Thursday, May 1, 2014

Picks to Fix ESD 9

Early Voting for Emergency Services District 9 is underway.  Eleven candidates are running for three positions. The three with the most votes win. There is no run off.

With eleven candidates, most of whom have no political history, choosing the top three can be a challenge. Because I write about ESD9 – whose own paid consultant termed “dysfunctional” – many have asked whom I am going to vote for.

I am not a brilliant political analyst, nor someone who knows anything about emergency services. I am just a retired teacher turned government watchdog who attends their meetings and files public information requests to research ESD9’s activities.

For what it is worth to anyone else, after I voted AGAINST the CFISD $1.2 Billion Bond, I drove over to ESD 9 and voted for:

Ballot Position               Candidate____
     #1                      Jeremy Martinson
     #4                         Betty Avery
     #7                         Scott DeBoer                                                         

I know some people will say I am nuts. Two of the candidates are people who are not only are unknown in Republican circles, they have never even been politically active.

But I don’t believe that my job as a voter is to place politically active people in government positions. I view it more like a headhunter -  placing the best people in positions to do a job for the people.

So, why did I choose these three?

First, because all three understand that they are running for ESD Commissioner, NOT CFVFD Commissioner.

Second, because….ESD9 is BROKEN….and I think these three are our best bets to fix it.

I will start with Betty Avery because I am her campaign treasurer. I volunteered because I believe the ESD9 board “needs” her skills. Betty likes processes, procedures and details. She is the “Queen of Roberts Rules of Order,” something greatly lacking in ESD9 meetings. I see her using procedure to help keep this board on task. 

She also has an MBA which can prove extremely valuable in re-structuring ESD9 to make it transparent and accountable to the taxpayers.

Betty is very active in the Harris County Republican Party, Chair of the Military Partnership, Precinct Chair, etc. She is dedicated to our community. Betty is willing to put in the time and effort required to be knowledgeable about the issues. 

She abides by the letter of the law and established policies. I see her as the “informed conscious” of the board, keeping it within its prescribed boundaries.

Betty (with a son on active duty in Afghanistan) views our first responders in the same manner she views our military– as persons who deserve our utmost respect. This seems like a given to most of us, but it is also greatly lacking on our current board.

Next, I voted for Jeremy Martinson because he is the consummate professional. He is structured, organized, and prepared….other skills desperately lacking on ESD9. Jeremy is not afraid to make carefully considered decisions and does not let popularity interfere with principle.  It is rare to find courage, integrity and common sense in someone running for office.

Jeremy has proven himself as a firefighter.

He was part of the firefighting team awarded the Unit Medal of Valor by the Houston Fire Department in 2007 for:

 “their courageous efforts to rescue civilians and firefighters under great stress and extremely adverse conditions."

Independent Insurance Agents of Houston named him as their 2009 Firefighter of the Year .

Captain Martinson was honored for his actions on February 11, 2009, when firefighters were dispatched to
a house fire in the 2200 block of Dan Street. Crews arrived on scene to find heavy smoke coming from a
one-story wood frame house and to make matters worse, they were told citizens, possibly children, were trapped inside the home.
 Engine 19’s Captain Jeremy Martinson found an adult victim. As he started to pull her out, the smoke lifted
and he saw two small feet… a child. He told his crew to remove the adult while he carried the young girl
out of the home to waiting EMS crews… Shortly after this save; Engine 27’s crew located a second child and removed them to safety as well. All three victims were viable and transported to Hermann and Texas Children’s Hospital. Due to the training and leadership of these firefighters, three citizens are alive today and where able to meet the firefighters who rescued them several months following this incident."
Shanay Smith is overcome with emotion as she and daughter Katharine, who on Sunday celebrated her fourth birthday, meet fire Capt. Jeremy Martinson. He found the pair lying in the hallway of their burning home. Photo: Sharon Steinmann, Chronicle
Shanay Smith is overcome with emotion as she and daughter Katharine, who on Sunday celebrated her fourth birthday, meet fire Capt. Jeremy Martinson. He found the pair lying in the hallway of their burning home

I believe it would be of great benefit to ESD9 to have someone representing our community of whom we can be proud. Someone who understands the risks first responders take and the sacrifices they make every day for our community. Someone who can set financial limits and guidelines while still exhibiting personal respect to our first responders – again, a skill greatly lacking on our current board.

