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Council Votes 3-2 to Fire Ross, Honor his Contract

August 10, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

During a special meeting Monday, the West U City Council voted, 3-2, to terminate veteran City Manager Michael Ross.

Despite support for Ross from dozens of West U residents, Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly made a motion to terminate Ross “involuntarily” and “without cause.”

Kelly’s motion was supported by Councilmen Burt Ballanfant and Brennan Reilly and opposed by Mayor Susan Sample and Council member Mardi Turner.

The council’s decision means that Ross will be paid more than $300,000 in salary, benefits and accrued personal leave and vacation time.

Before leaving the council chamber, Ross thanked the members of the public who had spoken in his favor and against his termination.

Michael Ross

Michael Ross

“It is very humbling and I appreciate the support of the public,” Ross said.

As he left the council chamber, the dozens of West U residents who had urged the council to keep Ross gave him a standing ovation.

Several prominent West U residents attended the meeting and urged the council not to fire Ross, who has worked for the city since 2001.

Former Council member Joan Johnson said the council’s decision to fire Ross “Is just wrong, and it shouldn’t be happening.”

Melissa Pipko, a West U resident who has served on the city’s Parks Board, told the council that Ross has done “a phenomenal job” as city manager.

“I think it would be a horrible, horrible shame to lose him. I would be embarrassed to be a resident of such a city. I think this is disgraceful.”

Judith Faulkner, a longtime West U resident, said she had never spoken at a city council meeting before Monday.

“Michael Ross has done a good job. Our city council should not even be considering this,” Faulkner said.

Russ Schulze, who is a member of the West U Rotary Club, along with Ross,  Ballanfant and Reilly, said the council’s action did not meet the “four-way” test recited by Rotarians at their weekly meetings.

Former City Council member Phyllis Cohen urged that council not to terminate Ross’ employment.

“I feel like I am in some Machiavellian story. Firing Michael will do great harm to West U,” Cohen said.

Former Councilman Dick Yehle, who had urged West U residents to attend the meeting, said that Ross’ performance as city manager “is not the issue.”

Yehle told the council, “You need to stop this foolishness and start acting in the best interests of the city.”

Another longtime West U resident, Candace Baggett, said the council’s actions “do not pass a common-sense sniff test.” She said the council’s “odiferous” behavior should stop.

Steve Brown, a frequent West U volunteer, told the council they should follow two old Texas sayings, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and “Do the right thing.”

“Both of those two admonitions apply to West U,” Brown said.

Nancy Gilbertson, however, was one of a handful of residents who approved of the council’s decision to terminate Ross.

Although she told Ross, “I don’t think you are a bad person,” she suggested that Ross has been working for the last 15 years for “a non-profit organization” in West U — an apparent reference to the West U Baptist Church.

The newly elected “slate” on the West U City Council swept into office over opposition to the prior city council’s approval of a long-term Master Plan for Municipal Facilities. That plan involved the so-called “Super Block” and real estate negotiations with West U Baptist Church. After the slate was elected, the church terminated its real estate negotiations with the city.

Former West U Councilman Stan McCandless said that Ross had “become the fall guy” for the previous city council, which authorized Ross to conduct negotiations with the West U Baptist Church. “The city council appointed him to do that,” McCandless said.

The council’s decision came after two months of legal wrangling over whether the new city council would abide by the terms of Ross’ employment contract.

Ross, who had been city manager of West University Place for 14 years, recently withdrew his name from consideration as one of three finalists for the city manager’s job in Missouri City.

Ross stated then that he wanted to remain as city manager of West University Place.

Ross’ termination has been under consideration since the slate of four new city council members took office. The slate includes two former West U Mayors — Bob Kelly and Burt Ballanfant — who had presided over earlier performance reviews and substantial pay raises for Ross.

While Ballanfant was mayor, from 2003 to 2006,  Ross’ salary was increased from $119,600 to $140,000. In the year 2005, while Ballanfant was mayor, Ross got two pay raises.

When Kelly took over as mayor in 2007, Ross’ salary was raised to $150,000. As mayor, Kelly approved two pay raises for Ross in 2008, and two more pay raises in 2009. When Kelly left office in 2010, Ross was earning more than $184,300 annually.

Councilman Brennan Reilly, who had  accused Ross of “improper actions,” in at least one email to a West U resident, led the effort to oust Ross from his position as city manager.

Reilly said that Ross’ improper actions included the taping of a telephone call with Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack — which took place more than five years ago. Ross noted that his actions were “approved” by the city council at that time.

Council member Mardi Turner, the fourth member of the slate, had stated earlier that she did not agree that Ross should be let go.

After the council’s 3-2 vote, several residents in the council chamber began chanting: “Recall! Recall! Recall.”

A recall election for the city council cannot be held — and signatures on a petition for a recall — cannot happen until the council has been in office for six months.

 

 

22 Responses to “Council Votes 3-2 to Fire Ross, Honor his Contract”

  1. LindaL Says:

    The behavior exhibited by a newly elected council demonstrates why it is important to pay attention to city government. All of us should be embarrassed by its actions, particularly those of Messrs. Kelly, Ballanfant and Reilly. The two former mayors should definitely have known better than to act in such an underhanded way. Surely, better people should step up to the plate and involve themselves in city government.

  2. Will Bertron Says:

    In the interest of transparency, let’s all use our actual names going forward rather than these cute disguises that some have hidden behind thus far. If you have to hide behind an alias you lose a fair amount of credibiity, and you cause some to question your intent.

