Mayor Tries to Make Secret Meeting Public

June 15, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

Mayor Susan Sample wants to force a full public discussion of City Manager Michael Ross’ future with the city at Thursday’s special meeting of the West U City Council.

Sample asked that the agenda for the special meeting be amended, and the changes she requested would force new Councilmembers Brennan Reilly and Burt Ballanfant to discuss the terms of their earlier request to Ross that he tender his resignation, “in exchange for a sum certain and other terms to be negotiated.”

The amended agenda, which was posted at about 8:10 a.m. today, will allow a council “discussion of amounts offered, terms discussed and reasons for such action.”

Sample also asked that the agenda include two more items, “a city manager succession plan,” and “matters related to retaining additional legal counsel over and above specialized employment counsel already retained by the city.”

Any member of the council could attempt to table the agenda items added by Sample, but the new members campaigned as a slate dedicated to more “transparency” in West U government, particularly from the city council.

It has been the worst-kept secret in local politics that Reilly and Ballanfant approached Ross and encouraged him to resign, or retire, in exchange for a buyout of $310,000. Reilly and Ballanfant discussed that proposal in a private meeting with Sample, before they were officially sworn in as council members.

The mayor said that she asked for the amended agenda so that West U citizens could be better informed at the meeting.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the residents to not know what’s going on,” Sample said. “I am pretty sure they elected me to make sure we stay honest and accountable. I don’t want to do anything impulsive.”

The revised agenda also shows that Sample wants the citizens of West U to be involved in discussions about a possible new city manager, “if such replacement is deemed necessary.”

A new agenda item provides for the council to “discuss and identify open and transparent process for hiring a city manager, if such replacement is deemed necessary, including, but not limited to retention of a search firm, forms of citizen input and citizen panel.”

Reilly and Ballanfant’s plan to oust the city manager included hiring Richard Rothfelder, a Southside Place attorney, to negotiate the terms of the deal with Ross. Reilly asked for a special meeting of the council to be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, for the sole discussion of hiring an attorney to handle the deal.

The city of West U already has already retained Susan Bickley, an attorney who specializes in employment matters, for consultations involving municipal personnel.

The revised agenda includes an item to discuss why the city needs to hire another attorney, stating: “Discussion of reasons for engagement of additional counsel, qualifications necessary for attorney negotiating executive employment matters for the city of West University Place, and identifying interview process for hiring such counsel, if such action is deemed necessary.”

The revised agenda also includes a time for public comments, at the beginning

Although the Texas Open Meetings Act allows for the city council to meeting in executive session to discuss personnel matters, Sample’s amended agenda would force an open discussion of the new council members’ reasons for wanting Ross to step down.

Ross, who has been employed as city manager in West U for 14 years, worked under both Ballfanfant and Councilmember Bob Kelly, when they both served as mayor of West U.

Ross has declined to make any public statements about his future with the city.


29 Responses to “Mayor Tries to Make Secret Meeting Public”

  1. west U is wonderful Says:

    Do you idiots not realize how wonderful we have it in West U? You are a bunch of ungrateful slobs.

  2. Del Boca Vista Says:

    This is what is bothersome about the Internet: Someone posts something that is completely untrue (City manager provided a car), and then people think it is true and communicate it to others.

    I don’t even have to check, the city manager is not provided a car.

    My guess is he is provided a car allowance, as I suspect every city manager since Whit Johnson received a car allowance.

    I would bet the city secretary, the fire chief and police chief, and other department heads receive a car allownace and have since long before Michael Ross became city manager.

    I started off ambivilant about Ross, but you people are shameless. Why would you blame the city manager for the actions of the last city council? We elected them, not Ross. And Bob Kelly and But Ballanfant has all of the last city council’s signs in thier yards when they ran for office four years ago.

    Blame Kelly and Ballanfant.

    • Jim Shields Says:

      The slate are all tea party folks and they live in an evidence free, fact free world. That is what they do. They make things up. The internet facilitates their ability to create alternate realities.

  3. Resident comment Says:

    There is concern that a buyout will cost West U money. How much was spent on the botched handling of the property exchange — biased questionnaires, pamphlets, countless meetings held by the city and fees paid to a third party attorney. I was surprised to find out the city manager has a city provided car. Is this true? If so why? I like Mike Ross personally, but his shelf life as the city manager is up.

  4. Mike Woods Says:

    Not as an endorsement of everything they have said, but I want to thank Karl Caillouet, Jim Shields and Lucille Gallman for the transparancy of using your names. I have seen several on-line publications move to require use of actual names recently to promote civility, mitigate trolling, reduce the amount of inflammatory rhetoric, and assign accountability to those posting comments. I challenge InstantNewsWestU to do the same.

