Q&A: Katy City Council candidates discuss heritage, business development and budgeting

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 9/23/20

After the May elections were postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, candidates for Katy City Council bided their time and are now actively campaigning again as it gets closer to election …

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Q&A: Katy City Council candidates discuss heritage, business development and budgeting

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After the May elections were postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, candidates for Katy City Council bided their time and are now actively campaigning again as it gets closer to election day. Candidates are taking to social media to spread the word and participated in a forum held Sept. 10.

A video of the forum is available on the Katy Times and Katy Area Chamber of Commerce Facebook pages. (https://www.facebook.com/thekatytimes) It is also available by clicking here.  Candidates were each provided the questions at the exact same time via email and were allowed to have speaking points prepared fore questions, though fully composed responses were prohibited. All candidates complied with the rules of the event.

At the forum, there was limited time for questions and additional questions were later proposed to the candidates and each was given the same amount of time and word count limits to respond to them. Their answers for these additional questions are published below. Responses have been lightly edited to fit in the space allotted and for clarity.

The questions below required candidates to voice their stances on preserving Katy’s heritage, promoting local businesses and fiscal responsibility. Candidates for wards A and B each answered the same questions. Generally, Ward A and B are separated by Franz Road north and south with Ward A on the south side of the road on the western portion of Katy. In the center of town, Ward A and B is separated by Airline Drive with A on the western side and B to the East. At 5th Street going east, the wards are again separated north and south by 5th Street and Mockingbird Lane. A map may be found here.

The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 3 elections is Oct. 5.

Ward A

Q: Tell us about yourself:

Dharminder Dargan: I am running for City of Katy City. I am an engineer by profession, a small business owner, and a family-oriented person. In the past 20+ years, I have worked in technology in the energy sector. I have been a Katy resident for 6 years and have led community development programs.

My priorities are safe neighborhoods, property tax reductions, supporting small businesses during the pandemic, flood control, permitting process improvements, helping small businesses and improving technology infrastructure.

I bring strong technical and business skills that will help our community in the City of Katy reach its full potential.

Web: www.facebook.com/dargan4katy
Phone: 832-937-7160

Diane R. Walker: I graduated from Katy High School in 1996. I served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years. After serving my country I moved back to Katy with my Husband and two girls. I then began my 13 year career as a Law Enforcement Analyst/Fraud Examiner for the Federal Government. I decided to run for City Council so that I can give back to the community that had a part in making me who I am today. I also want to increase transparency within the city and make sure that the voices of the residents are heard.

Web: www.facebook.com/DianeWalkerforCityCouncil
Phone: 281-969-3009

Janet Corte: My husband and I have lived in Katy for 39 years and raised our four children here. I have an IT background with experience in project management and client communication. As a current councilmember, I have experience and knowledge of how the city operates and understand the various methods of funding projects. The multitude of regulations that a city must adhere to makes it very different from the private sector. I research issues and am not afraid to ask tough questions. Every decision I make is given great thought to ensure it benefits the city and its residents.

Web: Facebook: Janet Corte, City of Katy Councilmember Ward A
Email: janetcorte2020@gmail.com

Q: Katy is over a century old and has a rich heritage that is treasured by its residents. If elected, what will you do to preserve the city’s heritage?

Dharminder Dargan: How many Katy residents know that Katy was once called the “Rice and Oil” capital of the world? How many residents are aware of its rich history? I can assure you not many residents are aware of this. I believe this needs to change. The heritage of Katy needs to be preserved and maintained. We need to ensure that we take pride in projecting and enhancing our traditions.

We need to have regular programs and festivals which are designed to project local talents, traditions, and culture. We need to have a better marketing plan which can be tested, measured, and can be adjusted. We live in a world of social media and individual communication, and we must use all the tools available to us.

Involvement of the community with an inclusive approach is critical in making these programs successful. We have to ensure local businesses are also involved and ALL Katy residents are welcomed. We need to foster an environment that is reflective of our community, our traditions, and our values.  

Diane R. Walker: I come from an old Katy family and my heritage is something that I have always taken pride in. I love our town’s rich history and want to share it with as many people as possible. I am a member of the Katy Heritage Society and would love to see the organization’s membership grow. The Katy Heritage Society plans events throughout the year and opens the homes on the weekends for free tours. The grounds that surround the park are beautifully maintained by the City Parks and Recreation department. I would like our schools to make field trips to Heritage Park to learn about our history. As adults it is our job to make sure our history is passed down to younger generations.

