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Council Considers City Manager’s Ouster in Boisterous Session

July 13, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

Despite strong expressions of support from many West U residents, the West U City Council decided Monday to continue its agreement with special legal counsel to negotiate the ouster of veteran City Manager Michael Ross.

During a boisterous meeting, and amid cries of “Recall the Slate,” Councilman Bob Kelly failed to get a second for his motion to fire Ross, effective Friday, under the terms of his employment contract. That contract provides that the city manager is entitled to a severance package of about $300,000, including accrued vacation time, insurance benefits and his annual salary of $225,000.

The terms that grant the city manager a full year’s salary upon termination have been in place since Ross starting working for West U in 2002.

The council met for about an hour in executive session, behind closed doors, before reconvening in a public meeting to consider Ross’ ouster — at his request.

Although the four members of the City Council had campaigned on a pledge of transparency, they provided no specific reasons for their desire to terminate Ross from his position as city manager after nearly 13 years with the city.

Kelly said the West U City Charter allows the council to choose a city manager. He said the council did not have to explain its desire to terminate Ross.

“We don’t want to muddle in that,” Kelly said, adding: “This is a tough job.”

Kelly said the “average life expectancy of a city manager is about five to six years.

“The issue is the charter. The charter gives us the unfettered right to the city council in its decisions on the city manager,” Kelly said. “It’s a confidence thing this city council has to deal with.”

Kelly moved to fire Ross but to pay the veteran city manager the full benefits that he is entitled to, under his employment contract. His motion drew no support from other members of the council.

Councilman Brennan Reilly, who also has advocated Ross’ termination, said he did not think the city manager should receive the full benefits of his employment contract without some provisions that would prevent Ross from going to work for another city and hiring other West U city employees to work for him. Reilly wanted to question Ross about his recent interview with Missouri City, which is seeking a new city manager.

Reilly then moved that the council ask Ross some questions “if Michael responds to these questions truthfully.”

As City Attorney Alan Petrov started to explain that the council could ask the city manager questions, Ross said, “At the advice of my attorney, I will not answer any questions.”

Reilly then petulantly complained that Ross had asked for an open meeting, when Mayor Susan Sample cut him off, saying:  “We’re not in Night Court!”

The audience in the City Council chamber erupted into applause at the mayor’s comment.

Sample said simply: “I think the city is running fine.”

“”Also — as Brennan has mentioned — Michael has put together a blue-ribbon team of city employees. I think if he leaves, we are going to lose a lot of our team.”

Sample said that she had already noticed that several key city employees had updated their resumes and profiles on the LinkedIn job search website.

Councilmember Mardi Turner agreed with Sample.

“I might have gone at this in a different way,” Turner said.

Kelly then said, “There is no doubt Michael Ross is going to leave. He is going to leave, folks. It’s going to happen. A city manager cannot work for a city council that does not have confidence in him.”

At that point, two West U residents called out: “Then recall the slate.”

One of them was West U resident Shelly Noblett, who said he does not want the council to fire the city manager. Noblett also said she thinks the newly elected council should be recalled.

Kelly and Councilman Burt Ballanfant both claimed that as they were campaigning in the West U municipal election last spring, they were told by many West U residents that they did not want Ross to continue as city manager.

Ballanfant said that while he was campaigning last spring, he always asked potential voters what they thought was the most important issue facing the city.

“Far and away, the most common answer was ‘fire the city manager,’ Ballanfant said.

“I would be derelict in my duty,” Ballanfant said, if he didn’t listen to the will of the voters.

“I will support the termination of Michael Ross.”

Turner said, however, “I didn’t hear the extent of the views that these guys did when I was out campaigning.”

Ross’ competency as city manager of West University Place was praised by several residents, including several former city officials.

Denny Powers, a member of the Building and Standards Commission, said that West U’s strong building foundations and regulation of LED lighting “could not have happened without the support of Michael and his staff.”

Powers also recalled an incident when he was leaving town and found a loose dog on his street. Powers put the dog in a box and tried to drop it off at the West U Police Department, but the city’s Code Enforcement and Animal Control chief was away at the time.

