Essentials continues its 2023 West University election coverage with an issues questionnaire that has become our tradition — this time with a twist.
We’ve asked the candidates themselves each to come up with three questions, which we then reviewed and turned into separate documents for the two mayoral and five council hopefuls. The author of each (as well as any tweaking of the question) is indicated.
For background information on the field and their statements on why they are running, click here for coverage from our March edition.
Susan Sample, John Barnes (in ballot order)
What have you done to make WU a better place to live? (Question from Susan Sample)
John Barnes: Successfully championed the recognition of MLK Day in 2020; required redesign of Virtual Gate in 2019 and implementation between 2020 – 2022; initiated the set-up of a warming center for vulnerable residents in advance of Winter Storm Uri in 2021; volunteerism – West U Rotary and Challenger Division (both since 2018), Good Neighbor Team (since 2022); re-established the West U Garden Club (2022); assisted in designing and securing approval for Food Waste Diversion Program; advocated for increased transparency and accountability; advocated for pro-active engagement with residents prior to spending taxpayer money; increased benefits and better workplace conditions for city staff.
Susan Sample: I spearheaded the idea and the implementation of the Virtual Gate – a wildly popular addition to our police department’s arsenal – making West U one of the safest cities in the state of Texas; started and completed Buffalo Speedway with new surface and enhanced drainage; facilitated the sale of Ruffino Hills landfill to Houston for $10.5 million. In addition West U’s 2022 Citizen Survey shows 90 percent of residents think we are moving in the right direction, an all-time high. I am running to ensure we move forward on other milestone projects while maintaining the qualities that make West U home.
What is the most important issue facing West U and what is your plan for resolving it? If you are an incumbent running for re-election, please also explain why this issue has not yet been resolved during your current and, if applicable, prior term(s) in office. (Question from John Barnes).
Sample: The most important ongoing issue is always safety. While we have added officer positions, increased pay, and implemented the Virtual Gate, we must remain vigilant and forward-thinking, keeping up with the state of the industry in how we police. The most important unresolved issue is clearly drainage. Although we have improved capacity in our trunklines, e.g. the expansion of Buffalo Speedway, and enhanced our resilience with building code upgrades, we can still do more. The addition of a whole new north-south trunkline serving the city’s western half, and enhancement of local street drainage to our trunklines are key steps.
Barnes: The most important issue is the abysmal condition of Poor Farm Ditch, the county-owned stormwater drainage system for the core of West U that has been deteriorating for decades. I would, among other things, require Harris County Flood Control to commit to the following as a precondition of West U providing any direct funding: The project design must keep the existing center line of the ditch; the removal or remediation of the Southside Place encroachments that adversely affect the ditch; and a permanent access agreement to allow West U to perform and be reimbursed for routine maintenance/repairs.
West U is a family-centric city. What have you done to improve our city’s park system, help our kids sports program, make our city more walkable and safe? (Question from Sample)
Barnes: I question the use of the term “family-centric” as it limits the focus of West U to one demographic, thereby excluding over 50 percent of our community according to the 2020 census. West U should always welcome and support all types of households equally. Some of my actions to promote the interests of all residents include: Numerous improvements at each of our existing parks and the Rec Center; consistent support for the current arrangements with youth sports; resurfacing of our footbridges; citywide traffic safety study and lowering speed limits to 25 mph; paving and crack-sealing measures to maintain our sidewalks.
Sample: I started my West U community service as an active Friends of West U Parks board member. On council, I continue supporting Friends in their mission to keep West U Parks best-in-class. I worked with Parks Board on an updated Parks Master Plan, and provided direction to balance cost/benefit when designing West U’s newest park, Jennie Elizabeth Hughes Park — a resident favorite during COVID quarantine. I was the driving force on settling a mutually acceptable contract between Tri-Sports and West U. The member leagues serve almost 1,100 resident-children annually. The current contract is cheaper and more transparent than previous contracts.