    • Karl Caillouet Says:

      It is indeed ironic when charges of lack of transparency and being secretive are launched from behind veils of anonymity.

      • Jim Shields Says:

        Good point Karl. I have been emailing the slate and no one has addressed the veracity of my posts nor have they responded in answering my very simple questions. What are they hiding?

        • Resident comment Says:

          I emailed the previous council many times over the last years, especially the last 6 months. Recently, I only received a response from the Mayor and that was only after pursuing it for weeks.

    • Lucille Gallman Says:

      Mike Woods: I don’t understand why there is so much resistance to using one’s name when stating an opinion. It has always been required by newspapers. In my opinion, the once friendly atmosphere of city hall has disappeared. The ability to say what one thinks without regard for responsibility is promoted as a freedom of expression and in many instances that is the case. However, I think it has opened the door to groups who use anonymity to control the city for personal reasons. You list reasons against this relatively new practice in West University Place. Previously, printed newspapers had power that now rests with the online newspapers. Hopefully West University’s source for news online will accept your challenge. I remember when you were a councilman and I was a resident.

  5. Del Boca Vista Says:

    Love the Seinfeld reference.

    My View:
    1) No Secret Meetings EVER. (In the balancing act of life the pros outweigh the cons)
    2) No Public Debt without a vote of the citizens, EVER.

  6. LLB, MBA, CPA Says:

    West U is looking a lot like Del Boca Vista

  7. JD, MBA, CPA Says:

    Kind of interesting when you look at the backgrounds of the city council we elected. Because none of them have jobs.

    Brennan has family money that lets he and his family live in West U when they otherwise could not afford it. Another (Kelly), retired from an uneventful career, but excels financially because he has a successful wife who provides the financial cushion to provide for a home in both West U and the Hill Country. Ballanfant retired after a career from a large corporation but purchased his home about 40 years ago and could never afford to purchase a home in West U today. Turner does not work and purchased her small bungalow decades ago. She could not afford to purchase a home in West U today.

    My point? These may be good people, but they are not our peers. Our peers go to work every day and have successful careers, likely in business, or medicine, or law.

    This new council has no practical business experience (That is a clear fact). My fear is they are playing personal power games instead of representing our interests.

    • Lucille Gallman Says:

      You can’t be serious. West University Place is a city not a country club.

    • Brokelyn Says:

      Tell that to the 85% of registered voters who didn’t bother to show up at the polls. The roughly 10% who voted for the “slate” apparently have no problem with the backgrounds.

      We reap what we sow. Sadly.

  8. Daniel T. Says:

    I don’t get to hire the city manager. But I do get to play a part in hiring the city council.

    You people lied to me. You said you would not have secret meetings, but you have scheduled one as your first order of business.

    At the church debate, you said they city manager need to be held accountable. I agree. You never said forced out with a platinum parachute.

    Lady and gentlemen, you are not off to a good start.

  9. Jim Shields Says:

    Here are the facts

    West U didn’t double Ross’s severance. He came to West U with the clause in his contract that if he got fired within 6 months after an election he got a year’s pay. He requested that the City extend the time to 1 year after an election, to which the City agreed.

    At the same time the City changed his contract so he couldn’t carry over unused vacation indefinitely (which he could do under his old contract). Basically the City implemented a use or lose policy with something like a 6 week carryover, which is standard at most companies. That is a money saver for the city because we have way less exposure upon retirement or firing of having to pay out huge sums for accrued vacation time.

    • Jim Shields Says:

      To clarify the above. Ross came to the City when it was time to renew his contract and he asked for an 18 month window to trigger his severance, but the City said only 12. The only thing that increased was the window of time in which the severance was triggered. Apparently Reilly/Ballanfant didnn’t realize that 3 days after an election is within the 6 month window Ross had all along.

  10. Brokelyn Says:

    Two “politicians” doing what comes naturally — taking sides and using selective data (and memories) to make their points. Gaah.

    Fact, Sample voted to increase the City Manager’s severance pay.
    Fact, Sample opened up this secretive meeting to the citizens. This move to improve transparency is exactly what citizens asked for through the recent election cycle.
    Conclusion — she ain’t perfect. But her most recent action is consistent with her campaign promises (something the “slate” has already violated) and all I can ask of our “leaders” (hurts to abuse the word in this way) is that they use common sense.

    All the rest of the ranting here is irrelevant. The predictions of her fate or the fate of Reilly are nothing more than random prognosticating by fools who believe much more in partisan politics than they do common sense.