“Michael took the puppy and put him in his office,” Powers said.

Former Councilmembers Dick Yehle, Joan Johnson and Steven Segal all had high praise for Ross.

“I have never seen anything like what we going through right now,” Johnson said.

Yehle noted the many recent awards that have been given to West U’s city staff.

Segal urged the council to be honest and to demonstrate some integrity.

“A contract with West U should mean something,” Segal said. “Don’t lie and fabricate reason to cheat Michael out of his benefits.”

“It is time for honor and integrity, which so far, you have failed to demonstrate,” Segal said.

Later, the council voted to keep special counsel Richard Rothfelder on — for a retainer of $4,950 — to continue to negotiate the terms of Ross’ separation from the city. The council rejected Reilly’s proposal to pay Rothfelder’s law firm their hourly rate, which ranges from $200 up to $450 per hour.

 

 

48 Responses to “Council Considers City Manager’s Ouster in Boisterous Session”

  1. Time to go Says:

    The only problem the current council made was not being decisive in their decision to make a change. Former Mayor Frye was correct, this is not a democracy. Get the circus out of town, Mr Ross you are the ring leader, Good Bye.

  2. Rice Blvd voters Says:

    Two months into their tenure, and they are costing the city 500K. There was not one mention of the ouster of the city manager on the slate’s platform. Throw the bums out. Where is the recall petition? We would happily put a sign in our yard.

  3. Johnny B Says:

    Is there anyone that follows this website that lives at one of the 2,000 doors that Burt Balanfant says he knocked on before the last election? Not believing him. No one in my block says they ever got a visit.

    Where are these people who want to get rid of Mike Ross? The only resident I have heard who wants to get rid of him is a certifiable fruitcake.

  4. School Mom Says:

    Funny story. In April, I was standing in front of the school waiting with other moms for school to let out. Sara belongs to the baptist church. She talked to Bob Kelly at Starbucks and he told her he supported the church and its proposed building and blamed everything on the city council and Mike Ross.

    Lila heard the end of the conversation and told us about how Bob Kelly told her husband he is against the church expansion, but only after Lila’s husband complained about the church. Even in a small town the politicians will tell you what yo want to hear.

  5. Tangley Resident Says:

    Lucille, we love you. But when you spout off, people believe you. You lived in West U for a long time. So it is important that you are accurate.

  6. Stephen D. Says:

    Lucille:
    It sounds like you are being used. I don’t think you are making this stuff up. Someone is feeding it to you.

    But in every regard, your facts are wrong. If someone is tooling you, there is a special place in hell for people who take advantage of old folks.

    And Lucille, as it relates to Jim Shields, there is nothing that has been written in his pen on the blog that he did not say in person at the various city council meetings. Yes, it is the same Jim Shields.

  7. Disappointed Says:

    Time to stop talking and fantasizing about recalling the slate of liars. It’s time to start the process. Let’s get moving on it. They need to know that signatures are being collected. I am confident we can gat 2,000 valid signatures in the next few months.

  8. Tangley Resident Says:

    Lucille:
    Please understand I do not mean to belittle you. But everything you said in your explanation below is false.

    There is no councilmember whose home is located in the area that was being considered for the super block. Brennan Reilly, who I think you are talking about lives on Rice Blvd. Rice Blvd. was never part of the super block.

    Seriously, Lucille. Please try to get your facts straight.

    • Lucille Gallman Says:

      I don’t know why I thought Brennan Reilly lived on the corner of University and College. He must be glad he doesn’t. The two ladies I mentioned live closer to the city hall. I focused on the corner lot because it is a relatively new house and a very nice one. I got the information about recalls from reading the Texas Municipal League website. Thanks for pointing out my mistakes in a kind way. Maybe it is the heat.

      • Tangley Resident Says:

        Lucille, is this an apology? Most of what you have said is wrong. Stand up and be counted.

  9. Tangley Resident Says:

    Lucille:
    Your comment below is wrong. First there would be no cost to get signatures. It would be done by volunteers. Second, the signature verification is done by the city secretary, no fee is charged to the submitters. Third, we stopped printing ballots some time back. West U used electric voting machines. That cost is borne by all residents.

