The fallout from the appointment of Jason J. Nelson to The Woodlands Township Board of Directors continued for a fourth meeting on May 21, with directors discussing a proposal to create a vacancy appointment policy.
No action was taken on the issue and township staff will stop any research on the issue and will not formulate any draft policies.
The informal decision came after several directors disagreed on several elements of a possible policy. One key issue was that any policy would not apply to future boards and would have no power, meaning future directors could opt to totally ignore any policy set by a prior board. Some directors also felt that because the process was done legally, there was no need to make a new policy.
Director Shelley Sekula-Gibbs said there was no need to “fix something that is not broken.”
Board Vice Chairman Bruce Rieser echoed comments of others, saying he did not, “want to do anything binding” in regard to an appointment policy.
“I see no real use in spending a lot of time on this,” Rieser said. “We need a full board to go forward and do the business of the township.”
Board Chairman Gordy Bunch and Director Ann Snyder engaged in a several minute debate about the issue during the May 21 online Zoom meeting, with Syder claiming there was a need for a policy after the quick appointment of Nelson. Snyder said a policy would guarantee the public could vet nominees for any possible vacant seat before a vote took place.
Nelson was appointed on April 16; he replaced former director Brian Boniface, who resigned suddenly on April 9. Nelson was chosen over two other nominees, Walter Lisiewski and Peggy Hausman. There was little knowledge of whom had been nominated to replace Boniface, as the names of the three candidates were only made public about 24 hours before the meeting when he was appointed.
The decision to appoint Nelson only one week after Boniface’s resignation caused a small uproar in the township, with a group of nearly 20 prominent public figures, residents and former elected officials writing a letter to the township decrying the quickness of the process. Snyder said she did not believe there was enough transparency and requested, along with Director Bob Milner, the township staff develop a possible draft policy.
Snyder told Bunch she felt the process was done too fast and that she was unaware that a decision on replacing Boniface would be made on April 16. She also said she was troubled by the lack of discussion of nominees and that she felt disrespected.
“What was surprising to me (on April 16) was the quickness and lack of discussion,” Snyder said. “(I was not) aware that even the possibility of a vote was an option. There was no discussion and to me, it did not allow for transparency.”
Bunch countered Snyder’s claims, saying each director had an opportunity to talk and that the process followed the township’s enabling legislation and was legally valid. Bunch also told Snyder that any of the seven directors are welcome to begin a discussion of any agenda item and she had an opportunity to discuss the issue if she had wanted to. Bunch also said he believed the word “transparency is being thrown around loosely.”
“Nobody muted anyone,” Bunch said. “Not a single director said a single word. Every person on this board is not shy. This format isn’t exactly perfect, but to say you didn’t have an opportunity to speak isn’t factual.”
As the discussion drew to a close, Director John Anthony Brown said while he believes more discussion of candidates would have been welcomed, the point is now moot because Nelson is on the board and that is not changing until possibly the Nov. 3 township election when his seat is up for grabs.
“A vote is a vote. We voted and the majority won,” Brown said. “In November, the election will happen. (Nelson’s) appointment is a temporary process.”