Former Mayor Pro Tem Challenges New City Council Majority

June 17, 2015 By:West U News Staff

Local News

Editor’s Note. This is the full text of a letter sent today to the West University City Council from Former Mayor Pro-Tem Phyllis J. Cohen 

To the City Council of West University:

I am writing to you in connection with the potential termination/forced resignation of Michael Ross as City Manager. I regret that I cannot attend the June 18, 2015 meeting, and thank you in advance for reading this letter. I also request that you allow this letter to be read aloud at the meeting, by Thelma Lenz,or another person so designated.

As many of you know, I served on the City Council from 2005-2009. I also served on the Charter Review Committee in 2014, and the Parks Master Planning Task Force, which recently presented its report to the City Council.

I oppose the process the City Council is using in seeking Mr. Ross’ termination/forced resignation, as well as to the potential termination/forced resignation of Mr.Ross on the merits.

First, the special City Council meeting is set for a Thursday morning, when most people are at work. A matter of such importance and such consequence should be set at a regular City Council meeting in the evening when most people are free to attend. I request that,if Council continues to pursue a potential termination/forced resignation, the Council defer consideration of the matter until a regular Council meeting.

Second, I am concerned that the Council has violated the Open Meetings Act. Prior to any further consideration of the matter of Mr. Ross’ termination/forced resignation,the conversations City Council members have had outside of a Council meeting on this topic should be investigated. It is impossible to believe that two members of Council would approach Mr. Ross requesting a resignation without previously discussing the matter with at least one other Council member. A meeting, or conversation, among three members violates the Open Meetings Act. As you know, a violation of the Act also occurs when one member talks to another, who then talks to another,or when the first member talks to two different members about an issue regarding the City.

Third,termination of a City Manager (or a request for resignation) is an extremely serious matter,which, among other factors, requires substantial consideration of fairness, the work of the City Manager,and the consequences to the City. Since the request by Mr. Ballanfant and Mr. Reilly for Mr. Ross’ resignation occurred on June 4, just three days of their assuming office, those Council members could not have properly evaluated any of the pertinent issues. Since this Council will have worked with Mr. Ross for but 18 days as of June 18, Council members do not now have a fair or reasonable basis to determine that Mr.Ross’ work is insufficient in some way or that he cannot or should not serve the City in the exemplary way he has for years.

Fourth,it is clear that at least three,and probably four, Council members have discussed the potential termination/forced resignation of Mr. Ross outside of public meetings. As stated above, if these discussions occurred after the early evening of June 1 when the Council was sworn, then a violation of the Open Meetings has occurred (and that matter should be investigated prior to any further action). To the extent Council members discussed the termination/resignation of Mr. Ross prior to assuming their office,it is even clearer that the termination is not based on any reasonable evaluation of Mr. Ross in his duties as City Manager,or upon a transparent consideration of the matter.In either case,it is apparent that secret and undisclosed meetings form the basis of a decision of great significance and impact to our City. Whether before or after their assuming office,the conversations of Council members on this topic should be divulged and investigated before any further consideration of Mr. Ross’ termination/forced resignation occurs.

Fifth, Messrs. Ballanfant and Kelly each participated in and approved positive evaluations and salary increases for Mr. Ross during their tenures as Mayor.Since they spent just three days on Council before requesting that Mr. Ross resign, they have no reasonable basis to depart from their prior praise for Mr. Ross.

Sixth,Mr. Ross has been an exemplary City Manager and he is the right person to serve as City Manager now. As a former member of the City Council, including as Mayor Pro Tem, and as a member of the committee and task force noted above,I have worked extensively with Mr. Ross. I have also had contact with Mr. Ross as a typical West U.citizen seeking assistance or information from the City. I know Mr. Ross to be dedicated to the citizens of West University and to our best interests — the standard for all city employees — and Council members. More specifically, Mr. Ross is talented, discrete, smart, strategic, incredibly hard-working, trustworthy, collaborative, experienced, well-liked by the citizens of West University and by city employees,respected within his profession, a terrific representative of our City with other government agencies, and a great manager of city employees,city services,and the city’s finances. I could go on,but it all boils down to the most important point — which is that Mr. Ross is a terrific City Manager for West University, and that terminating him makes absolutely no sense -­ assuming the merits, rather than some veiled agenda, controls.

