Sugar Land candidates square off at forum

By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star

Seated with a stack of petitions before her of proposed changes that never happened, Sugar Land City Council candidate Diana Miller said the papers were proof that the city ignores its constituents.

She scoffed at earlier comments from mayoral candidate Joe Zimmerman who said he would use the mayor’s letter to keep developers in check. With that, the Sugar Land City Council candidates forum for the First Colony Community Association was off to the races with candidates taking snipes at their opponents.

“You can’t use a letter the mayor wrote. Our development code needs to give us protection. We need to go back to the drawing table and make sure that those who did the code do not agree with developers. We can’t go forward because the community was not involved,” said Miller who is challenging two-term incumbent Himesh Gandhi for the At Large Position I seat.

Gandhi said the city already has protections in place.

“Look at Imperial, we have a system that works,” he said noting the praise given to the mixed use development. “Any development must comply with comprehensive codes. They must meet zoning. It’s a non-starter,” he said.

Gandhi, 39, said he grew up in Sugar Land, “and my last four years with the city is a record of accomplishment.” He said the city has a AAA bond rating and the lowest property taxes. “This doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “I am one of the youngest council members, I work hard to understand facets of the city and I’m not a single issue candidate.

You don’t see me with three names on my signs,” said Gandhi, taking a swipe at the Sugar Land Votes Alliance. Mayoral candidate Myatt Hancock and council candidates Naomi Lam and Miller are running on the Sugar Land Votes Alliance, which they say emphasizes government transparency and limiting apartment growth.

Miller, 60, said she spent the last five years “representing the residents. When there is a problem, they ask for my help. We fought a lot of these developers on the street. We will listen to you and we have committed to specific changes we want to make,” said Miller.

Two other candidates Peter Simons, 55, former manager of the Sugar Land Regional Airport, and Ron Block, a 72-year-old attorney, did not attend the Wednesday night forum at the Fluor Daniel Building.

Lam, 72, a former FBISD trustee and a real estate investment broker, said, “I’m a proven leader. I’m not an elected official who rubber-stamps everything. If something is wrong I speak up.”

She said she fought a referendum in 2002.

“I’m the only one who vote against the whole group. If I’m elected, that is the character and quality I bring. I represent our citizens and make sure our voices are heard by others,” Lam said.

Lam is facing off against Simons, Block and Mary Joyce, a 56-year-old corporate manager, for Councilman Zimmerman’s At Large Position II seat as he pursues the mayoral seat.

Limiting the number of apartments and redevelopment are primary issues, said Joyce.

“Redevelopment is a passion. Redevelopment is important. We are an aging city. We want to attract development but we want the minimal amount of city incentives to redevelop,” Joyce said.

She said the city can afford to be choosey.

“Sugar Land is beautiful. Let’s stay ahead of the curve and let them come to us and think of creative ways,” Joyce said.

Lam said she wants to generate more tax revenue, not raise property taxes.

“I will use my background in accounting to control spending, prioritize spending and improve capital spending. I will bring more business to the community and increase our tax base,” she said.

Lam, who is part of the Sugar Land Votes alliance said she would form an ethics committee.

“We have allowed conflicts of interest. We need to bring stronger ethics to our city council,” Lam said.

According to Miller, the city council allows conflicts of interest.

“The state will issue an opinion if that was legal. You can’t vote to give yourself a conflict of interest. I want to change that culture,” she said.

Joyce said mobility is an issue for Sugar Land.

“We need to be creative. Just shutting down Sugar Land we’re not gonna grow and that’s not gonna do it.” she said, adding that the city needs to use technology to manage traffic flow.

Ghandhi concurred that mobility is an issue.

“When you go on Highway 6 and 59, you are not moving. The council is addressing that. We go through a five-year plan and have put aside monies to address mobility by optimizing the lights, widening Highway 6. You want a mixture of ways to move traffic,” Gandhi said.

Joyce, 56, said she has a background in operations management, team projects and budgets and 15 years working with the city.

“I am committed to each of you to work hard and to be prepared for each meeting,” she said. Joyce said each of the candidates received notice of important dates including a semi-annual planning six-hour planning meeting to go over the budget and hear updates from city and staff.

“Of the eight individuals I was the only one who showed up,” she said. “We have to have people prepared to work.”

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