Election Q&A: Hear from candidates running for Bellaire city council Position No. 3 on priorities, challenges

Seven candidates are running for a shot at one of three positions on the Bellaire city council. See who is running on the ballot for Bellaire City Council Position No. 3. The current council member in that seat, Gus Pappas, will term out of office, and will not be able to rerun in the upcoming election. Early voting is Oct. 18-29. Election day is Nov. 2.

Check out links to answers from other Bellaire City Council candidates:

Position No. 1

Position No. 5

Javier Vega

Occupation: Chief Operating Officer, RPower LLC, which brings power resiliency solutions to commercial electricity customers

Experience: U.S. naval officer, president of a Reliant subsidiary, entrepreneur

Campaign Website: www.practical-bellaire.com

How does your experience make you the best candidate?

JV: My experiences as a naval officer, as president of a Reliant subsidiary, and as an entrepreneur, have taught me to help organizations work efficiently, prioritize initiatives, manage finances, and use frameworks to make difficult decisions. I have no pet projects, no social influences, and no financial interest in the decisions a Bellaire elected official would make. I intend to advocate for utilizing the kinds of information, processes, and decision frameworks that boards and senior management teams use when they act in the best interest of those they represent (in this case, all the citizens of our city). To that end, I have a set of principles that will guide my decisions:•Common sense • Egalitarianism • Accountability • Financial Responsibility • Respect for Neighbors and Community. I am highly quantitative and know my way around a balance sheet, cash flow statement, and income statement. I have endured highly contentious litigation matters based on principle and constantly succeeded; I have the stomach and courage to do the right thing. Every time.

What are your highest priority agenda items?

JV: There are three. In Alphabetical order: City’s capital structure: Today our city carries $110M of debt. That's around $16,000 per household; that’s 8x the annual property tax revenue of around $2,000 per household. Today, half of our city’s budget goes to debt service. The challenge is continuing to invest in all aspects of our community, while getting our finances straightened out, and we need folks qualified to execute that plan. As a career corporate business unit manager with P&L responsibility, this is a well-worn club in my bag. Flooding: Despite prevailing opinions to the contrary, my experiences tell me that Bellaire can act within its borders to improve its internal flooding situation and must continue to focus on it. I believe there are some specific low-cost, high-impact steps we can take to reduce risk to our most acutely low-lying citizen's homes. Having lived mere steps from Brays Bayou since 2001, before moving to Lafayette Street in the southernmost part of Bellaire's Southdale in 2013, I have lived each flooding and high-water event from a front-row seat. I have attended the Brays Watershed meetings at 4300 Belfort and acquired certifications around flooding as I’ve studied the issue. Each event has helped me understand and appreciate the flood potential and its effects on our homes and lives. I think we need to supplement our academic exercises where flooding is contemplated in abstraction, with the practical experience of people who have institutional memory of the events themselves. Preserve our city of homes We have to reject the method of growing the top line through conversion of residential properties to commercial use. This breaks faith with the City of Homes ideal that our longstanding citizens have preserved for us. Whether one lives in the heart of Bellaire, or elsewhere in the City, we must all agree that even citizens living on the perimeter deserve equal protection of their right to their residential quality of life. It shouldn’t surprise us that people seek to arbitrage our residential real estate by converting it to commercial use for an outsized payday. They perceive that all they need to do is get Bellaire’s city government to go along with the rezoning request, and they're right. We need vigilant city officials who can understand the common-sense fact that this activity invites similar attempts and who can categorically commit to protecting the rights of residential property owners.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Bellaire right now and how would you address them?

JV: I believe the biggest challenges are, in fact, my highest priority agenda items:The city’s capital structure, flooding, and preserving our city of homes. But more to the point is how we address those challenges. We must avoid making decisions based on (or even burning significant management cycles on) the projects and social pressures of a vocal minority. If we continue to do this, we will continue to move sideways while comparable cities move upward and onward. … Harmony is a great thing to have, but in the real world, people have different points of view. The idea that consensus can be borne solely out of congeniality in a council/board setting is a fantasy; anyone who has served on the board of a larger company knows that. The decisions there are so serious and fiduciary in nature that you have to carry insurance because you can be sued personally by deep institutional pockets for simply not being circumspect or efficient (in addition to the obvious moral standards); I personally carry such policies today. I agree being cordial is helpful but people get passionate. When people get disrespectful, it only brings the person being disrespectful down, but it doesn't bother me personally when it is aimed at me. That said I will put my significant and respectful record of disciplined written and spoken word under greater magnitudes of contentiousness up against anyone's. But in terms of priority, advocating for the needs of the average resident of Bellaire comes first, full stop. If elected, I will have the courage of my conviction. Social pressures don't even register with me in this regard.

What qualities would you look for in a future Bellaire city manager?