Seventh,terminating Mr. Ross would greatly harm the City. Not only would we be losing one of the best employees this City has ever had, but Mr. Ross also provides needed continuity to the citizens of West University at a time when four council members are new. This is not just about what individual Council members want based on reasons not disclosed. This is about the citizens of West University. We need continuity and stability,at a time when there has been a significant change in the city government.

Eighth,terminating Mr. Ross is a lousy way to start your tenure. That action is heavy-handed,heartless, baseless, opaque, and authoritarian. That is not how we do things in West University, and we did not elect any of you to act that way.

Those of you who approached Mr. Ross seeking his resignation, or who supported and discussed it before you took office,or in violation of the Open Meetings Act,have been reckless. Each of you will be even more reckless if you vote to terminate him,or pressure him to resign. Each of you,in your first few weeks in office, have already violated your promise to the citizens of West University to act transparently on their behalf,instead of your own. You know, and everyone else knows,that the whole thing smells.

It will be a sad day for West University, and a very sad commentary on this Council, if you persist in seeking Mr. Ross’ termination/forced resignation. I request that you withdraw the request that Mr. Ross resign or that he submit his resignation, and that you remove the issue of Mr. Ross’ termination/resignation from the Council agenda.

I further request that you stop wasting everyone’s time,turn your attention to something meaningful that actually benefits the citizens of West University you swore to serve,and allow Mr. Ross to get back to doing the job that he does so well.

Thank you,

Phyllis J. Cohen

17 Responses to “Former Mayor Pro Tem Challenges New City Council Majority”

  1. Steven Segal Says:

    I made the following comments to Council at the meeting todayThursday June 18, 2015

    Home Rule Charter provides
    Section 6.01. City Manager: Appointment, Removal, and Compensation – provides in part:
    “The Council shall appoint a City Manager who shall be the chief administrative officer of the City. The City Manager shall be chosen by the Council solely on the basis of executive and administrative training, experience, and ability.”

    Section 6.02 City Manager: Powers and Duties a. provides in part:
    “The City Manager shall be responsible to the Council for the efficient and economical administration of the City government….Except for the purpose of obtaining information, the Council and its members shall deal with employees through the City Manager.

    In common “corporate terms” – Council acts as the Board of Directors setting policy and the City Manager is the Chief Operating Officer responsible for implementation of that policy and supervision all employees.

    Most residents are very happy with the services provided by our City. So much so that 80% of residents regularly do not even bother to vote — they just assume the City Staff will continue to function at the current outstanding level – with Michael Ross as City Manager and our current Department Heads in office – regardless of who is on Council.

    What has Michael Ross accomplished during 14 years as City Manager? West U Police Department recently received recognition – the Gold Standard for Texas Law Enforcement. The West U Fire Department received an IOS One rating — one of only 60 out of 48,000 city departments rated. Our Public Works Department has been recognized as one of the top in its field. You have to credit our City Manager Michael Ross, Department Heads, and our loyal hard working staff for these achievements.

    Michael Ross followed directions from the last Council just as he has the past 14 years…..not directed by a single Council member, but by the Council — when Council made policy decisions. Two of you never worked with Michael Ross as your City Manager and have no basis to evaluate him. Two of you served on Councils (along with me) which gave Ross good reviews and raises. What is your slate’s basis for conspiring to remove Michael Ross from office in violation of the spirit of, or actual, Texas Open Meetings Act? You don’t kill the messenger for doing his job really well.

    One citizen told me that she valued honesty and integrity more than transparency. But they go hand in hand………how do you have one without the others?
    This is your first Council meeting and you score really low on transparency, honesty and integrity. How do you expect citizens to trust and respect you if this is how you conduct Council business. PLEASE get over this pettiness and help our Great City move forward.

  2. Mike Streitmann Says:

    About 8 years ago a contractor employed by the city hit our 10 day old Expedition, and it was totaled. After 4 months of a rental car and stalling by the contractor, we involved Mr. Ross. All issues resolved and a new vehicle purchased in 72 hours. It seems our elected officials always “find” a pot to stir. Keep Mr. Ross and fire City Council. Maybe Mr. Ballanfant will quit his elected office again if we can find him another position at Metro.

    • Will Bertron Says:

      Yes Mike, there are hundreds of stories like this about Michael Ross. He’s a good guy with a good heart and good intentions. And he’s an asset to our City who if lost will be someone else’s gain that we will later regret. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, we just need to find a few. This is all way premature for a 3 week old Council, but IF there is an issue perhaps they could meet with Michael and discuss the problem and see how to avoid it going forward??? I guess that sounds a bit too civil and practical… This sure isn’t an encouraging glimpse into their methods of problem resolution is it?

