The board also heard presentations from local law enforcement officials and from the township's incorporation study consultants. The meeting started with proclamations supporting diversity in the township and recognizing June 23 as International Widows Day and July as Parks and Recreation Month.
Board Chairman Gordy Bunch then led off discussion of the township's response to the coronavirus pandemic with an overview of COVID-19 case, testing and hospitalization statistics from throughout Texas and in Montgomery County. Bunch highlighted the association of increased testing and the state's economic reopening to the rising case counts statewide, and said available hospital beds and ventilators are not yet beyond surge capacity.
“We expect to see higher numbers because we're testing asymptomatic people now," he said. "Those asymptomatic people were positive in prior months but they never were tested, so what we’re going to continue to monitor is the original goal of hospital capacity, the ability for the health care sector to respond to our needs, and it appears we’re still in good condition."
Township parks and recreation director Chris Nunes then provided an update on township facility rental and reopening plans for the board's approval. Nunes first recommended that fields and pavilions be available for reservations by groups of less than 50 beginning June 19. Third party events of up to 500 people would also be allowed throughout the township after receiving a special event permit, and with clear social distancing and sanitization plans in place.
For portions of The Woodlands within Montgomery County, third-party events of up to 2,500 people would be allowed beginning June 19, while larger events would require county approval. In Harris County, events larger than 500 people would require county judge approval prior to township permitting.
Nunes recommended that the township move forward with its own event planning, including programming such as its seasonal concert series, and said an internal social distancing plan will be developed for such gatherings. Nunes said a review of plans for the township's larger events expected to take place in the fall will be presented at a future board meeting.
Nunes also shared several options for expanded pool hours throughout the township he said were developed at the request of residents, and recommended a plan that would keep five of the township pools open from noon to 6 p.m. while Bear Branch and Wentwoods pools would shift to 2 to 8 p.m. operations. He also noted that pool use throughout the township increased more than 33% between the first week of the 2020 season, June 6-14, compared with the same dates last year.
Board members unanimously accepted Nunes' facilities recommendations.
The meeting also included a discussion of the township's plans for an eventual return to in-person board meetings led by president and general manager Don Norrell. Measures such as temperature checks, health screenings and required face coverings could be implemented given coronavirus-related health concerns, Norrell said. After providing guidance for future preparations related to in-person government meetings, the board elected to continue holding its own sessions remotely for as long as permitted by Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We are very fortunate in this day that we are able to have the technology that we have," Director Ann Snyder said. "If it’s for the safety of all, it appears to work for our board meetings; I think if the governor so allows, we can continue to have our Zoom meetings.”
Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson and Harris County Precinct 4 Capt. Jonathan Ziztman also spoke during the Thursday evening session to share information on their offices' responses to the nationwide protests and calls for law enforcement policy changes in the wake of George Floyd's May death while in Minneapolis police custody. Both officials condemned Floyd's killing and elaborated on their departments' tactics, training and community relations.
“We in law enforcement ... are horrified and disgusted, completely taken aback by what happened in Minnesota," Henderson said. "That death is not reflective of law enforcement, and I feel very strongly about that. We work really hard at the sheriff’s office to make sure that incidents like this don’t happen."
Representatives from The Novak Consulting Group also shared a completed draft of the township's years-long incorporation study. While the topic of incorporating The Woodlands as a city was potentially set to be voted on by township residents as early as this November, those plans and the incorporation study itself were tabled in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Novak group still continued work on the study through the spring and presented its more than 300-page consolidated report June 18. The report may be used by future boards wishing to consider incorporation. The township may also hold a presentation on the final outcome of the study this fall.