Worries about elitism, drainage top mayoral campaign – Galveston Daily News

Better drainage and controversy over downtown development are materializing as issues in the election for the mayor of Friendswood.

Councilman Mike Foreman and Omar Peck are running in the May 5 mayoral election, but candidates still have until Friday to file.

Peck was the first to file, and he thought he would be running against Mayor Kevin Holland. When Holland chose not to run for re-election, Foreman decided to enter the mayoral election.

Holland’s decision surprised many Friendswood residents. “I’ve reconsidered, and I need my time with my family,” Holland said.

ISSUES

Foreman, a retired NASA astronaut, and Peck, a retired engineering executive, agree on most issues and are equally polite about wanting to focus on the issues rather than their opponent.

The one topic they differ on is the work of the Friends of Downtown Friendswood. Foreman is supportive of the group’s efforts, while Peck sees them as a special-interest group looking for favors.

“I’m looking forward to a spirited, positive campaign,” Foreman said.

Foreman has been on the city council for two years. He retired from NASA in 2015, then he ran for the Position 4 council position and won in 2016. He’s content with how Holland led the council and the city, and he intends to continue that trajectory, Foreman said. Foreman’s top issues are spending money responsibly, maintaining property taxes as low as possible and keeping the city’s status as a safe place to live. “Each year, we’ve lowered taxes,” Foreman said.

Peck ran in May 2017 for council Position 2 against Sally Branson, who won. Peck attributes her win to living in Friendswood for a long time where lots of people knew her. Peck’s issues are similar to what they were in that campaign. He wants better roads and less elitism, he said. His long career with California-based URS Corp. put him in Friendswood for a short stint before he transferred to other locations, but when he retired five years ago, he returned to Friendswood. Not having business interests in Friendswood would make him a fair and impartial mayor, Peck said.

US AND THEM

Peck said he’s leery of special-interests groups, and he puts the Friends of Downtown Friendswood in that category while stopping short of accusing the group of doing anything wrong.

The nonprofit organization and the city’s Friendswood Downtown Economic Development Corp. both back projects that seem to benefit an elite portion of the population, and neither group is interested in public input, Peck said.

One example Peck gave was the nonprofit group’s proposal for a carousel at Stevenson Park, a project the group put on the back burner after Hurricane Harvey. He questions whether the carousel is a good fit for the city, but he’s more concerned that the project hasn’t involved an open and honest conversation with more residents, he said. Peck describes it as an “us-and-them” mentality. “It’s all of us,” Peck said.

But the project was only presented as a proposal to the council, one that was still in the works. And while the council listened, it did not take any action. Also, opponents spoke against the carousel proposal at council meetings.

Foreman’s wife, Lorrie Foreman, worked on the carousel proposal, but Foreman kept that topic at arm’s length. He supports the idea of improving the downtown area, and he supported the one-eighth of a cent sales tax for downtown improvements that voters approved in May 2016. Development is going to happen, Foreman said. It is in Friendswood’s interest to attract businesses that fit with the city’s family oriented community, he said. With sidewalks and an attractive, cohesive look, the city could attract higher-end retail businesses, Foreman said.

Peck’s point of view is not different. “We need to attract the right kind of business in the right places,” Peck said. “We have too many banks and urgent-care centers.”

HARVEY

Foreman’s home in The Park neighborhood had 26 inches of floodwater during Hurricane Harvey, he said. Peck’s neighborhood in Creekside Estates became an island, and he had friends and relatives whose homes sustained damage, he said.

In October, the council rescinded a city ordinance that adopted the Harris County 2001 flood maps and instead went back to using the 1999 flood maps that the Federal Emergency Management Agency used. Most of Friendswood is in Galveston County. “We did the right thing,” Foreman said. One reason the city wanted to use the 1999 maps was so officials wouldn’t have to force residents to elevate their homes, a potentially expensive requirement, or to leave their property, a heartbreaking proposition, city officials said. The city should decide before a disaster where shelters will be, Peck said. In the beginning of the Harvey response, no one seemed certain where to take evacuees at first, he said.

DRAINAGE

Drainage will be a big issue for the council in coming years, Foreman said. He voted Monday along with the rest of the council to approve a resolution asking the Texas congressional delegation to get a 2012 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project funded. The corps estimated at that time the Clear Creek flood control project would cost about $250 million.

Peck agreed with the need to widen and deepen waterways. He also wants the city to be careful when allowing new developments to cover ground with concrete.

EMS CHANGES

Both candidates agree on a need to change the city’s free emergency medical service to a billed service that most health insurance policies would cover.

Foreman served on the council subcommittee that studied the expenses and options. The entire council at an upcoming retreat will likely review the costs of area EMS providers to gauge what Friendswood should charge, Foreman said.

Peck agreed that the monthly $3 voluntary payments added to residents’ water bills were not covering the city’s expense.

CONSENSUS

Both Peck and Foreman stressed the need to collaborate with the public, the city staff and other council members.

A mayor and council members need to understand the public’s concerns, Peck said. “They need to listen,” Peck said.

Foreman was an officer in the U.S. Navy before he became an astronaut. His leadership style was autocratic, but as an engineer and a test pilot who had to work with civilians, his style changed. “That’s where I learned about collaboration,” Foreman said. His leadership style changed again during his years with NASA, he said. “You don’t end the meeting until everyone who wants has had a chance to say something,” Foreman said. “Consensus building is what we need on council.”

Omar looks forward to addressing these issues in more clarifying detail in the coming days, with direct and unfiltered communication to Friendswood residents.