Janet Corte: Although I am a native Houstonian, Katy has always been a part of my life and protecting the city’s heritage is very important to me. Traveling back and forth to the Texas Hill country, the rice driers were a major landmark. My dad knew some of the rice farmers and would bring me out here to fish in their tanks and to see the millions of ducks in the fall.

My husband and I moved to Katy because we wanted our children to grow up in a town where everyone knew each other and watched out for each other. One of the first things I lobbied for as a Councilmember was a review and update of the ordinances for our Old Katy District. I also voted to purchase the historic Rylander property to save it from commercialization. I will continue working to find and support activities that honor and protect Katy’s past and help build a sense of community between its residents.

Q: Business owners in the Old Town Katy District have expressed frustration with how difficult it can be to attract shoppers to the district. In what ways do you feel the city could better support those businesses and others within the city that may be struggling with a lack of traffic to their areas?

Dharminder Dargan: The heart of Katy is in the Old Town Katy district; We must revive it. The City of Katy needs to RE-introduce to the Old Town Katy district to all the new residents and businesses. We have to make a concerted effort to make it a cultural and event destination for ALL residents of the city. Tourism, special promotions, cultural festivals, and special business events should all be part of the program.

This can be done by creating short, medium, and long-term programs. We should develop cultural programs on a regular basis. These programs need to be as diverse as the Katy population today. We have to focus on beautification, repairs, and enhancing existing landmarks within the city. This can only be done if the local businesses are engaged and they also benefit from such efforts.

Diane R. Walker: Our local small businesses are a big part of the City’s culture. During the pandemic I have supported small business the same way as I did before COVID and the same way I will continue to do so in the future. I eat and shop local as much as possible. We need to strengthen our relationships with Katy Economic Development Council and local Chambers. I would like the City to consider having a designated link under tourism on our City page to connect people to our local business.

Janet Corte: We need to complete the Downtown Plaza and make it a destination. Not only will this help the downtown businesses but will also become a gathering space for residents furthering the small town feel that people love about Katy.

The City needs to continue working with business owners and other organizations to help promote their events, and as COVID regulations are lifted, bring back events such as the Rice Festival and Old-Fashion Christmas Festival. When the Visitors Center opens to the public, there needs to be an area where local business owners can place promotional materials.

I would like to see TravelKaty.com promoted more. TravelKaty.com is a visitors’ guide to Katy, and I would like to work with our Tourism Department to see how we can add a subsection or link for the businesses in the Old Katy District.

Q: What do you feel the city spends too much money on and, in contrast, what do you feel the city should spend more money on?

Dharminder Dargan: Katy is a fast growing city, and it needs to focus on getting modern infrastructure and technologies. We need to focus on programs which are designed for the future. There are many outdated programs and processes which are in critical need of technological update.

As an Engineer, I truly appreciate and understand the role of Information technology. It adds huge value to the efficiency of any program. We also need a better communication plan and an outreach program. We need to upgrade facilities for all support services like the Police, Fire department, and all public services. We have many facilities in the city which are not fully utilized and need enhancement so that Katy residents and businesses can use them to their maximum potential

Diane R. Walker: The biggest part of our budget is spent on the Police and Fire department which is a valued and needed service. I would like to see strategically placed sidewalks in high pedestrian areas added to the budget. I would also like to see the City purchase more green space for parks. I would really like to see some volleyball courts added to our selection of available sport fields. I appreciate the staffs hard work in creating a budget that kept expenses at a minimum this year.

Janet Corte: There is not a simple answer to this question. The City is very regulated when it comes to funding projects, so each area needs to be evaluated individually. The City’s Comprehensive Plan is a roadmap to the future but is outdated and needs to be reviewed /updated. Flood mitigation and drainage is still very important to our residents. We currently have several flood mitigation projects in progress, so I would like to see more funding to repair aging infrastructure which can also help improve drainage.

Also important to our residents is an outdoor lifestyle. Last year I successfully lobbied to have a connected system of bike/hike trails included in the City’s Strategic Guide. The first phase of this project was to be in 20/21 budget but due to the negative financial impact the COVID shutdown had on the City’s revenue this project had to be pulled. If reelected I will continue to lobby for this project as well as an overall improvement plan for all the City’s parks.

Ward B

Tell us about yourself:

Durran Dowdle: The decisions made today affect the future of our community.  At the beginning of my tenure, we put a strategic plan in place, and we have seen growth, which led to lowered tax rates and unfortunate flooding that led to improved drainage and infrastructure. I have championed safety and security with a second fire station and a full-time fire department, additional police officers along with the hiring of a new police chief and fire chief. There are always challenges that befall the city and with my current and relative experience I am the best choice to continue in the role of Councilman of Ward B.

