OPINION: 2023 The Woodlands Township Board Directors Election Candidate Analysis – The Incorporation Squad is Back
Just when you may have thought the attempted power grab that our community witnessed during the incorporation boondoggle was over, the Incorporation Squad is at it again in The Woodlands Township 2023 Board of Directors elections. There is a lot at stake in this year’s off-year Township Board elections when voter turnout is often low and Squad-aligned special interest groups and agitators can have an outsized influence. This is my candidate analysis for this year’s Township elections.
It’s important to get out and vote. Early voting starts Monday, October 23 and election day is Tuesday, November 7. Links to voting information are at the bottom.
We have seen a renaissance of resident and community focused achievements by the new board after Incorporation Squad leader Gordy Bunch and his right-hand operative Bruce Rieser stepped down following their incorporation boondoggle and their four Squad-endorsed candidates were defeated in November of 2022.
Under Chairwoman Dr. Ann Snyder’s leadership, the new resident focused board fought for and won state legislation enabling the Township to collect our share of alcohol beverage taxes that used to go to the state. This benefits our residents by providing an additional revenue source for The Woodlands without increasing any taxes on residents, which helps to reduce our property taxes.
We were once led to believe we could only achieve this by becoming a city. It sure would have been nice to have this significant revenue source earlier, if only the Squad wasn’t so obsessed with their incorporation agenda.
Additional successes driven by Chairwoman Snyder and the new board that directly benefit all the residents of The Woodlands include: thirteen new police officers, the first ever general homestead exemption for all homeowners with an additional exemption for seniors, the largest reforestation effort in Township history to plant 6000 trees next year, identifying a non-property tax revenue source (hotel tax) to fund a major economic development project such as a Performing Arts Center, and improvements to various parks around the Township. This was all done while reducing the property tax rate to the "no new revenue" rate, which, when combined with the new homestead exemptions, leads to an actual property tax decrease for homeowners. It’s amazing what our Board can accomplish when it’s focused on our residents and community instead of an incorporation that the residents don’t want.
I believe that this year’s board candidates Tricia Danto (position 5), Ann Snyder (position 6, incumbent), and Cindy Heiser (position 7) are focused on the needs of the residents, have experience and outstanding skills to offer, and would be excellent directors on the 2024-2025 board.
Squad leaders Bunch and Rieser back two candidates who claim to distinguish themselves as THE candidates who are “resident advocates,” and recently raised money for them in the gated community of Carlton Woods.
Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, the last Squad member still standing and running for reelection, claims she is the only voice of the residents on the Township Board. Ironically, she was an ardent supporter of the wasteful and costly incorporation attempt that nearly 70% of The Woodlands voters rejected. She pushed incorporation by supporting Squad talking points, threatening that The Woodlands could be annexed if it did not incorporate (false). She misrepresented the true cost of incorporation, citing a contrived first year incorporation tax rate that was the same as years prior but artificially low.
This artificially contrived initial tax rate, prepared by the Squad and placed on the incorporation ballot to hide the real costs of incorporation, could have only been realized by spending the $20.8M incorporation reserve that the Squad collected through over-taxation during their reign. The Woodlands residents saw through this. They knew that incorporation would implement risky, expensive, unnecessary, and unprecedented changes to The Woodlands’ uniquely successful Township model of governance while leading to bigger government and higher property taxes. Thankfully, the residents soundly voted it down. Since then, property taxes have gone down instead of up.
Sekula-Gibbs claims to be against the clear cutting of trees. After vocally criticizing the planning process for Aria Isle, formerly known as Mitchell Island, she recently recused herself from a Board vote on the island while trying to hide from residents and the public why she had a conflict of interest. Shelley’s secret is that she bought a newly clear-cut property on the exclusive Aria Isle straight from the developer. She apparently paid the lowest price for any lot on Aria Isle.*
Recent Squad recruit Ann Perry claims her qualification for the Board is her opposition to adding bathrooms to Capstone Park. The Capstone bathrooms were added to the Township’s plan under former Chairman Bunch and former Vice-Chairman Rieser in 2022 in the wake of their failed incorporation attempt. Rieser said he wanted the “fairly low cost” $600,000 bathrooms done “immediately.” They were rushing to spend the massive incorporation reserve they collected from taxpayers on their way out.
