The Woodlands, Texas – With the vote for The Woodlands to incorporate into a city just six weeks away, multiple top law enforcement officials have spoken up with concerns about the impact incorporation would have on the effectiveness of law enforcement in the area.
Currently, primary law enforcement in The Woodlands is provided by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the Montgomery County Constable for Precinct 3, and the Harris County Constable for Precinct 4. If the incorporation vote is passed, the new city will need to create new law enforcement agencies specific to its jurisdiction.
On September 14, a 96-page critique of the incorporation plan penned by two retired Houston law enforcement officials was released and raised questions about how prepared The Woodlands is for the law enforcement transition. The report was written by Timothy Oettmeier, a retired Houston PD executive assistant chief, and Joseph Fenninger, a retired Houston PD deputy director and chief financial officer. It was commissioned and released by the Howard Hughes Corporation, which is the largest taxpayer in The Woodlands and which is publicly opposed to the vote.
Their report criticizes the plans put out by the Township board on issues such as operating costs, vehicle costs, and the lack of planning for costs associated with liability, digital evidence handling, and various other aspects of police work. The critique also contends that the board’s report has no information regarding investigative services for financial crimes, special victims cases, computer crimes, juvenile crimes, and gang activity.
“Our evaluation was based entirely on the accuracy and merits of the Township’s projections and descriptions of law enforcement options, agnostic to the prospects of incorporation. In our opinion, the plan falls significantly short of providing a reliable blueprint for ensuring public safety in The Woodlands,” said Oettmeier.
The report has been used as a basis for criticism by a variety of organizations, including other law enforcement officials. Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson released a video on September 22 stating in clear terms his opposition to incorporation. “I’ve examined the township’s law enforcement incorporation plan and share the concerns of law enforcement experts who have identified critical deficiencies.” Henderson says. “My team works hard every day to protect this community, and we don’t want that to change.”
Also referring to the Howard Hughes Corporation report, Constable Ryan Gable of Montgomery County Precinct 3 recently expressed his view in a social media post, saying, “I stand behind the recently released assessment showing a lack of funding for law enforcement by a future city of The Woodlands and do not see a valid reason to incorporate as a city. We offer great law enforcement services through my agency and the Sheriff’s Department, making The Woodlands, Texas one of the safest places to live, work, and play.”
Transitioning from a special-purpose district to a true municipality has been on the table for years in The Woodlands. When Kingwood was annexed by Houston in 1996, concerns spread around The Woodlands that the same would happen to their community. They currently have an agreement that so long as The Woodlands pays 1/16th of its sales tax to Houston, annexation is not up for discussion until the agreement expires in 2057.
The current push to incorporate traces back to 2016. That year, The Woodlands Township established an incorporation reserve to fund the process and in 2018 hired a consulting firm to study the prospect. While the study and general effort stalled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, research and discussions have resumed in 2021, leading to the issue being put on the November ballot.
The incorporation vote will be held on November 2, 2021 and October 4 will be the last day to register to vote.