Your Essentials Guide: Meet the candidates for Bellaire City Council

By Charlotte Aguilar

Three seats on the Bellaire City Council are up for grabs in the Nov. 7 general election, with one incumbent running unopposed, another facing a challenge from a veteran council member, and two candidates serving on city boards looking to make the move to the council table to a seat being opened by term limits.

For Position 1, Neil Verma, chair of both the Parks Board and Charter Review Committee, is making his first run for office against a former candidate Kevin Newman, who serves on the Bellaire LIFE Board, advising council on senior issues. That seat is being vacated because Councilman Roman Reed is term limited.

Incumbent Gus Pappas has no opposition in his bid to be re-elected to his second term in Position 3.

For Position 5, incumbent Michael Fife is being challenged by former Councilmember Jim Avioli, Sr., who has been serving on the city’s Board of Adjustment since he was term-limited.

These are their responses to questions from Bellaire Essentials/InstantNewsBellaire.

Neil Verma, left, and Kevin Newman are running for Bellaire Council Position 1. (Photo by Charlotte Aguilar)

Position 1

Kevin Newman

Years in Bellaire

Almost 30 years total exposure starting with graduating from Bellaire High School (1990) and 20 years as a home owner.

 Education

Graduated from Bellaire High School and studied psychology and economics at University of Houston 1992-96

What qualifies you to be a member of the Bellaire City Council?

I am vice chair of the L.I.F.E. (seniors) advisory board, and I attend every city and board meeting I can. I go because I want to learn as much about Bellaire as I can, not because I have to.  As a local, small business owner I understand how you need to react quickly or you will go broke. Bellaire is a business and as great as lawyers are, they do not seem to know how to run a business.

Why are you running?

I am running again because I actually care about the Bellaire community, and unless I am washed away in the next flood, I will be here forever. I am not stroking my ego, my boss will not give me a raise if I win, and I am not collecting titles.  My goal is to bring a businessman’s perspective to City Council and to give the residents a voice that is missing from council.

What distinguishes you from your opponent?

I am not a lawyer or a politician. I am a businessman who can see Bellaire is in trouble.  I have no problem telling people how it really is and I will accept responsibility for the past councils’ mistakes and poor choices and use them as a way to learn and to make Bellaire great.

What is the greatest challenge facing Bellaire in the next four years?

Flooding, the 50 percent rule and the devastation to original Bellaire residents.  I flooded three times in three years, and it is not IF we flood again but WHEN we flood again.  Why the police and fire departments are still not prepared for these events. How can we get Bellaire in a proactive mode instead of always being reactive?

Finish these sentences. Bellaire’s greatest asset is _________________.

how you can contact any department head or city employee and get a reply or call back.

Bellaire needs to improve _________________.

the infrastructure and how it pats itself on the back when it does what it is supposed to do.

Do you approve of the tax increase required to fund the FY 2018 budget?

Yes, but contingent they stop wasting money. The city was run poorly over the past 20 years. Residents have grand expectations. We need people on council who understand business and how to plan for future expenditures.  It is not rocket science that wages will increase and pumps will need to be replaced. It is not fair to penalize residents with huge increases at once that should have been incremental.

Finish this sentence: Bellaire residents who blame the city or infrastructure for flooding from Hurricane Harvey ______________________________________.

who live in original homes have a right to be mad. I had water in my house at midnight.

If you are chosen to serve, what single thing would you like most to have accomplished by the end of your term?

For residents finally to feel like their tax dollars were spent on things we actually needed. We see no value in what Bellaire spends our tax dollars on. I want the original Bellaire residents to be proud of their city again.

Name a current or historical figure you most admire and tell why.

Raoul Wallenberg. Regardless of the consequences, sometimes you just need to do the right thing.

Neil Verma

Years in Bellaire

This is my fifth year in Bellaire.

Education

B.A. in political science from George Washington University (1997), J.D. from the University of Michigan School of Law (2000).

What qualifies you to be a member of the Bellaire City Council?

I am serving my fourth year (two years as chairman) on the Bellaire Parks Board.  I also served as chairman of the Charter Review Committee, charged with making city government more efficient and responsive to citizens.  I am a graduate of the inaugural class of the Bellaire Citizen’s Academy.