Earlier this year, a string of Capstone “no bathroom” protesters, encouraged by Bunch and Rieser, attempted to shift blame for the bathroom plan to the new Board. The new Board ultimately listened to the residents’ concerns and cancelled the Capstone bathroom plan that originated under Bunch and Rieser.
Certainly, credit is due to Perry and others at Capstone who communicated their desires for their neighborhood to the board, which resulted in a solution by the board that works for their neighborhood. However, I believe that Bunch and Rieser are just grooming Perry to carry out their future Squad agenda for power and control. Furthermore, Perry’s endorsements include vocal pro-incorporation Squad associate Steve Lawrence, who lost his race in last year’s Board elections.
Perry, who claims to be for “transparency,” Sekula-Gibbs, and Tom Chumbley Jr. also snubbed voters by skipping the only Township Board candidate forum, which was hosted by The Woodlands Chamber. All candidates should have shown up to the forum to inform the residents of their stances on local issues and to help enable voters to make educated decisions at the polls. What are they hiding from us? The only candidates who were transparent and cared enough to show up were Cindy Heiser, Ann Snyder, Tricia Danto, and Dr. Tom Chumbley Sr.
The Woodlands community has wasted enough time and tax dollars during the six years, 2016-2022, that the Squad pursued their single-minded and divisive strategy to gain power and control by incorporating The Woodlands.
Word has it that Incorporation Squad leaders Bunch and Rieser are now trying to resurrect the allegedly "conservative" Texas Patriots PAC, which advocated for incorporation to advance the Squad's big government and higher tax plan for power and control, and to allow others in Montgomery County to reduce their county tax burden for roads by shifting it to The Woodlands. Unfortunately, this means our community may continue to see aggrieved and self-righteous county tea party agitators from outside of The Woodlands at the polls shilling for Squad candidates.
In my opinion, The Woodlands Board of Directors should be unencumbered from the obvious power and control strategies of The Squad, their incorporation agenda, and their disproportionate claims to represent the residents of The Woodlands. This, along with other factors pertaining to candidate qualifications and readiness, forms the foundation of my 2023 The Woodlands Township Director Candidates Analysis.
Voters can make their own decisions. My own assessment criteria include the following:
Eliminate from consideration any Incorporation Squad candidates
Qualify candidates who have relevant experience, qualifications, and skills for the position and are most likely to continue the resident, taxpayer, and community focused successes of our new board leadership
Here is a summary of my analysis for each candidate, listed in order of their appearance on the ballot.
Meets Criteria | Candidate Name | Qualifications and Comments
Doesn’t meet criteria | Shelley Sekula-Gibbs | SQUAD - Incorporation pusher, grandstander, skipped candidate forum, only lived in The Woodlands for 19 months before first seeking election
Meets Criteria | Tricia Danto | Opposes incorporation, extensive community service and financial background, President of Cochran’s Crossing Village Association, longtime resident
Doesn’t meet criteria | Tom Chumbley Jr. | Limited experience, little candidate information, skipped candidate forum
Meets Criteria | Ann Snyder | Opposes incorporation, extensive public service, outstanding leadership and accomplishments for the community as Chairwoman of the Township board, longtime resident
Meets criteria | Cindy Heiser | Opposes incorporation, extensive community service experience, small business owner, longtime resident
Doesn’t meet criteria | Tom Chumbley Sr. | Opposes incorporation, veteran, low number of votes last time he ran, not worth splitting votes from top candidate Heiser at this time
Doesn’t meet criteria | Ann Perry | SQUAD – limited experience, focused on own neighborhood, longtime resident
Voters in Montgomery and Harris Counties may vote at any early voting location within the county where they are registered to vote.
Former Chairman, The Woodlands Township Board
Principal Attorney, Tough Law Firm
*Private property records in Montgomery County are public information and can be viewed by searching for addresses or property owners’ names on esearch.mcad-tx.org.