After the West U City Council’s controversial decision last year to approve the so-called “Super Block,” then-Mayor Bob Fry told opponents that a long-term Master Plan for Municipal Facilities “is an excellent campaign issue.”
And Bob Kelly, one of four candidates elected as part of a slate opposed to the Master Plan called out: “Count on it – it will be.”
Monday night, during the council’s discussion of their 3-2 vote to terminate City Manager Michael Ross, Kelly launched into a speech about the city charter.
Kelly said – a couple of times — that the city manager serves “at the convenience of the city council,” although he later corrected himself and said the city manager serves with the “confidence” of the council.
“Elections have consequences,” Kelly said. “This election had a consequence. It was a 2 to 1 margin to right the ship…to calm things down.”
When several West U residents started chanting, “Recall! Recall!” Kelly responded: “That is in the charter, you can do that. You can move for a recall. You can do that under the charter.”
Within minutes, a piece of paper collecting names from West U residents interested in a recall election started circulating in the crowded city council chamber. The dozens of residents who gave Ross a standing ovation as he left after the council’s vote made it clear that they are interested in ousting the newly elected council.
Kelly acknowledged that those in attendance were there to support Ross.
“I’m not going to win you over. This is exactly what I expected. I’ve seen this before. I respect your opinion,” Kelly said.
Few were swayed by Councilman Brennan Reilly’s explanation for wanting to terminate Ross. Reilly mentioned a five-year old incident, when Ross tape-recorded a conversation with Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. The recording of that call angered Radack, but the city council at the time approved of Ross’ actions.
Reilly also said that Ross was guilty of “insubordinate conduct” by seeking employment with the city of Missouri City.
“He has been extremely deceitful in his dealings with me,” Reilly said. “He demanded that we discuss his employment publicly but has refused to answer questions. He has lied to the press about my conversations with him.”
Reilly also speculated that Ross “is doing these things in an effort to be terminated,” so that he could receive his full severance package from the city of West U.
Reilly described Ross employment contract as almost “completely unique.”
“I have never seen a lifetime employment agreement with a city manager,” Reilly said.
Reilly also charged that Ross had a “secretive, clandestine management style.”
“I am confident we will find another city manager who can do as good a job,” Reilly said.
Councilman Burt Ballanfant, a former West U Mayor, said, “I was really agnostic about Michael Ross,” until he started campaigning for the West U council in mid-January. As he went door-to-door, Ballanfant said he asked residents what important issue the next city council should address.
“The most common response was ‘fire the City Manager,’” Ballanfant said.
That sentiment, Ballanfant said, “was confirmed by the election when the slate won 70 percent of the vote.”
Councilwoman Mardi Turner, who was also a part of the slate, did not vote in favor of Ross’ termination.
“I didn’t get the ‘fire the city manager’ response during the campaign,” Turner said.
“I have to agree that Michael Ross has hired an extremely excellent staff. I hope we will be able to retain them,” Turner said.
Mayor Susan Sample also expressed concern about West U’s ability to retain its current city staff.
“The city runs well,” Sample said. “He has been a great city manager. People want to work for him.”