    But what are you talking about when you say ”who can not sympathize with the new councilman who was informed that the city of West U had a claim on his house”? I have never heard about this. What are you referrring to?

  10. Tangley Resident Says:

    Help? What is Lucille talking about?

    What does this mean,”who can not sympathize with the new councilman who was informed that the city of West U had a claim on his house.”

    What are you talking about?

    • Lucille Gallman Says:

      Back in October 2014, the mayor and council of West University Place announced a plan to make the block city buildings sit on into a Super Block. The plan provided for the future of privately owned property since there are lots that do not belong to the city. There was much public discussion. Two of the older residents were especially upset and spoke at a council meeting about being allowed to enjoy their retirement without concern. One of the residents and his family live on one of the targeted lots and he is now a legally elected councilman. In the discussions the reality became clear that even though a super block was not in the near future, it would of course keep the present residents who own the land from selling it since the city of West U stated in letters to the homeowners that they will at some point be purchasing their property. This put the homeowners in a position where they could not sell their property to the highest bidder. Residents of West U are aware that the desirability of living in West U has increased the selling price above the appraised price.

  11. Lucille Gallman Says:

    I don’t think a recall election could pass. The expense to have one is high and from what I have read, those who sign to request one have to pay a fee. But mainly, the people who post here are probably the same few. In a recall election, the low-key majority who support elections will vote. Also, who can not sympathize with the new councilman who was informed that the city of West U had a claim on his house. That his right to sell his house at the best price he could get didn’t matter. This was a situation never experienced in West University Place and could appear again in any area of the city for any reason.

    • WHAT? Says:

      Lucille,

      We all enjoy your recollections of days gone by. But you need to get a handle on what you are talking about lest you make a fool of yourself. The expense of a recall election is not high and there are no fees for signatures. If you know who will vote, why bother having elections? Eminent Domain can happen to your home too, wherever it is you live, sympathy or not. So let’s tone down your conjecture and lack of understanding of the West U Charter and go back to telling us stories about the library and mounted police.

      • Lucille Gallman Says:

        I briefly read about recall elections in Texas and it appears to me that it is like paying a large amount of money to remove a restrictor that may not work. They have become so common that a documentary called “Recall Fever” has been made. The groups or individuals who initiate recall elections want elected officials they don’t agree with, removed. In Texas, recall elections are only at the local level. The Devil is in the details of a recall election in Texas. Most recall efforts fail and taxpayers pay most of the cost. The citizens who initiate the recall pay for collecting the required number of signatures, verification of signatures, for printing ballots, etc. The biggest expense is the cost of the recall election and if successful the cost of the special election.

        • WHAT? Says:

          Correct me if I’m wrong: our recall system in West U is governed by our charter, not by the State of Texas. It’s not about agreeing with an elected official. It’s about misuse of power, breaking the law, losing the public’s trust, and living in a society that votes. Get your facts straight.

          The groups organizing a recall, naturally would pay for the forms and any expenditures related to the collection (advertising, etc). If a recall makes it to an election, the election itself will be paid for by the taxpayers. The cost of a recall election will pale in comparison to severing Mr. Ross’ contract – the crux of issue.

          Again, if you know the effort will fail, why bother having elections at all? We have the right to decide what is best for our community.

  12. Tangley Resident Says:

    This city council mature? You have two former mayors who’s average age is 106.

  13. Harry Says:

    Sounds like these dudes can’t make up their mind. If they are going to fire the guy, do it. Otherwise, take the issue off the table. I have lived in West U for 11 years. I have never heard anyone complain about the city manager who lives near me. I have heard some people who live near the school complain about him. You can’t please everyone. My view is to move on. But this city council sounds like a group of misfits. Maybe they will mature.

  14. Stephen D. Says:

    There was only one person who spoke in support of firing Michael Ross at the council meeting and she appeared to be off a tad. If Burt says he knocked on 4K doors during the last election, he is not telling the truth. This is personal for Burt and his family newspaper, the Village News. They want the city’s legal notice advertising back.

