Parks director writes pointed letter to city council
NOTE: Tim O’Connor, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of West University Place, wrote this letter to the West University Place City Council today. We received this letter through the Texas Open Government Act. InstantNewsWestU.com is publishing the letter in its entirety.
July 28, 2015
Mayor and City Council of West University Place
West University Place, Texas 77025
Dear Honorable Mayor and City Councilors.
It is with all due respect and admittedly some trepidation that I have prepared this letter to you. Please know that I speak exclusively for myself and have not collaborated with or speak on the behalf of any residents, my superior, peers or subordinates in composing this letter.
In consideration of the magnitude of the discussions and ultimately the decisions that you as a group are undertaking in regard to Michael Ross’s future with the city, I am compelled to share with you my perspective. I’m somewhat comfortable doing so because during my tenure with the city I have had the pleasure of working with each of you on many different municipal matters.
Burt, you were mayor when Michael hired me in 2004 and I served at your and your councils pleasure in assessing the condition of the city’s recreational facilities, the efficiencies and effectiveness of staff in planning and implementing a variety of recreational activities and special events and in further developing and maintaining the city’s park system. These efforts ultimately resulted in preparing a municipal bond election that was the beginning of significant improvement to the overall structure and operations of the Parks and Recreation Department. You recently served on the Parks Board, 2013-2015, and played a role in the recent Park Master Plan update.
Brennan, you were on the Parks Board when I began my tenure with the city and served on the Rice Pocket Park Citizens Task Force that ultimately resulted in Friends Park being designed, constructed and dedicated in 2007. You have also represented the residents of the 3700 block of Rice in matters relative to Tri-Sports use of the WUE Campus for many years and we have worked together in addressing those concerns.
Bob, you were mayor in arguably the most significant period of history in the WUP Parks and Recreation Departments existence. You and your council initiated the 2008 municipal bond election and subsequently championed the efforts in constructing the WUP Recreation Center, Colonial Park Family Aquatic and Tennis complex and the renovations of the Senior Center, Community Building and Scout House. Your vision and support of Michael leading a Construction Manager at Risk method of facilitating these projects allowed for all of them to come in under budget and ahead of schedule.
Susan, you served on the Friends Board during the first several years of my tenure with the city and were instrumental in securing and realizing the Lewis Family Charitable Foundations $500,000.00 matching funds, which ultimately resulted in the design and construction of the WUP Recreation Center and Colonial Park Family Aquatic and Tennis complex coming to fruition. During your tenure as Mayor Pro-Tem, 2011-2015, you served as the council liaison to the Friends Board and were in large part responsible for the further redevelopment of many WUP parks and the growth of the very diverse line-up of recreational and leisure offerings the community enjoys today.
Mardi, you served on the Parks Board for six years during my tenure and provided staff with the benefit of your perspective as a program participant, championed the departments recycling initiatives and advocated for the need for maintaining and acquiring additional open green space. You also served on what I consider to be the most important citizen’s task force in the history of the WUP Parks and Recreation Department, the Recreational Facilities Task Force. Your efforts, in concert with those of Russ Schulze and Janine Schuppert, led to previous city councils, Friends Boards, Senior Boards, Parks Boards and staff facilitating the 2008 municipal bond election, which in turn funded the $17M construction and renovation of the city’s recreational facilities.
In early 2004 Michael afforded me the opportunity to come to work for West University Place, the city in which I resided as a youth, and a place with many residents that I to this day hold dear. Michael explained to me that his goal was to make West University Place the absolute best city in Texas and that his expectations of me were to grow the parks and recreation department via excellence in customer service, service delivery and eventually in constructing, operating and maintaining state-of-the-art recreational facilities and parks. I have tremendous respect for Michael, both as a person and as a manager. I have learned a great deal under his administration and will be forever grateful for his patience, support, guidance and mentorship in helping me to grow as a department director and as a person. He is an exceptional leader and one of the best city managers I have had the pleasure to work for during my 38+ years of municipal service. Michael has recruited and nurtured an administrative team that collectively has well over 300 years of proven excellence in municipal government experience, who I feel happen to respect and work quite well with one-another. This was not accidental or incidental, but rather a very well thought out and implemented vision for West University Place and a testament to Michael’s professionalism, experience and managerial skills. The entire administrative team is well thought of among their colleagues’, and most all either have and/or currently hold significant leadership positions within their professional organizations, which brings the added bonus of a professional network that covers Texas and in some cases the nation to the benefit of the city.
Subsequently, Michael and our city councils have supported the directors in terms of providing them with the funding and support to secure top shelf professional staffs and the equipment and “tools” to implement the goals associated with making West University Place the residence of choice by many of Houston’s top medical, law, banking, academic, oil & gas and a host of other professionals and a multiple award winning city.
I urge you to take a moment and reflect back on the many ways in which West University Place has positively changed since 2001, especially under your leadership. I can speak to the changes I have observed and been a part of since Michael hired me in 2004, and it is with great confidence that I state that there are only a handful of cities in America that can boast more productive, effective and well planned levels of municipal service. Is staff perfect on all fronts and is there no room for improvement, absolutely not. However, I believe that staff has demonstrated they are dedicated to serving at the pleasure of the electorate and every resident of the city. Obviously over at least the past 15 years the city’s elected officials have demonstrated a total commitment to improving the city’s streets, drainage and water infrastructures, recreational facilities, police station, city hall and town center, and have done so by means of the most prudent fiscal management possible. West University Place is without a doubt an “employer of choice” and I sense that staff is extremely grateful and appreciative of the competitive salaries, benefits and most importantly the pleasant working environment and culture we are afforded
In closing, the question that I, and I believe a majority of the city workforce, can’t answer is why has discontinuing Michael’s employment as city manager become necessary? From my perspective, and granted that is without benefit of the insight you as a council has, I am at a loss to understand what is “broken”. Up until the recent talk of terminating Michael’s employment, morale and productivity among city personnel was consistently at extraordinary high levels. I now find myself spending time keeping up the morale and subsequently the performance levels of my department’s personnel for the first time in my tenure with the city. I feel great personal anxiety due to the uncertainty of the city managers fate. I’m afraid that if Michael were to leave West University Place, and I know for a fact that he desires to continue his service to the community, that it could very well lead to a significant exodus of the current departmental leadership and many at the divisional leadership level, some 80% whom are currently eligible to retire. While the city would no doubt recover from any circumstance, I’m afraid the recovery would not come before a significant setback in services and service delivery to our residents was realized, not to mention the enormous expense involved with so many departures in a short period of time.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this letter. Please understand that this communication is not intended to be anything other than me simply sharing my thoughts, feelings and observations, as I have always felt comfortable speaking freely with each of you. In addition, I will completely respect the decision should you collectively determine that the matter of Michael’s future as WUP’s City Manager is not my concern and you chose not to provide me with a response, but please know that my concern is with and for the residents that I truly enjoy serving and the fine people I have the pleasure of working with in fulfilling that service.
Director of Parks and Recreation
City of West University Place, Texas