Do you believe that paid political consultants, political action committees and the like have a place in West U elections? Why or why not? (Question from Barnes – edited to balance the question for either response)
Sample: Like any serious endeavor, the assistance of professionals is essential. Campaigns are subject to a strict regulatory framework…a consultant will ease navigation. In addition…to help me help residents, a consultant handles routine tasks, providing me time to interface with you, discuss your concerns and act on requests. With respect to PACs, I believe the PAC…during the last election was formed for the exact reason described above to fall within regulations…and allow West U residents to personally donate on issues…important to them. I don’t believe it served outside interests. It promoted informed resident engagement, was funded…and managed by residents.
Barnes: Absolutely not. Such entities exist solely to enable those who benefit from their activities to avoid transparency and skirt around the obligations of the Code of Fair Campaign Practices to which some of the candidates in this election, including me, have pledged. I believe in signing my own name to the causes and positions I intend to champion, not in lying in the shadows or taking benefit from those who do.
What are three things you would focus on as mayor during the next two years? (Question from Sample — edited to make more clearly hypothetical)
Barnes: Repair and replacement of Poor Farm Ditch; establish proactive engagement with residents at the initial stage of any capital project (before any money is spent on design or construction) as an essential part of the city’s procedures, so that projects do not move forward without verified community support and serve the interests of all residents; encourage more efforts to renew our city’s sense of a shared community through expanded programming, including efforts to highlight and celebrate our multicultural, multiethnic and multinational population, which will both facilitate healthier interaction among residents and enhance security through strengthened relationships between neighbors.
Sample: Public safety, drainage, and low taxes. There are many more focus points, but these are the residents’ big three. Drainage — I continue to work to procure outside funding to replace Poor Farm Ditch, to drastically increase drainage capacity to a ditch servicing a third of the city. I look to innovative ways to enhance police and fire capabilities while maintaining the tried and true methods we currently use. I will continue to be vigilant with city expenditures to keep our tax rate one of the lowest in Harris County – currently nearly half that of city of Houston.
Do you agree with the statement that, concerning the reports and recommendations prepared by the city’s traffic safety engineers, “If the city paid for the data, then the city should look at the data given, instead of not following the engineer’s recommendation[?]” Why or why not? (Barnes — edited to elicit elucidation for either yes or no response, not just one)
Sample: West U residents demand the most from their city, and a leader in such a city should be proactive and forward-thinking in their approach. Rightfully so. This question is clearly directed the new Edloe sidewalk – a third of a mile. This project is the safe and smart. Currently pedestrians walking on the existing sidewalk serving this street must navigate 20 crossings (six streets and fourteen driveways). The new sidewalk will have only one crossing — at Sunset. We don’t wait for a tragedy to occur to take action. New landscaping and fencing will make a beautiful enhancement to this essential amenity.
Barnes: Absolutely. When it comes to public safety, decisions need to be based upon objective, verified data collected and analyzed by experts, as opposed to anecdotes and suppositions, so that we (a) correctly identify actual safety issues, and (b) design and implement targeted measures that will actually address them. This is the only reasonable approach if we are to both spend taxpayer money wisely and actually have a positive impact on public safety, though it is one we have not followed during this council with respect to various projects, including, but not limited to, the Edloe Street Pathway.
In the last election, the major issue involved the relationship between the city and the Tri-Sports Association. Has the new agreement between West U and Tri-Sports been a success for the city and youth sports, or is it problematic in any way? If so, how? (Question from John Montgomery)
Barnes: It is a success, owing to the efforts of multiple mayors and councils from 2019 onward, as it makes available the financial support Tri-Sports has requested, while providing, for the very first time, the level of transparency and accountability that residents want and that successive City Attorneys have advised is required under state law. This is why I have consistently supported it every time it has come for a vote. The only changes I would suggest are: Make it a multi-year contract, consistent with our other youth sports agreements; work to increase recycling and reduce solid waste at our ballfields.
Sample: The agreement crafted by the current council is a win-win for the city and its resident sports leagues. The current contract is far more economical for the city than the contract proposed by the prior council (and rejected by all of the individual sports leagues); and more transparent – with a billing system tracked by a shared external auditor – all of which are good for the city. The member leagues can keep the organization with whom they have a 40-year relationship to manage, maintain, and operate the sports fields on public lands at WUES and our Recreation Center.