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Election 2018: Woodlands candidates discuss incorporation views

October 31, 2018 GMT

One of the biggest issues facing residents of The Woodlands in the past year has been the ongoing incorporation studies project being conducted by The Woodlands Township. The more than year-long effort to analyze and study all aspects and issues related to potentially becoming a city has drawn curiosity, confusion and lots of questions from local residents.

We asked each candidate to provide some feedback on the issue of incorporation, answering questions about the topic and discussing their feelings about the issue that has generated concerns, questions and opposition from many residents.

Position 4 Candidates: Dargavage and Rieser

Francis “Frank” Dargavage has made it clear in both interviews with The Villager as well as during public comments he has made at several township meetings that he is not in favor of incorporation, even claiming that the word “incorporation” is not the correct term for the process and elected leaders should stop using the term he called inaccurate.

The Villager asked Dargavage to explain his opposition to incorporation during a recent interview, hoping to clarify some of his comments for voters.

Dargavage reiterated that “under the circumstances that have been presented,” he is against incorporation of The Woodlands.

“I really want to just stop using the word ‘incorporation,’ and let the residents know what the real word is, that is ‘general law city,’” he said. “That is our pathway into a general law city. All the regulations and what the state requires of us and the conditions versus the enabling legislation. If the board would take a leadership position on this and start using the term ‘general law city,’ I think that would help the residents understand what they’re getting themselves into.”

The use of the word ‘incorporation,’ Dargavage claimed, is merely a “scare tactic” that he alleges was created by township board Chairman Gordy Bunch, who is seeking re-election for a fourth term but is not being challenged by an opponent.

“A general law city, what follows that based on numbers is a home rule city, where you have your own charter. And a charter is nothing more than what we have right now in enabling legislation,” Dargavage noted. “It’s kind of a misnomer and I think it is a scare tactic the leader of the pack (Bunch) is presenting to the residents.”

Dargavage also contradicted claims by other candidates that continuity on the board was needed in regard to the incorporation process. Dargavage said any claims that he, or fellow challenger Treva Taglieri — who is running against incumbent Brian Boniface — could not understand the complex issues involved with incorporation are misguided.

“There probably is some value in continuity is certain situations. Unfortunately, the continuity of operations in this particular instance is not necessary. It is nice, but not necessary,” Dargavage added. “You have two candidates, that I think, and I’m talking about myself now, that are sharp and up to speed on issues and we could easily assimilate into the issues, whatever it is.”

Rieser, the incumbent seeking his second term on the board, said he was surprised Dargavage was not in favor of using the word ‘incorporation’ in regard to the process currently underway examining what becoming a city would entail. Rieser also countered some of the claims made by Dargavage in relation to incorporation are not accurate.

In regard to the claims of the importance of continuity of the board members, as well as an endorsement he received from Bunch, Rieser said he is still studying the issue of incorporation and has not made a final decision about the possibility of putting the issue on the ballot in November of 2019.

“(Continuity) Is not a bad concept, from what Gordy (Bunch) is talking about. It took me close to a year to really get schooled up on all the nuances that the township encompasses,” Rieser said. “I’m not saying a newly elected board member wouldn’t be capable of that. As far as my opponent is concerned, it sounds like he has made up his mind before he has seeking all the facts. What I said at the debate was, I prefer to wait and see all the facts before I make up my mind. In the end, it is not up to me to incorporate or not, it is up to the citizens to decide that.”

As far as Dargavage’s claims that using the word ‘incorporation’ is inaccurate, Rieser said that is simply not true.

“Maybe (Dargavage) should read the Texas Constitution where it talks about transitioning to a general law city, they specifically used the word incorporation. We did not make this up,” Rieser said. “Incorporation is a standard term, this board certainly did not invent it. If you go back to the race of 2016, (incorporation) was plastered everywhere.”

Bunch, Brown respond to comments

Bunch, who had previously stated he is endorsing fellow incumbents Rieser, John Anthony Brown and Boniface, said anyone who claims the use of the word ‘incorporate’ is inaccurate is ill-informed and wrong.

“Incorporation is the actual term used in Texas State Code and our enabling legislation. To call it anything else would be misleading,” Bunch wrote in an email to The Villager in response to Dargavage’s claims.

As for his comments citing what he believes are the benefits of continuity of board members in relation to the incorporation process, Bunch said it is possible for a newly elected board member to learn about the issue, but it will take a lot of work. His main issue with Taglieri and Dargavage, he added, is that the two challenging candidates have, from what he knows, indicated they are already against incorporation.

“I believe anyone who is willing to commit the time required to learn the details of The Woodlands Township operations and review the incorporation planning session meeting will be able to catch up,” Bunch said. “How quickly would depend on the effort put into catching up. My larger concern has been with both candidates (Taglieri and Dargavage) claiming they do not support incorporation even when it has yet to be proposed nor had the incorporation study been completed.”

