By S. Barot
For The Star
The Sugar Land City Council At-Large 1 council seat election will have voters on the edge of their seats until the last ballot is counted.
Two-term incumbent Himesh Gandhi is seeking his third term in the May 7 election. His challenger is Diana Miller – a real estate agent, community activist and member of grassroots group Sugar Land Votes.
Gandhi, an attorney, said he will campaign aggressively. Mayor James Thompson has endorsed him.
He addressed recent accusations regarding a conflict of interest issue mentioned on social media to the general public. The accusation is that Gandhi’s law firm, Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC provides counsel to developers like Newland Communities, Johnson Development Crop. And Planned Community Developers, LTD. This presents, in the Miller’s words, a “clear conflict of interest.”
Gandhi fired back saying the roster on the company’s website is a representative list of clients the firm has served over a three-decade span. He has only been employed with the firm for a few years.
“I don’t work in those areas,” he said. “I don’t work with developers so it doesn’t apply to me. In fact, I’ve never represented any of those businesses on that list. I have never provided any legal services for them.”
He said the City of Sugar Land has a strict conflict of interest policy and if any of his firm’s clients come before Council on an issue, he recuses himself. He said he has done that and will continue.
Both candidates voiced their opinions on upcoming issues including a hot topic – development.
Miller said that contrary to popular belief, she is not against development in the city – but she would like to see “smart development.” In addition to her own candidacy, Miller’s group, “Sugar Land Votes” is sponsoring mayoral candidate Myatt Hancock, and possibly a candidate in the At-Large Position 2 council election.
And Gandhi said that he wants Sugar Land to continue providing quality development. He added the city should only approve developments that “bring benefit to the community.”
Recently, Council rejected a petition to repeal Ordinance No. 2014 – which legally adopts the city’s current development code. In a statement to the public, the City said the petition is invalid. The statement added that the referendum petition was worded in a way that attempted to repeal Ordinance No. 2014 in its entirety and would not resurrect a prior version of Sugar Land’s development code. This would result in the elimination of Sugar Land’s zoning and development regulations.
“It was an invalid petition on its face,” Gandhi said. “What the petition was doing was getting rid of the development code, which has zoning regulations in it and legally, it just can’t be done.”
Miller isn’t buying it. She said that the petition added the phrase “parts of ordinances” because the objective is to rescind only the “urban requirement” section on Her group is researching other avenues to take regarding the repealing of Ordinance No. 2014.
One of those avenues happens to be running for office. Miller’s tenets for running are transparency and openness – which she believes are lacking from Council. She is not a novice to running for pubic office. In 2011, she ran against Don Smithers and lost only by 65 votes. She said she will run an aggressive campaign and believes her chances of winning are high.
Both candidates have plans for their prospective terms. Gandhi’s main priority is pubic safety and strong economic development.
“We are going to have a new mayor and at least one new council member,” Gandhi said. “Because of that change, my experience is going to be necessary to assist the new leadership as we try to build on the priorities of the city that include – having a safe city, having a fiscally strong city and still prioritizing that this is one of the best places to live.”
Miller spoke about her responsibilities as a prospective council member. She will continue to encourage citizens to have voice in political and community matters and to engage with Council on important matters.
“My responsibility as an incoming council member is to make sure it is an open process,” Miller said. “I feel that I am capable of making decisions based on factual and complete information. It’s a balance between what is best for the city and consideration of the taxpayers.”