Carol Stromatt was surprisingly elected to the Position 7 seat on The Woodlands Township board in November 2017, defeating favored incumbent Laura K. Fillault, whose missteps with controversial social media posts in the weeks before the election ended up leading to her loss. Stromatt told her supporters two years ago that she would promise to serve only one two-year term on the board if elected. And as the Nov. 5 township election day nears, the lone Democrat on what is supposed to be a non-partisan board kept true to her word, announcing in July she would not seek another term.
The Villager sat down with Stromatt recently for our Sunday Conversation, and the soon-to-be retired from politics director who has a large fan club in the township shared her feelings on the most important issues facing The Woodlands as well as addressing what she believes her legacy is and also the things she plans to do in the future.
QUESTION: How would you describe your two years in office and what issues do you believe you had the most impact on?
STROMATT: I suspect it is this way for any new board member, initially, at least the first year, it is like drinking from a fire hydrant. Because, they don’t sit you down and do an orientation about, ‘this is how we conduct our business, this is the way you approach addressing a subject, or this is how you get an (item) on the agenda.’ Just the protocol of how we do business. Of course, you have the (Texas) Open Meetings Act, so that is something that everyone is conscious of and is used in some cases so there is no conversation. I would day that it is like drinking from a fire hydrant. I would also say, it is probably the most fond memory I have career-wise, and I’ve had very wonderful business career. But working for our residents, and with them, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I have made so many wonderful new friendships and I am proud of my accomplishments.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts as an outgoing director on incorporation of The Woodlands Township, not necessarily if you are in favor of it or not, but the issue itself and how much information and data that has been generated so quickly and the criticisms from some residents that the process is too complex to be occurring so fast?
STROMATT: I would say preparation up front for anything that we do is probably short-term compared to what it may require. For a new person, more than someone, for example, Chairman (Gordy) Bunch has been on the board for years, and he already knows (what has been happening). But for a new person, and when you are not allowed to talk to each other, learning (it is hard). This past time for our budget (hearings) — on Thursday afternoon late, we got the first huge notebook. Then (on Friday), we got the other huge notebook. Monday morning, we had to be ready to hit the ground running for the budget process that is public and, you are literally sitting there hammering out what you are going to do. And I have been a part of the budgeting process for a lot of large corporations and smaller corporations and I’ve never done a budget process like that in my life. I would say that it is a challenge. As far as incorporation is concerned, going back to planning ahead, I have headed up a long-range planning department before, and I have never done long-range planning like this. It requires long-range planning and you need a consistency (of the board); and this leads us to the (question) whether or not we need to extend the terms for board members? At least those board members would have a longer time to hit the ground running.
QUESTION: Can you explain that further, the complexity of the incorporation issue and the amount of information presented on the process by the consulting groups and the resulting challenges?
STROMATT: With cities all around us growing faster and newer development and attractions, it is really something worth considering that we do that long-range planning. Right now, we are a fractured government. I had never thought about it until I became a board member. Currently, the township exercises limited authority for limited responsibilities. We have the the fire department, parks and recreation, economic development, trash hauling and recycling, public landscape maintenance and covenant administration, and a lot of times when those come before the board, the answer is, “we don’t have the money for that.” Looking at incorporation, and what that might do for us, I’ve asked several times, “I want to see a pros and cons list.” I want to know if you incorporate, you do this specific activity and these are the advantages and disadvantages of this. To give someone literally hundreds of pages to digest, and then they say, “let’s make a decision” (is difficult). The most critical part of this is educating our residents. We have had one meeting (September 2018 public forum), of course they can come to the (incorporation planning sessions), but you have seen by the attendance, that doesn’t happen. To educate the people so what they are really informed about what they are voting on, we need to have multiple media ways to do that. I just think we need to do as much of that as we can before putting it up for a vote. I know so many people I have talked to who just don’t have a clue. It is just getting people, our residents, all the information so they can make an educated vote when that opportunity is given to them.