Why are you running?

I love Bellaire and will tirelessly work to provide its citizens a safe, secure place you are proud to call your home.

What distinguishes you from your opponent?

Specializing in ethics, governance, compliance, business, and law for 17 years, I would bring an independent, detail-oriented perspective, with significant negotiation, planning and leadership experience.

What is the greatest challenge facing Bellaire in the next four years?

We must do everything we can to mitigate what is becoming annual flooding events.  All options must be on the table.  Infrastructure, drainage, and public safety must be our priorities and we must work locally and with regional partners, as well as making the financial investment to get it done.

Finish these sentences. Bellaire’s greatest asset is _________.

its people, both citizens and staff, as demonstrated after Harvey.

Bellaire needs to improve _______________.

drainage and flood mitigation, as well as communication with citizens.

Do you approve of the tax increase required to fund the FY 2018 budget?

Unfortunately, yes. I never want the city to increase taxes, but our budget is $1.4 million short, a situation imposed by prior spending.  Branding, beautification, pavement management, vehicle replacement, and new park projects are not in the budget.  Additional cuts to make up the shortfall means a material reduction in city services.

Finish this sentence: Bellaire residents who blame the city or infrastructure for flooding from Hurricane Harvey _________________.

deserve to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed.

If you are chosen to serve, what single thing would you like most to have accomplished by the end of your term?

That all citizens of Bellaire feel like they have greater ownership and say in the future of their community.

Name a current or historical figure you most admire and tell why.

Winston Churchill.  He was able to inspire, and enunciate values and beliefs that created a sense of community during a challenging time.

Incumbent Councilmember Gus Pappas is running unopposed for Position 3.

Position 3

Gus Pappas

Years in Bellaire

My wife and I have lived in Bellaire for approximately 19 years.

Education

Westbury HS in Houston (1979); marketing degree from University of Houston (1984); J.D. South Texas College of Law (1988).

What qualifies you to be a member of the Bellaire City Council?

I’ve now almost completed my first term in office.  I previously served on several church and professional boards, which included chairing the two-block redevelopment of my church.  The practice of law is also beneficial in understanding and discharging the many duties and challenges that are presented to city council.

Why are you running?

I am seeking a second term to finish and support the projects started and continuing in my first term, e.g., new municipal facilities and the infrastructure needs of the city.

What is the greatest challenge facing Bellaire in the next four years? 

I believe the greatest challenge over the next four years will be to come to terms with the vision of the city of Bellaire for next 50 years in terms of its budget, infrastructure, economic development, flood control and lifestyle.

Finish these sentences. Bellaire’s greatest asset is _______________.

its location, city staff, police and fire departments, and its residents.

Bellaire needs to improve ___________________.

in economic development, connectivity, and infrastructure is a constant.

Do you approve of the tax increase required to fund the FY 2018 budget?

Yes. It is generally against my nature, but I was able to see and touch what we are paying for; that is a big difference to me and should be to residents. These amounts go directly to rebuild and maintain our infrastructure and services including but not limited to police and fire.

Finish this sentence: Bellaire residents who blame the city or infrastructure for flooding from Hurricane Harvey ____________________. 

… should come to more council meetings so that they can and will appreciate the regional nature of the issue and the focus that we are paying to such issues.

If you are re-elected, what single thing would you like most to have accomplished by the end of your term?

I hope to achieve a stable approach to revenue and spending and our infrastructure needs for the future.

Name a current or historical figure you most admire and tell why.

Ronald Reagan. He was the first president I voted for, and he made me proud to be an American.

Incumbent Michael Fife, left, is being challenged by former Councilmember Jim Avioli in her bid for a full term in Position 5. (Photo by Charlotte Aguilar)

Position 5

Jim Avioli, Sr.

Years in Bellaire: 30

Education:  Bachelor of science in accounting, Villanova University, Villanova, Pa.

What qualifies you to be a member of the Bellaire City Council?

My 45 years in natural gas industry; 20 years as a company officer have provided me with necessary business and personal skills.  Previously served eight years (two elected terms), Bellaire City Council. Currently on Bellaire Board of Adjustments; previously, chairman of board.