Phone: 281-757-3173
Web: www.facebook.com/coucilmemberdurran.dowdle.9

Rory Robertson: As a lifelong resident of Katy, I have seen wonderful growth and change to our community. I have always been heavily involved in the community and have enjoyed many years volunteering with youth sports in Katy as well as positions within Katy ISD. I appreciate the work of our local government, but I believe we can do better. I have a strong relationship with many members of our community and intend to build on those relationships. I want to open up our government to the people. We do not have the transparency that I intend to offer.  It is time for all of your voices to be heard and I will be that “Voice for Katy.”

Phone: 281-451-4052
Web: www.facebook.com/RoryRobertsonWardB

Sam Pearson: I have been a public servant all my working life. My criminalj experience totals over 40 years. I have supervised personnel hiring, internal investigations, warrants, auto theft, training, and corrections. Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Management from Sam Houston State University. Part time 10yrs as Adjunct Professor with HCC and licensed minister. Appointed as a Commissioner on the Planning and Zoning Commission by three mayors. I promise citizens of Katy, I will investigate each issue presented to me thoroughly and determine the impact it will have on them.

If there is an inverse impact, no is in my vocabulary.

Phone: 832-618-5901
Web: sam.pearson47@gmail.com

Steve Pierson: I am qualified and have the experience with results. I have lived in the Katy area for over 40 years. I have been honored to have served on numerous committees and boards. I have always had the citizens ear and voice and i always will. I will work for transparency from within to ensure speed, efficiency and quality of decision making to ensure Katy is represented in every household.

I have a heart for Katy. God inspires all leaders to rise above their own circumstances. I prayed and have decided to seek this position for the good of the people.

Phone: 832-661-8800
Email: st77493@gmail.com

Q: Katy is over a century old and has a rich heritage that is treasured by its residents. If elected, what will you do to preserve the city’s heritage?

Durran Dowdle: Each generation has its own memories of what they see as Katy’s rich heritage, some will fade away, but others remain prominent like that sense of community, Katy football, KISD FFA program, Rice farming or Duck and Goose hunting. What makes Katy is the people. It is what the people do in the community that give us what you describe as “rich heritage”. Its Safety and Security, its gathering for worship, it is helping one another, like after Harvey. Let us identify what’s physical and tangible to preserve, like our Iconic Rice dryers, and help others to understand the intangible, that which makes Katy, Katy. Change is inevitable but we do not have to lose what we have. It takes funds to purchase and maintain assets when you are describing physical heritage, if you have $10 million laying around, we can purchase the rice dryers.  We have a heritage board and heritage society, a good foundation, let’s start there.

Rory Robertson: As an executive board member of Katy’s oldest non-profit, I stand proud of our history and I prove it by serving on the Katy Heritage Society Board. I love our history. I am a student of Katy’s history and I teach Katy’s History. My family arrived in Katy in 1904 so I love that much of the city’s history includes my ancestors. Members of my family have also served on The Katy Heritage Society as I proudly do. It is such an honor and treat to visit the Johnny Nelson Katy Heritage Museum and see items that once belonged to my relatives. Katy’s history is strong but must be protected. Our Mayor and city council has always supported our history and I intend to support our historical societies as well as the other non-profits. Any way that our city can endorse our history, we should fully embrace it.

Sam Pearson: Katy’s High School sports have many state and district championships. This is a tradition which should always be supported and preserved.

The Katy Rice Harvest Festival has a long tradition in the city and should continually receive citizen, appointed officials, and council’s support.

The Missouri, Kansas, Texas (MKT) should be honored with a downtown festival. The nickname of the railroad is “The Katy.” The Stock Exchange symbol was “KT.” A lot of people consider the train a nuisance and want to end their presence in Katy. This city was established because of this railroad. The Heritage of this city is attached to the train. Passenger trains traveling from Houston to Missouri were named “The Texas Special”, “Katy Limited”, “Katy Flyer” and the “Bluebonnet”. We need to preserve the presence of this railroad in Katy.

Steve Pierson: Heritage is a part of our culture that reflects the people itself, their beliefs, morals, ways of thinking, acting and viewing the world. By preserving and keeping our heritage, we are creating a legacy for future generations. We have been richly blessed with a magnitude of heritage from the rice towers, wetlands, to many other landmarks not including an array of historic photos. We have the obligation as Katy citizens to preserve the history that was paved by our forefathers with blood, sweat, tears, hard work and glorious memories.

We need to reach out to organizations, governmental agencies to secure grants and or loans that can be used to restore and maintain these artifacts. Setting up community organizations to work together to be sure we are advertising, inviting, revisiting certain time frames to share with the public the rich history

that is in the heartland. By protecting the enhancement of buildings, sites, districts, structures, objects, and significant natural features keeps us connected as a community to its past.