QUESTION: You mentioned extending the terms of board members from two years to longer, something state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, has also championed. What time length of terms would you be in favor of?
STROMATT: (From) Two (years) to three of four (years). Just extend it. Your first year is learning: what to do, how to do it, how to work with the other board members and just what is going on and what the issues are. You are on several committees, you need a little while to figure out what role you can play in that. So yes, I would definitely be for extending the terms and I would be in favor of breaking up our voting cycles. So that you might, if you had three or four year terms, those people would rotate off every so many years, but not elect four (in one year) and three (in another year)…so people are not always running in the same group of candidates. You would probably get a more diverse board and that represents more of our population.
QUESTION: On the question of the diversity of the Board of Directors make up, does the seven-member board need more diversity in regard to political leanings, religion and gender? And, how would those goals be achieved?
STROMATT: Definitely. I do think it is very important to have ideologies that represent the whole community. (The same people) Makes it very difficult for not just another (political) party member, but someone who is not their particular political ideology. Ann (Snyder) has been wonderful, and our politics never dictated how we worked together. We have done great things together — that had nothing to do with what our political party was. Diversity is what makes us richer. Someone who is just like me is going to quite possibly not be thinking about other possibilities, other things. Would I like to see someone different than me come up with ideas as good as mine or better, would I like to see that, yes! It is fresh ideas, and I am all about fresh ideas… I love that.
QUESTION: You have been lauded for your community activism, attending meetings that other directors do not or events that may seem minor. What did you get out of those activities in the past two years?
STROMATT: I absolutely love being out there. I have accomplished other things, like lowering taxes or other board actions. But, going to house warmings and a dedication for a disabled veteran, and participating in that part of our community (is rewarding). Seeing who in our community that is making a difference every day, not at a board meeting or at church, they are just making tremendous strides for our community. (I am) Keeping all of that in the back of my mind when making (township) considerations. I get to know our residents at a level that I would never do if I did not work out in the community.
QUESTION: You have teamed up with several other directors in recent months and jointly tackled some important issues such as firefighter health concerns, fire department facility funding, stemming the rising rates of attempted suicides and suicides as well as reducing property taxes and supporting the Conroe Independent School District bond. Why have those been passions of yours?
STROMATT: I went over for the (County) exercise for what fireman go through when they go into a burning building, I wasn’t able to (participate), but I was there for the whole thing and watched people crawl out of there (a burning structure) because they couldn’t stay any longer. When you have that experience of what they (firefighters) go through, it gives you more empathy and it gives you more understanding. I never knew, but (that understanding) is so elementary to what training they have to have, what equipment they have to have in order to do their jobs. The very thought that someone would go into a burning building for me, and that I would put them there without enough equipment, without proper equipment, to suit up in, to get there, I just can’t imagine. (On suicide) I was interested in that long before I joined the board, I had realized that suicide was on the rise. I was on the Indian Springs (Village Association board) and we saw those reports (with suicide rate statistics). When Judge (Wayne) Mack came up with this idea (for a suicide prevention task force), I was there and signed up. I went to (meet with) young people, and when you hear (hospital officials) talk about how many times kids come into the ER after attempting suicide….they don’t come one time, they come two, three times. You also need an awareness program. Most people don’t even know this, but I tell people this: we have one of the highest rising suicide rates of anywhere, they are just astonished. We do have so much (happening in our lives) and we are so busy, and our kids are so distracted, we have a huge problem and we need to address it.
QUESTION: You made a promise to serve one term on the board and did keep that promise: what is next for Carol Stromatt?
STROMATT: I have made a lot of personal time donations, and I plan to continue doing that. I will continue come before the board when I feel passionate about something. I hope that we do get (board) diversity. I am thrilled to have helped the Pride organization, and I will continue to do to that, and I will continue to work with the (Montgomery County) food bank, Interfaith (of The Woodlands) and others. I look forward to continuing my passions, which is community service, also, photography to canvas, also travel… I love to travel and that was pretty much brought to a screeching halt, and my family. They are looking forward to me being more attentive.