Plus, Jeremy “gets it.” He understands boundaries - the major issue which has caused so much stress between ESD9 and CFVFD. A quote from him on his CCHC candidate questionnaire:

The most significant issue currently effecting the department is maintaining strict governing guidelines between the ESD and the Contracted Service Provider (CY-Fair VFD) and respecting boundaries between the two services.”

My final vote was for Scott Deboer. Scott has the unique ability to empathize with all the constituents of ESD9. As a business owner himself, he appreciates the taxpayer’s perspective. As a member of the CFVFD he understands their risks and sacrifices. As a previous CFVFD Board member, he appreciates the complexity of governing emergency services. As a husband and father, he knows the importance of protecting lives and property. As his homeowners association president, he has experience in tactful leadership and team dynamics.

When ESD9 has to deal with conflicts of interest between different groups – firefighters, taxpayers, homeowners associations, etc. - it will be truly valuable to have a commissioner who understands all those perspectives.

The ESD9 board is lacking in established policies, procedures and set standards for itself and its contractors. Scott’s business experience and BBA will serve the board well in this area. He also “gets it.” On his CCHC candidate questionnaire he promises to:

“1. Set written standards for contractor performance          review“2. Create disciplined funding allocations for operations and equipment to effectively protect the community

I know these sound so basic, but they are lacking in ESD9. Because there is no written structure, there is constant conflict between ESD9 commissioners as well as ESD9 and CFVFD.

I think Scott is the best suited of all the candidates for this job because of his personality style.  He is friendly and flexible, yet he has the courage to back his convictions, having accepted a suspension rather than be silent about department practices he thought were just plain wrong.

Then there is the issue in ESD9 of effort - something else often lacking in our current commissioners. For example, ESD9 held a board workshop on Sunday, April 13, 2014. One commissioner and a paid consultant were present at the start of the meeting. A second commissioner came 45 minutes late. Two out of five is - pitiful.

Another issue for me is which candidates are really passionate about serving on ESD9?

They all “say” they are. But actions always speak louder than words.

On April 24, just four days before early voting began, ESD9 Commissioners held their regular monthly meeting. There was nothing earth shattering on the agenda, just routine matters. The two incumbents were present.

But only 4 of the 9 remaining candidates cared enough about ESD9 to show up!

Tom Bazan & Betty Avery at ESD9 Meeting April 24
Tom Bazan * Betty Avery 

Jeremy Martinson * Scott DeBoer

Jeremy Martinson & Scott DeBoer at ESD9 Meeting April 24

Where were the other 5? Five people who are asking for our votes?

They had something more important to do?

I think the people deserve ESD9 commissioners who care enough to at least show up!

These four candidates show their passion for the position in their campaigns too.

Betty Avery and Tom Bazan were both politically active in the Harris County Republican Party before they decided to run for ESD9. They will both be politically active after this election is over. They know the system and the key players. 

They have both been not only actively campaigning, but attending ESD9 meetings. They both stepped up to run because they saw the problems in ESD9 and were willing to put forth the effort needed to help fix it.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the 110% effort Scott DeBoer and Jeremy Martinson have put into their campaigns even though neither had any political experience or aspirations. They just entered this race to help fix the mess made by our current ESD. 

They were smart. They admitted they knew nothing about campaigning and asked for help. They studied. They learned about PACs, the laws and requirements.  They teamed up early, raised money together, got their families involved, and doubled their money by running as a team. 

They worked the community, getting signs up, block-walking and speaking to groups. Their campaign had passion and enthusiasm, something so refreshing to see because it is so lacking at ESD9.

And these are all skills ESD Commissioners should possess - teamwork, passion, effort and thrifty use of funds. Their campaign proved to me that they have them.

So…. why not the other candidates?

As I said earlier, voting to me is like being a headhunter - selecting the best people to fill a job needed to be done for the people.

Tom Bazan

Some Republicans have asked how I could not vote for Tom Bazan. He has been one of the most active conservative “community organizers” in the Cypress area. He is a "go getter" and tireless worker. He is in the trenches fighting with us on every cause. He is fearless. He will go anywhere and speak to anyone.

As I told Tom, that is exactly why I didn't vote for him. I think Cypress needs him full force. We need him involved in ALL of our battles - organizing, thinking outside the box, speaking out on all issues, even those that might be controversial.

If we lose Tom to one issue for years, the conservative community has lost. I think his skills are better served elsewhere – not limited to one fight. Tom disagrees with me. He feels he can do both – be a successful ESD9 Commissioner and still give Cypress conservatives 100% effort. I do have confidence that if Tom is elected to ESD9, he will continue to give other issues all the time and energy he can.