Q: Business owners in the Old Town Katy District have expressed frustration with how difficult it can be to attact shoppers to the district. In what ways do you feel the city could better support those businesses and others within the city that may be struggling with a lack of traffic to their areas?

Durran Dowdle: As soon as this Covid business is over and we can “open up” we should start a campaign as follows. Advertisement and Tourism are key components to support any of our business’s in Katy. Our smaller business’s my not have the advertising dollars to put out sufficient notice. This is where all our business partners can help. The city supporting Katy Market days, The Katy Chamber of Commerce, The Katy Economic Development Co. and others to provide marketing, workshops, and partnering to get the word out about our businesses.

Rory Robertson: Our downtown is in the midst of a redevelopment which will include more open space when completed. In my opinion, the city should welcome and open up downtown for more evening events. We have many businesses that we should be actively supporting. We could easily allow more music events and festivals in the evenings which would include bringing in food trucks at a minimum once a month to create a draw for the existing businesses. We could create a “La Centerra feel” in downtown which the residents have supported for years. Great food and shopping are what we would love to see. Katy has the Katy Market Days and a few festivals throughout the year but let’s build on them. I love visiting downtown. There are the historical homes and the businesses. I hope that all of you will shop local when you can and hopefully we can bring in many more opportunities to visit downtown.

Sam Pearson: I believe we should start a “Buy Katy” campaign. The citizens should be informed of the types of businesses which can be found in the Downtown Area. There is a Biblical principal that needs to become a daily thought. Farmers have always used this phrase; “Whatever you sow, you will reap.” Citizens of Katy, if you sow your money in Katy, more tax money comes to the city and you will reap a lower tax rate.

We also need to attract more festivals in the Katy Downtown Plaza. Charity runs, bike events, and car shows bring people to the Downtown area. There also needs to be an “attraction” business Downtown. Since Katy Hardware left “Downtown”, there is not a store or a daily stop for people. In Bellville, it is the bakery. In Brenham it is the corner, Must Be Heaven sandwich and ice cream shop. We do have a coffee shop. We may want to give a tax incentive to establish that drawing shop.

Steve Pierson: i will work with the downtown/district committee to encourage workshops to educate our business merchants on marketing and how to use the internet to boost their businesses. The workshops will educate the merchants on how to use the adversity of the flooding and COVID-19 issue to their benefit. I would encourage the city to build parking or provide shuttle to the downtown area. I would encourage tax free days each year to encourage more shopping. The police department will be more visible during downtown events.

Q: What do you feel the city spends too much money on and, in contrast, what do you feel the city should spend more money on?

Durran Dowdle: Priorities change with each challenge we have faced, like flooding, and now Covid. Looking at a 5-10 year plan the focus will be in gearing up, shifting our budget toward maintenance and aging infrastructure. Long range plans to set funding aside in preparation for system upgrades and improved service as technology improves where we may limit the growth of government but still provide services to our citizens.

I would like to see a stronger focus on green space and investment into our parks, pathways and mobility for walking and biking that relate to outdoor activities. Just as we did by purchasing property across from city hall by Thomas Park.

Rory Robertson: First, I would like to congratulate Mayor Bill Hastings on his recent budget.  This is one of the great tasks placed upon that office and I agree with his budget decisions. Half our annual budget goes to the police and fire departments, which I completely support. Safety has to be our first priority.

Where I would change the use of the Hotel Occupancy Tax funds. These monies are brought in by our hotels and must be used on tourist-attracting events. I would love to see creativity in using HOT funds. Much of the money is used for 2-day events only. We need a longer-themed vision.

I support the city purchasing more green space. Our parks system is the best in Texas for our children and adults but we lack places for teens. We need a sporting complex geared for children 5–18. This can be accomplished on our own or with a partnership with Harris, Waller, or Fort Bend Counties. We must keep our kids active, yet we do not offer much for them.

Sam Pearson: I have looked over the new proposed budget in hard copy form. I can tell a lot of work has been done to keep spending down. There is not a particular department that seems to be spending too much money or overpaying their employees. Revenues are down due to the closing of retail stores during the virus. The mayor, city administrator, and department heads have kept all expenditures within reason.

Steve Pierson: More funds spent on the emergency services, flooding issues and other infrastructure issues. We need to significantly lower our property taxes each year. Seniors 65 and above need to be given a discount on their water bill. Not enough attention is given to our parks and our parks are in need of much repair. Our parks are places that should be safe and welcoming, an attraction we can be proud of.

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