Former Mayor Pro Tem Challenges New City Council Majority

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