Bunch did note that to his knowledge, neither Taglieri nor Dargavage have been present oor involved in any manner in the board’s incorporation planning sessions, which have been held about twice-a-month since January 2018.

“This past year we held twice the normal level of board meetings and planning sessions due to incorporation planning,” Bunch explained. “Being halfway through the incorporation planning will have new members behind as neither of the challengers have attended all of our workshops or board meetings.”

After Bunch’s claims about Dargavage’s and Taglieri’s lack of attendance at incorporation planning sessions — there have been 19 meetings with some connection to the incorporation process since January — as well as at the three-hour incorporation forum held at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott on Sept. 25, The Villager asked both candidates about their attendance at the meetings in question.

Dargavage initially told The Villager he had attended three different incorporation planning sessions, however he clarified his attendance after revisiting his schedule and admitted he had only attended one of the 19 incorporation-related sessions held to date. He did not attend the Sept. 25 forum at the hotel because he was a pre-planned ocean cruise.

“It was only one (incorporation) meeting,” Dargavage said, noting he attended two township regular board meetings where he made public comment about incorporation. “It is all very difficult to follow, the speakers are hard to follow, the slides are difficult to read with small type. In a sense, I haven’t been participating in the incorporation meetings.”

Taglieri had no responded to requests for her attendance record, however she was present at the three-hour incorporation forum on Sept. 25.

Brown, who is running uncontested for a second term on the board, said he believes a newly-elected board member could learn about the ins and outs of incorporation, but that the task would require a lot of time and diligence due to the large amount of data and information that has been reviewed so far.

“By no means someone couldn’t step up and hit the ground running, however, there is a true learning curve when elected, due to the plethora of past information, discussions, and township processes,” Brown said of a possibly new board member joining the process one-year into it. “I have spent over six months reading over thousands of sheets of information, been part of hundreds of hours of presentations, and spoken with over a dozen of very knowledgeable people during that time. You can’t just show up and think you’re going to learn all this stuff over night. However, yes, in time and with a lot of reading and participation any new member of the board could eventually get up to speed.”

Position 2 Candidates: Boniface and Taglieri

In regard to incorporation, the two candidates competing for the Position 2 seat on the township board of directors have different viewpoints on the issue.

Boniface, who is nearing the end of his first term and seeking re-election for another two years, has indicated in past meetings and interviews that he has not made up his mind when it comes to whether or not he would support putting the incorporation question on the November 2019 ballot.

At the Sept. 25 incorporation forum, Boniface told the more than 300 attendees that he has not made up his mind about incorporation yet. “This enormous undertaking we’re doing now is a blueprint for future generations,” he said at the time.

During a Oct. 26 interview with The Villager, Boniface said he appreciated the endorsement for a second term in office from Bunch, and he said that there is merit to the claims that continuity of the board is important to the incorporation process.

“The continuity, in that respect, for the board is very important. We have been studying this issue going on for over a year now, and getting consultant’s feedback. For someone new to come in and try to pick up from scratch, and not being in all those conversations, I can see (Bunch’s) point there,” Boniface said. “It would be difficult (for a new board member). I don’t want to marginalize anyone’s ability. It it very in-depth, we’ve learned a lot and answered a lot of questions along the way. So, that experience factor is not going to be there (for a newly elected board memebr) in a lot of questions.”

In response to Dargavage’s desire to not use the word ‘incorporation’ and claims it is an inaccurate term, Boniface said he preferred not to address the claims other to say he denies that viewpoint and feels the word “incorporation” is the correct terminology.

“I’ll let him speak for himself on that one,” Boniface said of Dargavage’s opposition to the word.

Taglieri, who is challenging Boniface for the Position 2 seat, said any claims or statements that she would not be as prepared to enter the incorporation process if elected are false and she is more than capable of picking up on the information and data that has been discussed in the past 10 months.

“I would respectfully disagree (with Bunch). I think a fresh set of eyes would be a good idea. as far as coming up to speed, I have no doubt my technical skills are up to task,” Taglieri said. “I understand continuity, everybody (on the board) has been through (the incorporation) process.”

Although currently a self-described stay-at-home mother, Taglieri worked for many years as a systems engineer in the aerospace industry in Southern California, a job she said was filled with intensive and copious amounts of complex information.

“In all of my technical projects, they have been detailed and complex, and I have the ability to process a lot of information in a short period of time,” Taglieri said of her ability to learn quickly.

The township Board of Directors election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Early voting began on Oct. 22 and continues through Nov. 2. Township directors serve two-year terms and are not paid or compensated in any manner for their time serving the township.

jeff.forward@chron.com