    • Brokelyn Says:

      Would love to do so, but I have no social or political clout in WU. It would be a simple matter for those in power to deny me and my family service, spuriously smear my name/reputation, or otherwise retaliate/interfere. I have high regard for those of you who do disclose your identities and recognize that non-disclosure dilutes the impact of my comments. Hopefully the quality of my content will make up for (some of) that.

      • Equally Concerned Citizen Says:

        Brokelyn,

        I agree with you wholeheartedly! This is especially relevant, as those in the slate seem to have vendettas that they have held for years regarding our former City Manager and who knows else. I applaud Mr. Shields, Mr. Segal, Mr. Yehle, and others; but, frankly, I’m scared of these people that currently run our government.

        Sincerely,
        Equally Concerned Citizen

  3. David Dutch Says:

    George Boeheme had a serious health scare. My family wishes him a full recovery and we wish he and his family all the best.

  4. Matt Cash Says:

    Count me in for the recall. Ross should also sue the you know what out of Reilly for slander and defamation of character for his lies.

  5. Rick Kellogg Says:

    I despise being lied to, and that is what Reilly, Kelly, and Ballanfant have done repeatedly during this sordid affair.
    They deserve recall, and recall is what I will work toward.
    They are unfit for office, and their behavior disgraces our community.

  6. Rick Kellogg Says:

    I despise being lied to, and that is what Reilly, Kelly, and Ballanfant have done repeatedly during this sordid affair.
    Recall is what they deserve, and recall is what I will work toward. They are unfit for office, and their behavior disgraces our community.u

  7. Rick Kellogg Says:

    I despise being lied to, and that is what Reilly, Kelly, and Ballanfant have done repeatedly during this sordid affair.
    Recall is what they deserve, and recall is what I will work toward. They are unfit for office, and their behavior disgraces our community.

  8. GoldBacon Says:

    I doubt that firing Ross was a “slate” position going into the elections. After all one of the slate members voted against the firing.

    It’s also weird that none of these stories the last week or so have any direct quotes from the three members that voted to fire the manager. Two of these guys are former mayors of the city – it would seem like a layup to at least try to get their side of the story.

    • Disgusted voter Says:

      Nah, Mardi Turner voted against firing Ross only after it was a done deal with her three buddies sealing Ross’ dismissal.

      • GoldBacon Says:

        8/10 was an inside job!

        • Disgusted voter Says:

          You think this is funny? Nobody else does. We have a renegade city council that lies to the public, fires a popular city manager, will cost us valued department heads – and you make jokes? You should be ashamed of yourself. You need to take a few lessons from Lucille Gallman and learn civic responsibility on this blog.

          • GoldBacon Says:

            It’s not funny that a guy lost his job, but he is getting a $300,000 severance package. I don’t really feel sorry for him. If anybody is laughing it should be Michael Ross – laughing all the way to the bank!

            Hopefully the Council will hire somebody that can perform the required duties, which are largely administrative in nature, for a fraction of the cost.

          • Equally Concerned Citizen Says:

            A fraction of the cost? Where do you think the $300,000 comes from? Taxes will go up or services will go down.

            “Hopefully the Council will hire somebody that can perform the required duties, which are largely administrative in nature, for a fraction of the cost.”

            Unless this new manager wants to pay the city in excess of half a million dollars, the delta of cash outlay of the city will be in the red on this boondoggle.

            We will see if you are laughing when police response time increases, your trash is outsourced to a third party, and your taxes go up–all so that these conniving, lying lawyers can place a buddy in this office. Personal Vendettas have no place in municipal politics. Recall the Slate!

  9. kenny powers Says:

    Hopefully Michael Ross will still be available in 6 months so he can be re-hired after the recall election. We’ll still be out the $300k, but that seems like the least of our problems that may be created over the next 6 months by this junta.

  10. Disgusted voter Says:

    To my knowledge, the Slate never mentioned firing the City Manager during the campaign. Since the election, it’s the only thing they talked about. If they had made their intention clear during the campaign, they never would have been elected. Very sneaky.

  11. Equally Concerned Citizen Says:

    The loser in all of this is the public. This is not about who ran against or even who won. This is about the way you conduct yourself in office and maintaining public service for all citizens. The city will hemorrhage money in this deal. Are the notorious 3 going write the city a check? I doubt it. Transparency? Our taxes will go up and our services will likely diminish due to this backroom deal, there’s some transparency for you to think about. West U has had other city managers, but none have lead the city to such acclaim and respect as Mr. Ross. The entire slate will face a serious recall effort, not because we don’t like them but because they lied, cheated, cost the city money, and frankly have been a complete embarrassment to more people than voted for them.

  12. JustTheFacts Says:

    Concerned, are you Kelly or just Kelly’s long time non-resident lap dog? It appears that there are a great number of people that disagree with the slate’s direction and I believe they will be demonstrating that to the council on or about December 1 when they file their petition.

  13. Concerned Citizen Says:

    Steven,

    Your outlandish comments are nothing more than those of a sore loser. West U voters rejected your “keep the status quo at City Hall” campaign agenda 2-1 in the last election. West U has changed City Managers several times over the years and has continued to be a great place to live. Get over losing a City Council race and quit preaching gloom and doom. West U voters called for a change at City Hall and that is why there are elections. It’s not those who are elected that you are really calling names, but those who elected them and rejected you. Better was expected of you.

  14. Steven Segal Says:

    Character, integrity, good judgment, and transparency, have never never strong points for Ballanfant, Kelly and Reilly. They proved it tonight. This is Black Monday in West U history. Our award winning City government has been destroyed.

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