West U Council approves pacts with church, sports groups; needs more time on facilities task force, city manager
By Sarah Tucker
Councilmember Brennan Reilly has lost his bid to change a long-standing arrangement with West U Baptist Church and has seen his push to create a residents’ Facilities Master Plan Task Force stalled.
West University City Council approved all three memoranda of understanding with community organizations at its meeting on Monday.
The MOUs are with Tri-Sports, West U Aquatics and West U Baptist Church and detail expectations on items such as field use, signage, parking and janitorial services for 2016.
At issue was whether or not the MOUs – specifically the one with WUBC – were in the city’s best interest, as questioned by Councilmember Brennan Reilly at an October council meeting.
Parks and Recreation Director Tim O’Connor called the MOU with WUBC a “mutually beneficial partnership” through which WUBC allows the city to use its parking lots in exchange for use of city facilities on Sunday. Other groups pay the standard space usage fees, and one group, the Greater Houston Church, brings in $20,000 a year to the city.
Reilly felt the exchange of parking for facility usage wasn’t enough and wanted staff to develop a fee that was more “equitable” and reflected value, utility usage, and general wear and tear.
“I don’t think we’re getting what we’re spending,” Reilly said.
Interim City Manager Chris Peifer pointed out that the city has had an agreement of some sort with WUBC since the 1940s and ’50s, likely because the church deeded the land for city hall.
“If we’re putting together some type of calculation of equity over time, how do you calculate that?” Peifer asked.
O’Connor said the MOU went beyond “tit for tat” for parking and building usage. He described how during hurricanes Ike and Katrina the church housed city staff and their families for a week and charged nothing for it.
“I’m confident that if we made that same request a week or two weeks from now, I can’t imagine them denying that request,” O’Connor said. “It’s just a good partnership.”
Council approved the West U Aquatics and Tri-Sports MOUs unanimously after some discussion and voted 4-1 to approve the West U Baptist Church MOU with Reilly voting against it.
Council also discussed the scope and purpose of the Facilities Master Plan Task Force. The Facilities Master Plan considers all options for facilities and looks at inventory, staff and space needs, timelines, and budgets to prepare for present and future needs.
At issue was whether the recommendations outlined in the plan constituted policy or were simply recommendations and warranted citizen input.
Mayor Susan Sample read a prepared statement and was adamantly against creating a task force, saying it was “not appropriate” to ask a group of citizens to create something that should be “under the purview of trained professionals.”
Reilly and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly disagreed and advocated for a task force and resident input.
“You can’t have too much public opinion,” Kelly said.
Mardi Turner disagreed that resident input was needed because the plan was only an assessment that suggested projects. Once council agreed on a project, then they could call a task force and get feedback, she said.
“I see recommendations, potential suggestions; no policy,” Turner said.
Ultimately council decided to table the issue for a future meeting, hold a workshop session to further review the plan and continue interviewing for task force members.
Council also tabled the city manager position without discussion. This was following a closed executive session where they discussed matters related to the city manager. Peifer has been serving in the position since August, when 14-year City Manager Michael Ross was fired.