David Langenberg

I did see David at the drawing held at ESD9 for positions on the ballot.

He has spoken at candidate events. He is very articulate and knows much about emergency services.

But, David’s answer on his CCHC candidate questionnaire tells me that he will keep ESD9 “dysfunctional.” He does not understand the boundary lines between the ESD and CFVFD. A quote:

The ESD is responsible for placing the most competent people in charge of the fire dept, (Chief, Asst. Chief etc)…”

ESD9 is the elected board who sets the tax rate, oversees fiduciary responsibilities, sets standards and plans for the future. CFVFD is a private non-profit corporation. They are a contract provider for emergency services. ESD9 may approve CFVFD’s selection of a fire chief before they approve payment of salary and benefits, but it is not the ESD's responsibility to “place” people they feel are the “most competent” in leadership positions inside a private non-profit corporation.  

David was reprimanded by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement OfficerStandards and Education  in March of 2012. When asked about the incident at the Cypress Tea Party meeting, he said he erred when reporting his training hours. I respected the fact that he did not make excuses. He took full responsibility for the error.

Robert Lozano

In his CCHC candidate questionnaire, Robert describes himself as a "Conservative Republican” and a  “sitting President of the Police Union.”

He is an excellent public speaker and very skilled at public relations. He serves his union on the local and state levels. He says his “union” is not like other “unions.”

When Robert ran for Constable of Precinct 4 against Ron Hickman in 2012, His campaign finance reports show he received campaign donations from IUOE – International Union of Operating Engineers and HPPU – International Union of Procurement Professionals. How many true “Conservative Republicans” can make that claim?

Most interesting is the fact that he and two other ESD9 candidates, James Blackledge and Patrick J Kiley, had their applications for ESD9 Commissioner notarized by Robert Berleth.

When speaking at a Cypress Tea Party meeting, the current ESD9 President, Mike Larrivee, explained that Berleth had once worked for CFVFD but had been terminated. He later attempted to bring a union into CFVFD. Berleth filed a complaint against CFVFD with the National Labor Relations Board.

The National Labor Relations Board is the Federal entity “which conducts elections that can require employers to engage in collective bargaining with labor unions.”

Just a coincidence?

I say -  if it walks like a union, and quacks like a union, it most likely is a “real” union.

And, the last thing the people of Cy-Fair need is the union in our volunteer fire department. So all three of these candidates are off my list.

Additionally, in March of 2013, Ch 2 News reported that Robert Lozano was removed from duty with pay for complaints concerning "improper conduct." I do not know the outcome of the investigation.

Willa Matthews

I was told by a  board member that Willa attended one ESD9 meeting. She was not present at the ESD9 workshop on April 13, 2014 or the ESD9 meeting on April 24, 2014.  I did see her at ESD9 when the drawing was held for places on the ballot. 

She did not bother to turn in a CCHC candidate questionnaire, so I do not know her position on issues.  When she spoke at the Cypress Tea Party, she stumbled finding an answer to the most basic question – why are you running for this position?  I have been told she has signs up, but I have not seen any.

Kevin Kyle & Mike Larrivee – The Incumbents

Kevin Kyle and Mike Larrivee are the two ESD9 incumbents who chose to run for re-election. We already know what we get with these two, such a “dysfunctional” mess that 9 candidates stepped up to run against them.

Mike has been in office for 14 years. I believe in term limits so that automatically takes him off my list. 

But I must admit, it has been helpful having him run because he has provided the public with the information on Berleth, as well as letting the public know that Kevin Kyle was one of the commissioners pushing to de-fund CFVFD last year, just to get his way. That would have left our community without an emergency service provider – something no competent ESD commissioner would ever risk.

Personally, I attended those meetings and I think both were at fault. But I do admit Kevin Kyle was worse.

Kevin Kyle is beyond words for me. The only positive comments I can make are that he is articulate and wears nice suits.

In my observation, Kyle is the “rotten apple” on the current board. He acts just like our federal government. He uses money to force others to do what he has decided is best for them. When I watch him in meetings he reminds me of Nancy Pelosi.  He is condescending. He treats others as if he is superior to them and the CFVFD as if they are bad children. He is derogatory in his domineer and invents conflict to make himself appear superior.

In my opinion, for the good of our community, he should not be elected to return to this board.

If you have read this far, than you most likely are a person who cares enough to vote in this race. Please study the candidates and make the choices you feel will do the best job to rebuild  ESD9 into a commission that works with CFVFD to protect our community.

You can find all ESD9 election information here:

Colleen Vera


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