  3. Jim Shields Says:

    I will be at the meeting. I am prepared. Come and listen.

  4. Susan Ohsfeldt Says:

    Mr. Ross clearly violated his fiduciary duty to the citizens of West University Place in his secret meetings with the West University Baptist Church, their attorneys and experts. His resignation would save the City from having to fire him, but I doubt he would accept responsibility for his actions.

    • Anonymous Says:

      “The City” to which you refer currently consists of just two very recently elected councilmen. I suppose they have the support of the other anti super block people also, however last I checked “The City” consisted of over 15,000 people, and the five who we have elected are charged with listening to and representing all 15,000, not just a small (yet squeaky) subset of that.

      • Brokelyn Says:

        Anonymous, only 15% of the City chose to vote in our elections. 10% voted for this Council — I hope they got what they expected. 5% voted for other people — they knew this was coming.

        85% of our neighbors chose to ignore all of this. Council appears to be listening to the majority quite well — “Do whatever you want, we don’t care enough to vote.”

        I’m more angry with the 85% than I am with Council right now.

  5. Mike Woods Says:

    When people run for office in a small city, for any reason other than serving the community, this is the sort of unfortunate, distasteful results you have to expect. I lived in West U for 36 years and can recall no council to have gone off the rails so early.

  6. John Old Says:

    Thank you, Phyllis!

  7. Linda Lewis Says:

    Well said, Phyllis Cohen. I,too, am unable to attend the meeting and have written a letter advising council to pull in its talons. It is reprehensible that a newly elected council should have as its first order of business the forced resignation of the city manager and smacks of an unhealthy preconceived agenda. West U has always been best served by councils with open minds and whose only agenda is responsibly serving their community. The current council action appears to suggest otherwise and could well cost the city its competent city manager.

  8. Will Bertron Says:

    I too have other obligations at 9:00 Thursday morning- so good job fellas with the scheduling of this meeting at such a cowardly time. (Yes we all know that was strategically done.) Thank you Phyllis for perfectly stating the very sentiments that we share exactly. Shame on everyone involved for wasting time and energy on this matter. At least two of you obviously carry a personal vendetta that carries forward from the super block matter and you are now recklessly attempting to leverage your newfound power to try to oust Michael Ross. Michael works for our city, not just you, and he does so quite well. Let the people decide his fate, not you. In my view we should applaud Michael for his outstanding service to our city, give him a vote of confidence, and then revisit how and why we (you) elected certain of our new council members.

  9. Concerned Citizen Says:

    Phyllis: BRAVO!! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Every point you addressed is accurate and spot on!

    Additionally, this proves that all residents of the City should be limited to one maximum term in office as a council member AND Mayor. You’ve got two former mayors on this city council that obviously had an agenda going into office and are trying to take over. Speaking of which – where is our new mayor’s voice in all this ridiculous talk about ousting Michael Ross. It’s only been three weeks and it looks like she has already lost control of her seat! Oh brother!

  10. Dave Agerton Says:

    Notwithstanding legal technicalities, once the election results are clear, shouldn’t the requirements for “open meetings” apply, at least on our fair city?

  11. Joni Says:

    Phyllis, thank you for thinking this through logically and pointing out some very important facts. I, too, sent a letter to council and requested that it be read tomorrow as I am unable to attend. I agree with you in every way and support City Manager Michael Ross based on his excellent service to our city. He is a big part of why West U is a special HOME to us all!

    • Susan Ohsfeldt Says:

      Joni, you are not bothered by Mr. Ross’ breach of his fiduciary duties in secret dealings with the west University Baptist Church? He did nothing to disprove the traffic and parking studies of WUBC which showed to the SBA that they will have adequate parking for the Youth Center. Have you looked at the site? Have you tried to drive down College street on Sunday morning?

      • Anonymous Says:

        Susan- Have you tried to drive through the Galleria during Christmas? It’s congested. I avoid it and use other routes. Maybe we should educate our fellow citizens who use Colleg to do the same for a few hours on Sunday mornings?

      • Lucille Gallman Says:

        The West University Place website has some interesting information about the City Manager and the City Council. I didn’t know that the Mayor and four Council Members equal The City Council. I always thought the mayor was the leader of the pack, so to speak. Also, all the City Council appoints the City Manager, along with other key positions. The City Manager’s duties include advising the City Council on future needs of the city. I take that to mean advising not acting on.

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