  15. Plumb St. Homeowner Says:

    If you live near City Hall, please put a sign in your yard saying, “Our City Council lies to the public” with a countdown of days until we vote them out. Did they think they would get away with all of their lies? Then they’re dumb, on top of being liars. I voted for them last election. I will vote against them this time. Can’t believe we let Bob Kelly abandon West U when the hurricane hit us in 2008. He’s a coward.

  16. Mellissa Martin Says:

    Levi Goode with Goode Co, Jim Reid with Little Matts and Greg Thompson with Tiny Boxwoods all contributed to Kelly’s election campaign. I for one intend to search for other restaurants given their support for firing Ross.

  17. Abhi Gami Says:

    Not one candidate knocked on our door.

  18. Tangley Resident Says:

    I was at the meeting, I think I heard Burt Ballanfant correctly. He said he knocked on the doors of 2,ooo homes while campaigning. Hard to believe. That would be 35% of the houses is West U.

    He said that most of them wanted him to fire the city manager. Bullshit. At some point, this slate of candidates needs to start telling the truth. Burt could not knock on 2,000 doors in 45 days. Didn’t happen.

    I know two people who Burt talked to, and they say Burt was the one who bad mouthed the city manager. Burt is full of it.

  19. Rick Kellogg Says:

    I, for one, spoke with Burt Ballanfant at some length at a campaign event. At no time did he tell me that the City Manager’s performance was at issue.
    I believe Burt has agreed to support Bob Kelly in what apparently is a personal vendetta in return for favors yet to be disclosed.
    For shame, Burt!

  20. Johnny B Says:

    So Ole’ Burt Balanffant says he knocked on 2,000 doors during the last election (Lie #1). He says that the most common demand he heard was the fire the city manager (Lie #2).

    No one believes this Burt. No one. Your son (co-owner of the Village News) was laughing when you said it. You son Ben didn’t include it in the story he wrote in today’s Village News because he knew it was not credible.

  21. Mellissa Martin Says:

    Does anybody know if we can start the recall now?

    • Brokelyn Says:

      6 month waiting period, per our charter.

      • Will Bertron Says:

        Six months from their election or commencent of “service” (for lack of better terms)?

        • Brokelyn Says:

          I believe that it is 6 months from the commencement of their terms.

          Because, you know, none of them would have engaged in any City business or discussions of City business before the start of their term….

  22. Deborah Safi Says:

    I’ve never seen such childishness. What an embarrassment to our city. This new slate, with the exception of the mayor, should be recalled immediately.

    • Recall Election Says:

      The slate completely misrepresented themselves. They should be embarrassed, not the city. Their chance of being reelected … not a prayer. Here’s what we should do. Find out what their pet projects are, and do everything we can to stop them or stall them until we vote to get them out.

      Yeah, if residents’ top priority was to fire the city manager, like Ballanfant says, how come not one person has come to a city council meeting and supported them?

      Hard to trust our city council on anything now.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Yes, wouldn’t you think citizens SO against Michael Ross would have sent an email or 2 to Kelly or Burt?? Besides if someone is asked what to you want to see changed? Who w9ould ever say, ‘fire the City Manager’? That makes no sense; they would say they didn’t like garbage pickup or senior citizen free coffee, etc; not fire someone. You need to work on that lie a little longer Kelly!!

  23. Mary West U Resident Says:

    This is a very interesting blog, with a lot of emotion tied to it. All the ousting drama aside, at this point in time, I would rather have a new City Manager than one who has been in the same job for 14 years.

    14 years in the same job. How could anyone who is excellent do that and not be bore out of his mind? I’m sure this guy has done a wonderful job, some of my interactions with him have not been particularly wonderful, but really? If he is that excellent, why hasn’t he sought out another job at a larger city that helps keep him learning and growing?

    Most anyone I know in the business world who has been in the same job for that long either has their mind on other things or their job has grown with them. How can this job grow when the city is land-locked? When you have money, which our city is blessed, coupled with boredom, not sure that’s a great formula. Why not have a new city manager, eager to please the city residents and make a difference?