    I appreciate that Jim Shields signs his name to his commentary, but I wish he would leave his baggage behind and speak only of facts. I do acknowledge, however, that his factual insights in this particular matter have helped raise awareness and improve transparency.

    Now c’mon Council, quit acting like banana republic dictators and fade into the background. Like great umpires, you should measure your success not by what people say about you, but rather by how little is said about you.

  11. WestURes Says:

    So why does the city need to “buy off” our City Manager Brian Ross anyhow? What did he do wrong? Usually, people are paid to WORK, not to leave a job. Where areReilly and Ballafant getting this money? Could it be from our taxes, by chance? I have no problems with the way the City, per se, is managed. I DO take issue with a city council who has secret meetings and forms alliances to oust the city manager with a “pay off”. So much for the “transparency” of the newly elected city council members/mayor.

    • Brokelyn Says:

      Severance pay is typically used to retain talent — it is only paid if a valued employee is let go (without cause) and it is expected that finding a comparable replacement would be difficult.

      One year of salary is pretty generous in most circles — I wonder if that was benchmarked against the comp plans of other well-tenured city managers of comparably sized cities in the US.

  12. Ordinary Citizen Says:

    It’s a fact that Susan Sample voted to double the City Manager’s severance pay and to ratify his actions authorized or not. As for the additional legal counsel we shall see how that turns out. I predict that if Sample continues to try and save Ross and work against the new council Reilly will be our Mayor in 2 years. He already has a solid group to back him. Sample’s slate lost she needs to get on board with this new council or she will be left at the station with “no ticket to Ride”.

    • West U Resident Says:

      Look at what Jim Shields posted below re: the city manager employment contract. It looks like Sample didn’t increase Michael’s severance, much less double it. You are either flat out lying to push your best friend Brennan, or you can’t read contracts.

  13. Jim Shields Says:

    Ordinary – you’re playing loose with the facts. It’s your team that wants to hire another attorney. Not Sample.

    Facts seem not to exist in your world.

  14. Ordinary Citizen Says:

    Susan Sample hasn’t saved the City a dime. Not only does she want to hire an additional attorney, she voted to double the City Manager’s severance pay from 6 months pay to 1 years pay. That will cost the City an additional $150,000 to move him on. She also voted to have the City ratify all his actions on the Super Block/Land Swap authorized or not. She claims she was “elected” to keep the City honest. She was “put” in office because she had no opponent. No one wanted to be Mayor to undo the mess her Council made of things. The new Council is working hard to clean up her mess.

  15. Jim Shields Says:

    Ordinary citizen – you gotta be Brennan Reilly. Who else could come up with such a half baked reply. If you are not Brennan, who are you?

    What in the world made you say that the mayor was being inconsiderate of Ross? Ballanfant and Reilly already claimed that ground when they went to Ross with their demand. The only thing Sample’s action did was save the city of upwards of a half a million dollars in buy out pay and legal expenses. Not to mention the disruption this underhanded Ballanfant/Reilly action would have on the day to day operation of our city.

    Where do you get off speaking for a significant number of our citizens who want a change at City Hall? Would you disagree that a really significant number of our citizens believe that we live in a great city that is managed well?

    Your idea that the new council is acting prudently violates every notion that I have about prudence.

    • J. Faulkner Says:

      Thank you Mayor for trying to hold this new city council to their campaign promise of “transparency “. It seems that they’ve already broken their promises with “secret” meetings. What has Michael Ross, City Manager, done that the cut council did not direct him to do? He operates under their direction & worked previously with Ballenfant & Kelley when they were mayors. Why are we going to spend all of our tax payers money on no real issue but possibly a personality conflict with one or two of the council members.
      Sounds like we are just wasting tax payers money to me.

  16. Ordinary Citizen Says:

    Susan Sample’s actions are at the least very inconsiderate of the City Manager and are at most possibly exposing the City to liability. Personnel matters are extremely sensitive and must be handled with care. She is obviously making it difficult for the City Manager to leave graciously and is thumbing her nose at a significant portion of our citizens who want a change at City Hall. It appears she is working hard at drawing an opponent in the next election. The new council is following a prudent process in this personnel matter.

    • Lucille Gallman Says:

      I know nothing about personnel matters in a city, but I do remember how careful things were handled when I worked in the corporate world. A misstep can bring a lawsuit and there are employees who know how to make it happen to their advantage. It is not helpful for a legal closed session to be referred to as a “secret meeting” or a “mystery meeting”. Members of the new City Council met with the City Manager and quietly made him a generous offer because they wanted to select a new city manager. He probably was given time to consider it. All the spin resulting is a disservice to Mr. Ross who has been taken out of the picture. It sounds like he is going to be put on trial in the name of transparency.

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