Q&A: Sugar Land City Council District 1 candidates discuss priorities, economic development, emergency response

Early voting runs April 19-27 for the May 1 election. (Community Impact staff)
Early voting runs April 19-27 for the May 1 election. (Community Impact staff)

Early voting runs April 19-27 for the May 1 election. (Community Impact staff)



HOUSTON



Sugar Land City Council District 1










Suzanne Whatley



Occupation: small-business owner of 17 years


Top priority: Engage with members of council to transition smoothly and work cohesively, benefiting all our constituents and the city






Why are you running for Sugar Land City Council?



SW: I love my city. Council members have the responsibility of balancing servant leadership and responsible city governance. I am fully engaged in our community: volunteering, serving and demonstrating leadership skills required of a council member. I enjoy strong relationships within the community and council. As a commissioner on planning and zoning, understanding the city’s planning process, I work closely with fellow commissioners, city staff, businesses and citizens dedicated to keeping the vision of Sugar Land a priority. As a small-business owner, I appreciate and understand our city’s businesslike approach to management. I believe in the Sugar Land way.



What is the biggest challenge facing Sugar Land, and how would you address it?



SW: A city faces many ever-changing challenges. However, to successfully navigate any issues our city faces—infrastructure, drainage, mobility, taxes, COVID-19, hurricanes or other natural disasters—we must remain a fiscally sound city. We must maintain responsible use of funds; make wise, thoughtful decisions addressing current situations; and have vision allowing us to successfully emerge from unforeseen events while planning wisely for the future. Understanding our budget process is a must. This is why attending city budget workshops over the last six years has been a focused effort for me.



What could Sugar Land have done better during February's extreme winter storm? If elected, what would you do to help prepare Sugar Land for similar events?



SW: In my opinion, our city worked endlessly to resolve issues within its responsibility while further expanding into the private sector to address residents' needs. Learning from this experience, creating plans to further involve the private sector would be beneficial. We don’t need to wait. Having served at a warming center, I can offer a list of improvements. Currently, I am working with individuals, private business and OEM training, organizing multiple CERTs (Community Emergency Response Teams) offering interested individuals [the opportunity to] work as a team to help themselves and others after a disaster. We realized our city and county were inundated with major responsibilities, and we as individuals were called upon and vital in our community. Seeing the willingness of residents to help, the first step is to offer proper training.



As Sugar Land becomes increasingly developed, how should the city think about growth?



SW: 1. Being landlocked, growth must be in redevelopment. This is challenging and exciting. There’s opportunity to rebuild and reuse. We have an opportunity to revitalize our city which could otherwise leave areas in dilapidation. 2. Our city is already implementing innovative, creative ideas through the redevelopment of older commercial areas. 3. RACs (Regional Activity Centers) and NACs (Neighborhood Activity Centers) are “areas with a mix of uses, such as office, retail, residential and civic institutions, integrated together in a compact walkable area. The intent is to offer unique amenities for both residents and employees for entertainment, dining, and shopping.”



What is your vision for the future of Sugar Land?



SW: My vision for our future is to maintain the ideals that past leaders left in our charge. [We should] preserve values and standards while incorporating new ideas and embracing our present. We must build on the foundation of higher standards and values. We must always be open to improvement and understanding as our demographics change and new generations emerge. As a former Girl Scout leader, I would say it this way: We must work together to leave this city a little better than the way we found it (for future generations).









Donna Batten Molho



Occupation: retail and real estate development, management and marketing


Top priority: Revitalize local businesses and economy to prepandemic levels; focus on redevelopment; public safety; fiscal responsibility and transparency; infrastructure and drainage






Why are you running for Sugar Land City Council?



DBM: This is my community. I was born, raised and educated here. I love my city. Because of my professional experience, I have the skills necessary to help our city bring back economic and retail development and redevelopment. I want to enhance our efforts to keep Sugar Land a great place to live with the continued development of the arts, public spaces, parks and gathering places. I am dedicated to serve and have the desire to build relationships for a vibrant, inclusive community.



What is the biggest challenge facing Sugar Land, and how would you address it?



DBM: The biggest challenge is the continued economic development as we come out of this worldwide pandemic. We must focus on the critical development deals that include Imperial Market, Tract 5, our second industrial business park and other struggling businesses. The successful growth in these areas will create additional taxes, which will ultimately lessen the burden on our residents. Sales tax revenue is a critical component of our revenue stream. Ultimately, we need to maintain our level of service without raising taxes.



What could Sugar Land have done better during February's extreme winter storm? If elected, what would you do to help prepare Sugar Land for similar events?



DBM: Sugar Land did an amazing job during this unprecedented winter storm. It’s also important to note that the city had no control over the power issues. City staff worked 24/7 to ensure our safety. Reviewing the outcomes, the areas for improvement include trash/bulk trash pickup and increasing the capacity of the generators at water plants, ensuring that we have adequate power to maintain pressure throughout the entire system. Freezing weather created high amounts of debris for yard waste and damaged building materials. We need to prepare ahead of time with vendors to provide for immediate and sufficient deployment.



As Sugar Land becomes increasingly developed, how should the city think about growth?



DBM: We must think about growth intelligently and strategically. We should address aging infrastructure and have the proper infrastructure in place to accommodate the new growth. We should take advantage of our best assets and identify needs in the community that are not being met. Community input will create a roadmap for future redevelopment that will attract new businesses and residents. Ultimately, the goal is to enhance the quality of life that we know and enjoy today.



What is your vision for the future of Sugar Land?



DBM: My vision for Sugar Land is a city that protects its history, promotes the incredible diversity and fosters inclusion in our community. We will be committed to transparency, honesty and integrity through our city’s leadership and continue to attract city staff who will exemplify an energized workforce. We will be bold in ingenuity while respecting all the principles that have gotten us to be one of the best cities in which to live and work. Above all, we will respect our differences but come together for our families, our faiths, our neighbors, our workplaces and the love for our city.


By Claire Shoop

Reporter, Northwest Austin

Claire joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2019 as the reporter for the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition and in December 2021 moved to Austin to become the reporter for the Northwest Austin edition. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2019 where she studied journalism, government and Arabic. While in school, Claire was a fellow for The Texas Tribune, worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C. She enjoys playing cards with her family and listening to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.