Why are you running?

Experience in business and interest in civic affairs can beneficially serve our community. and enable me to make a positive contribution to the city.

What distinguishes you from your opponent?

The ability to provide an informed voice in Position 5 regarding citizen and civic matters; eight years’ prior council experience; 45 years business experience.

What is the greatest challenge facing Bellaire in the next four years? 

I believe it’s imperative that the city provide services in a cost-efficient manner. i.e.: Maintain safety and security at highest level; improve all facets of city infrastructure on a timely basis;

Keep up amenities and aesthetics without extravagance; focus on communication of information to residents.

Finish these sentences. Bellaire’s greatest asset is _________________.

the safety and security offered to its citizens.

Bellaire needs to improve _______________.

city infrastructure; communication regarding plans and progress.

Do you approve of the tax increase required to fund the FY 2018 budget?

No. Post-Harvey is not appropriate year to increase taxes. I would direct administration to more closely examine proposed budget, eliminate unnecessary expenditures and find projects that can be postponed.

Finish this sentence: Bellaire residents who blame the city or infrastructure for flooding from Hurricane Harvey ____________________. 

…are partly correct.  Harvey was an anomaly, but infrastructure improvement is needed.

If you are chosen to serve, what single thing would you like most to have accomplished by the end of your term?

If I am chosen to serve, I will work towards making the administration more proactive in addressing residents’ concerns.

Name a current or historical figure you most admire and tell why.

Jesus Christ has given me the basis for my life.  He is the person I most admire.

Michael Fife

Years in Bellaire: Creighton and I have lived in Bellaire since October 1982.

Education: Oncology Social Worker, B.A. and MSW.

What qualifies you to be a member of the Bellaire City Council?

My 40-plus years’ experience helping cancer patients and their families from diagnosis through treatment and recovery has helped to sharpen my listening and communication skills. I have found my work on council to have many concepts in common. We work with council colleagues and city staff to provide services and leadership our citizens expect and deserve.

Why are you running?

In two years on council, I have developed good team relationships with council colleagues and staff. Together we have provided our city with positive direction and leadership, and I would like the opportunity to continue with a full term.

What distinguishes you from your opponent?

My opponent served eight years council; however, he is now against things he supported while on council. His message is quite negative at a time that our city needs positive forward thinking.

What is the greatest challenge facing Bellaire in the next four years?

Meeting the challenges of Harvey’s devastation and recent floods and the need for infrastructure design/construction while still moving forward with other important initiatives, such as Rebuild Bellaire, revitalization of downtown, 610/59 interchange, redevelopment of the Chevron property, changes planned for Bellaire High School. All are important and demand council leadership and citizen input.

Finish these sentences. Bellaire greatest asset is ______________.

her citizens as demonstrated by their response to help each other selflessly during Harvey.

Bellaire needs to improve ____________________.

our willingness to focus more on our future and where we want to go.

Do you approve of the tax increase required to fund the FY 2018 budget?

Responsibly, yes. The budget was developed over months with extensive deliberation and discussion. It reflects prudent use of funds with adequate, not lavish, expenditures. No frivolous projects are included. Our citizens expect and deserve a high level of services. Our police and fire departments are the finest, and we must retain those we have invested so much to train.

Finish this sentence: Bellaire residents who blame the city or infrastructure for flooding from Hurricane Harvey ____________________. 

would hopefully think differently if they viewed the report given to council on Oct. 2 by the city engineer.

If you are re-elected, what single thing would you like most to have accomplished by the end of your term?

Have made significant progress toward improved flood and storm water management while continuing to revitalize our downtown. Both are important to Bellaire’s future.

Name a current or historical figure you most admire and tell why.

Will Rogers. He managed to approach serious and important subjects, politics included, with a combination of intelligence and humor. He made America laugh at and with itself. His simple wisdom made him the common man’s statesman.

Running for Bellaire City Council are, left to right, incumbent Position 3 Councilmember Gus Pappas, unopposed; Neil Verma and Kevin Newman, Position 1; and incumbent Michael Fife and former Councilmember Jim Avioli, Sr., Position 5. (Photo by Charlotte Aguilar)

 

 

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