Council to Revisit Ross’ Ouster

August 6, 2015

The West U City Council will meet in executive session again on Monday to discuss the employment status of City Manager Michael Ross.

Ross said Thursday that it is still his desire that any city council discussions of his employment take place in an open meeting.

The council has not held a meeting to discuss the veteran city manager’s future with the city in over a month, because two council members — Brennan Reilly and Burt Ballanfant —  were out of town on vacation during the council’s last meeting on July 27.

Since then, Ross has withdrawn as one of three finalists for the city manager job in Missouri City. The embattled city manager wrote a lengthy letter saying that it is his desire to stay in West U.

The y Council’s “special meeting” to consider the ouster of City Manager Michael Ross was moved  Friday to an earlier start on Monday at 5:20 p.m.

Councilmember Brennan Reilly and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly insisted Friday that City Secretary Thelma Lenz move the meeting back to a 5 p.m. start time. But, because of provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act, the meeting was rescheduled at 5:20 p.m.

Mayor Susan Sample had earlier requested that the special meeting be held at 6 p.m, so that more West U residents could attend. She also added a time for “public comments” to the special meeting.

The four-person slate of candidates that included Reilly and Kelly, who were elected in May, had campaigned on a pledge of bringing more “transparency” to city government. Council members Mardi Turner and Burt Ballanfant were the other two members of the slate.

Since they took office in early June, the new council has now scheduled two meetings at times that made it difficult for many West U residents to attend.

In mid-June, the council held an 8 a.m. meeting to discuss Ross’ future with the city of West U.

In emails to West U residents, Reilly has made it clear that he wants Ross to go.

In a July 14 email, Reilly wrote: “I have refrained from publicly criticizing Michael Ross because of a commitment I made to him when we first met regarding his possible separation. He has not lived up to his side of the bargain, so I now am free to discuss the reasons why I requested his termination.”

Despite his campaign pledge of transparency,  Reilly has attempted to to justify his reason fors wanting the council to discuss Ross in private.

“A public debate of Michael Ross improper actions, of which there are many (none of which relate to ‘following orders’), will only make it more difficult to find and retain a qualified replacement. It also would negatively affect staff morale. No business conducts performance reviews or employment terminations in public for those reasons,” Reilly wrote.

The council’s agenda shows that the council plans to meet in an executive session, with their special counsel, to receive legal advice about the city’s manager’s employment and/or separation agreement.

Later, during the council’s regular meeting, they are scheduled to discuss the appointment of an interim city manager.

Ross has been employed as West U city manager for 14 years, including the mayoral terms of Council members Ballanfant and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly.

Shortly after the May 9 municipal election, when a four-person slate won seats on the council, Ross’ job future with the city of West U has been in doubt. Three days after taking office, Reilly and Ballanfant held a private lunch meeting with Ross and told him they wanted him to leave.

At that meeting, the two council members suggested that Ross could work out the details of his severance package. The terms of Ross’ employment contract provide that he will be paid a full year’s salary, as well as accrued sick leave and vacation time. That meant that Ross is entitled to salary and benefits of more than $300,000.

The council has since balked at allowing Ross to leave under the terms of his employment contract.

At a July 13 meeting of the council, Kelly could not even get a second to his motion to allow Ross to resign, and to be paid the full amount in his contract.

Before that meeting, Ross wrote a letter to the city council and demanded that any discussions of his employment be held in an open public meeting.

Ross’ July 10 letter stated: ““I expect all discussions regarding my relationship with the City to be conducted in open session as required under Section 551.074 of the Texas Open Meetings Act.”

Although the Texas Open Meetings Act allows city councils and school boards to hold executive sessions to discuss personnel issues, those private meetings are not allowed when the employee being discussed requests an open meeting.

Ross’ July 10 letter stated: “I expect all discussions regarding my relationship with the City to be conducted in open session as required under Section 551.074 of the Texas Open Meetings Act.”

Since then, Reilly has defended the council’s executive sessions about Ross’ termination.

In a July 12 email to one West U resident, Reilly said the council had wanted to avoid publicly discussing Ross’ “faults.” In that email, Reilly wrote that the council “tried” to allow Ross to resign “without a public airing of his faults.” He also accused Ross not being “honest or a gentleman.”

“We were trying to take the high road given his long service. Michael was looking for another job before we approached him, and was a finalist for the Missouri City city manager job. He was attempting to get both full severance from West U and an immediate job with another city. He has not been honest or a gentleman in his dealings with us or past Councils,” Reilly wrote. “Now that he has decided to take the low road, perhaps some of that will have to be aired in public. I don’t think that is best for Michael or the City, but that is the path Michael is actively pursuing,” Reilly wrote.

Reilly could not be reached by email or phone Thursday, to describe his allegations of impropriety by Ross.

Mayor Susan Sample said she did not know what Reilly meant by “improper actions” by the city manager. “I really don’t,” Sample said, adding: “I don’t even talk to Brennan, so I have no idea what he’s referring to.”

Councilman Burt Ballanfant, who just returned from a vacation in Alaska, said he did not know what Reilly meant.

“You’d have to talk to Brennan Reilly about that. I haven’t seen Brennan in at least a month. He has been in Colorado,” Ballanfant said.

Council member Mardi Turner declined to discuss Reilly’s comments about Ross.

“I cannot talk about that. I have been advised not to,” Turner said. She declined to say who offered that advice.

Kelly also did not return emails or phone calls about Reilly’s allegations.