Mayor Tries to Make Secret Meeting Public

June 15, 2015

Mayor Susan Sample wants to force a full public discussion of City Manager Michael Ross’ future with the city at Thursday’s special meeting of the West U City Council.

Sample asked that the agenda for the special meeting be amended, and the changes she requested would force new Councilmembers Brennan Reilly and Burt Ballanfant to discuss the terms of their earlier request to Ross that he tender his resignation, “in exchange for a sum certain and other terms to be negotiated.”

The amended agenda, which was posted at about 8:10 a.m. today, will allow a council “discussion of amounts offered, terms discussed and reasons for such action.”

Sample also asked that the agenda include two more items, “a city manager succession plan,” and “matters related to retaining additional legal counsel over and above specialized employment counsel already retained by the city.”

Any member of the council could attempt to table the agenda items added by Sample, but the new members campaigned as a slate dedicated to more “transparency” in West U government, particularly from the city council.

It has been the worst-kept secret in local politics that Reilly and Ballanfant approached Ross and encouraged him to resign, or retire, in exchange for a buyout of $310,000. Reilly and Ballanfant discussed that proposal in a private meeting with Sample, before they were officially sworn in as council members.

The mayor said that she asked for the amended agenda so that West U citizens could be better informed at the meeting.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the residents to not know what’s going on,” Sample said. “I am pretty sure they elected me to make sure we stay honest and accountable. I don’t want to do anything impulsive.”

The revised agenda also shows that Sample wants the citizens of West U to be involved in discussions about a possible new city manager, “if such replacement is deemed necessary.”

A new agenda item provides for the council to “discuss and identify open and transparent process for hiring a city manager, if such replacement is deemed necessary, including, but not limited to retention of a search firm, forms of citizen input and citizen panel.”

Reilly and Ballanfant’s plan to oust the city manager included hiring Richard Rothfelder, a Southside Place attorney, to negotiate the terms of the deal with Ross. Reilly asked for a special meeting of the council to be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, for the sole discussion of hiring an attorney to handle the deal.

The city of West U already has already retained Susan Bickley, an attorney who specializes in employment matters, for consultations involving municipal personnel.

The revised agenda includes an item to discuss why the city needs to hire another attorney, stating: “Discussion of reasons for engagement of additional counsel, qualifications necessary for attorney negotiating executive employment matters for the city of West University Place, and identifying interview process for hiring such counsel, if such action is deemed necessary.”

The revised agenda also includes a time for public comments, at the beginning

Although the Texas Open Meetings Act allows for the city council to meeting in executive session to discuss personnel matters, Sample’s amended agenda would force an open discussion of the new council members’ reasons for wanting Ross to step down.

Ross, who has been employed as city manager in West U for 14 years, worked under both Ballfanfant and Councilmember Bob Kelly, when they both served as mayor of West U.

Ross has declined to make any public statements about his future with the city.