    Change for change’s sake after 14 years in not a bad thing. In addition, anyone who has suffered through changes at the top, layoffs, etc, will tell you that it’s temporary and things settle down. It’s just life. Who knows, maybe this next City Manager will be twice as excellent as this one? Or, maybe not. But I am a fan of shaking things up after 14 years, regardless of how it happens.

    • WUES Mom Says:

      This post is not logical. Not at all.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Are you a fan of shaking things up at the cost of tax payers’ $400-$500,000? If so, maybe you should just donate this money yourself and not put the burden of others, including the senior citizens? You don’t seem to understand that ousting Michael Ross prematurely would require paying off his contract. WU is an award winning city on numerous levels and is in part due to Michael Ross and his department heads. Those same department heads who are updating their resumes in preparation for when that are unjustly fired. According to Bob Kelly the reason Ross needs to be terminated is his inability to work with the current city council; otherwise known as “The Slate.” I suggest it is the inability of The Slate to work with Ross. “Most anyone I know” supports Michael Ross. (Grammar Much?)

    • Blog Boy Says:

      You are all wet lady. Have you never heard of TRACK RECORD, EXPERIENCE, PROVEN SUCCESS?
      Your brain is immature. Grow up!!!!!

  24. Recall Election Says:

    I find it hard to believe that the Number One thing that Burt Ballanfant heard during the campaign was fire Michael Ross or fire the city manager. I do believe that Ballanfant is lying – just making it up to justify his lust to unload the city manager. I don’t know one person who thinks the No. 1 priority in West U was to get rid of the city manager.

    • Will Bertron Says:

      If indeed that is the case (Burt) where are those people now? They have been very quiet thus far!

  25. Steven Segal Says:

    Is Bob Kelly power hungry? “Kelly said the West U City Charter allows the council to choose a City Manager. He said the council did not have to explain its desire to terminate Ross.”“The issue is the Charter. The Charter gives us the unfettered right to the city council in its decisions on the city manager,”
    The slate’s position is they have the power – and we, the citizens do not have the right – to know their reasons for firing our City Manager. This is a strange way for elected officials to behave. Thank you Mayor Sample for your strength in dealing with “them.”

    • Jim Shields Says:

      Bob Kelly, where are you? Four years ago when I was carrying your water to get rid of George Boehme you were on this site all day. Sometimes posting yourself but mostly feeding me inside information for me to post. I know you are reading all of these comments.

      Reilly is your puppy dog but he has not learned he shouldn’t pee on the carpet. Please smack him on the nose with a newspaper the next time he lifts his leg and starts to rant. Also, take yourself outside when you feel the need to howl at the moon. You are doing yourself no favors with your odious, arrogant behavior.

      What has happened to you? Have you no shame?

      • Lucille Gallman Says:

        I remember when a Jim Shields ran for an office in West University Place several years ago. He was such a gentleman. I question if the comment above is written by that Jim Shields.

  26. Lucille Gallman Says:

    I think the results of the meeting Monday evening are a victory for the election process and not mob rule.

  27. Will Bertron Says:

    Hey Brennan, Bob and Burt- The following was in my inbox this morning and I feel you guys should chew on it… “Happiness comes a lot easier when you stop complaining about the problems you have and start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have”. When will the three of you stop acting like childish bullies and get on with the other business of the City? You weren’t elected to misbehave as you have been so far. We live in a city that works well, is run by a great team of folks (as led by Michael Ross, in spite of you 3) and is to be proud of. If you guys are so unhappy I suggest the three of you move elsewhere.

  28. Brokelyn Says:

    Bob Kelly, what is wrong with you?!

    Ok, you don’t *have to* explain, but why exactly do you need to play games like this? Is there ANYBODY who still doesn’t understand that Bob Kelly has been in politics too long and that he has an insatiable need to feel important?

    Get over it, Creepy Kelly. Let us have our fair city back and go terrorize your pets or family.

    • Jim Shields Says:

      Kelly’s position is that they don’t have to explain their actions. That may be technically true but for a slate that ran on transparency, this is much more than thumbing their noses at us voters.

      I will support a recall of the slate. They do not deserve to be in government.

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