JV: Whether it is a future city manager or the continued tenure of our existing interim city manager, it will help if he or she understands that there may be folks on council who actually have tremendous experience with the intricacies of management, both in a public and private setting and whose suggestions should be learned from and considered. The management discipline has both learned and innate skill sets. I want to see a thirst for efficiencies and best practice methods for pursuing them; no need to reinvent the wheel, just execute. The result needs to be on his/her balanced scorecard. That’s the way it works when you are tasked with the utilization of other people’s investment; that’s how you make yourself valuable.

Ross Gordon

Occupation: Civil/water resources engineer and strategy consultant

Experience: chairman of Bellaire Planning and Zoning Commission Campaign

How does your experience make you the best candidate?

RG: As an engineer who has worked side by side with municipal governments for 15+ years, I know how local government is supposed to work (and how it is not). Furthermore, as a Professional Engineer and expert in flood mitigation planning and project delivery, I can assist the City in charting the most responsible path forward in addressing our almost existential flooding challenges (by leveraging partnerships and outside funding to maximize benefit while reducing the cost to Bellaire taxpayers). In addition, as Chair of the Bellaire Planning and Zoning Commission for the past four years, I have shown my commitment to transparency, civility, and consensus-building. While our challenges may at times be divisive, my calm and respectful approach to working with others, along with my commitment to finding solutions (not casting blame), will help to restore order and proper function to the city council.

What are your highest priority agenda items?

RG: In recent years, the city (Council and Staff) has struggled to function in an orderly manner and has delayed action on critical items important to the strength, appeal, and viability of Bellaire as a premier residential city in the Houston area. Too often, we have trended towards division and infighting, losing sight of the bigger picture and our broader goals. It is clear that Bellaire residents deserve better from their city government. Ultimately, the issues we face will change month to month and year to year, but we can tackle any challenge if we commit to: 1) rebuilding trust and getting the government to function properly; 2) ensuring government makes good decisions balancing short-term and long-term considerations; 3) bringing us back together as a city and community. This election represents a significant turning point. We can be defined by conflict, or we can be united by a positive vision and a pragmatic but forward-thinking approach to local government. I’m running to elevate the level of discussion, to change the tenor of the city council, and to represent the interests of Bellaire’s families. I will focus on 1) delivering good governance; 2) leading with a positive vision; 3) ensuring flood resiliency; 4) promoting community.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Bellaire right now and how would you address them?

RG: First: in recent years, forces within and across the city have focused too much on creating divides (real or perceived) between city council, city staff, and the residents of Bellaire. By tearing down the trust between parties, it impairs the ability of city government to function property. We must re-build those relationships and return to a time where residents trust their elected officials to set the correct vision, and where the city council trusts the city manager and his/her staff to implement that vision. This starts with restoring order and civility in the Council chambers, leading with a positive vision, hiring the right city manager, honoring and respecting our city manager form of government, and re-committing to good governance. Second: frequent and severe flooding is an existential threat to Bellaire. Not only does flooding derail lives and deplete financial resources, but our appeal as a city/community (and our property values) cannot afford to be weighed down by a reputation for being flood-prone. To do nothing would be to abdicate our duty to protect the best interests of our residents. While many of our flooding challenges are bigger than Bellaire, we must have a say in our own destiny or we risk being defined by our history. The good news: with large infusions of local (Harris County Flood Control Bond Program), state (Texas Water Development Board Flood Infrastructure Fund / State Flood Plan), and Federal (FEMA, HUD/CDBG) funding after Hurricane Harvey, there has never been a better time to address our challenges. However, if we delay action, these partnership opportunities will dissipate, and we will be forced once again to carry the brunt of flood control obligations on our own. I have dedicated my entire career to solving the Houston region’s daunting flooding challenges. I am not only an interested stakeholder, but an active leader / expert with the knowledge and wherewithal to shepherd Bellaire through what may be its biggest investment in the City’s history. We cannot shy away from this challenge – it will only get worse over time. But if we act smartly now, we have the ability to bring in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of outside funding to benefit Bellaire and its families. My four-part plan for ensuring flood resiliency includes o Promote and implement progressive, forward-thinking, floodplain management policies. o Continue to chip away at local drainage deficiencies. o Deliver on the Master Drainage Plan (regional drainage improvements) o Continue to pursue local and federal investment in Brays Bayou. While large-scale expenditures are never desirable, the timing is right to be bold. By being nimble and opportunistic, we can deliver meaningful change for pennies on the dollar and secure a flood resilient and sustainable future for our city.

What qualities would you look for in a future Bellaire city manager?

RG: · Depth of experience, and a current understanding of best practices in city management/administration. · Managerial capabilities, including a strong commitment to developing high-performing teams. · Willingness to stand strong and steer city council into wise/informed decisions, while also having the wherewithal to deliver on the city council’s vision (once stated), even if it does not align entirely with his/her recommendations. · Appreciation for the unique attributes of Bellaire and commitment to creating and maintaining a resident-focused local government.

By Hunter Marrow
Hunter Marrow came to Community Impact Newspaper in January 2020. Before that, Hunter covered local news in Ontario, OR for three years, covering municipal issues, crime, and education across Malheur County and across the border into Idaho.


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