should call for a vote on incorporation in 2020? Why or why not?
No. Incorporation would achieve nothing for The Woodlands except an increase in expenses. Once the fear of annexation was offered as a reason to incorporate. But due to the moratorium agreements negotiated several years ago, Houston cannot [annex] The Woodlands until after 2058 …and because of a recent change in state law … voters would have to approve annexation. The Woodlands would gain nothing by incorporation except more government and more costs and expenses for the taxpayers.


Will your current employment or activities present any conflict of interest if you serve on the board, and how would you address this?
No.







Shelley Sekula-Gibbs


Experience: doctorate of medicine at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, ran dermatology practice for 30 years, elected to Houston City Council three times, completed Rep. Tom Delay's unexpired term in U.S. Congress
Top priorities: maintaining George Mitchell’s vision of an environmentally sustainable hometown, enhancing amenities, boosting public safety, preventing unwanted road projects, keeping tax rates low
832-721-7546
www.drshelley4township.com


Why are you running for The Woodlands Township board of directors?
I am running for Position 5 to share my conservative leadership and government experience with residents of The Woodlands. I will always put The Woodlands residents first and strive to keep The Woodlands wonderful for future generations. Maintaining George Mitchell’s vision of an environmentally sustainable hometown where people and pets live in harmony with nature, I will work with fellow board members to prevent clear-cutting, stop dangerous road projects like The Woodlands Parkway extension, manage costs, minimize taxes and enhance our amazing amenities.


How do you feel your previous experience will help you to serve as a board member?
My service on the Houston City Council and in the U.S. Congress will bring value to residents of The Woodlands. On City Council, I represented over 2 million people, helped pass a revenue cap of 4.5% and lowered the property tax rate. Houston’s revenue cap has saved taxpayers approximately $700 million. I understand the value of having a vote on the Houston Galveston Area Council where federal and state funds for transportation and drainage projects are distributed.


What are the greatest challenges the board will face in the next two years?
The board does an excellent job balancing revenues and expenses. Going forward, new home construction is slowing, and sales tax growth is softening. Meanwhile, expenses continue to rise. In 2020, the board faces an additional $1.7 million cost for trash pickup and recycling and a $1.1 million increase for streetscape management. These challenges provide opportunities. The board should tighten its belt, refinance and pay off debt, re-evaluate fee structures, attract more visitors and recruit more businesses.


Do you feel The Woodlands should call for a vote on incorporation in 2020? Why or why not?
Incorporation-planning studies are ongoing. The township board has not received the final recommendations, costs, and options for becoming an autonomous city. When the studies are complete, the board will decide whether to go forward and present a plan for incorporation to the voters. The 2020 presidential election will bring heightened voter turnout. If the board is ready, 2020 would be a great opportunity for maximum voter participation.


Will your current employment or activities present any conflict of interest if you serve on the board, and how would you address this?
After running my dermatology practice for 30 years, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Houston City Council, I am retired and enjoy being a wife to my husband, Robert, mother to my two children, and grandmother to my 1-year-old granddaughter, who also lives in The Woodlands. I serve on boards of charitable and political organizations and have no conflict of interest being a director on the township board.




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