WU Council: Long Meeting, Little Action

June 23, 2015

In a lengthy, three-hour meeting Monday, the West U City Council took no action on veteran City Manager Michael Ross’ ouster in an executive session.

The council also deferred consideration of several other agenda items related to that issue, including the appointment of an interim city manager and advertising for an executive search to recruit a potential new city manager.

“The most I can say at this point is that would be premature to appoint an interim city manager,” said Mayor Susan Sample.

Sample said later that the terms of Ross’ severance package with the city of West U “is still being negotiated.”

The council had met in an executive session with special legal counsel Richard Rothfelder, who was appointed to negotiate a severance package with Ross last week. But they took no action after that executive session.

Former City Council Dick Yehle castigated the new members of the city council for their efforts to oust Ross, who has served as West U’s city manager for 14 years. Yehle also criticized Councilmembers Bob Kelly and Brennan Reilly for their conduct during a meeting last week.

Yehle said he had listened to a tape recording of the council’s June 18 meeting and said that he was “appalled” at the new council members’ “hypocrisy” in trying to get rid of the city manager.

“I don’t know how you’re going to pay for your capricious action,” Yehle said. “You guys are getting ahead of yourselves on this one.”

And, the former councilman chided Kelly and Reilly for being rude to Mayor Sample during the June 18 meeting.

“Bob, Brennan, please look to your right. This is our mayor. She’s the mayor. She deserves a lot more respect than you’ve been showing,” Yehle scolded.

Several West U residents applauded Yehle’s comments, and one person yelled out: “Hear! Hear!”

Yehle’s comments about the council getting ahead of themselves proved prescient, as they repeatedly deferred action on several agenda items that had been listed for consideration.

The council delayed action on considering its rules of procedure, appointing a citizens task force to advise on the long-term Municipal Facilities Plan and a proposal to require city staff reports to the council to be made public.

Because the council is meeting Wednesday, at 8 a.m., for a workshop meeting for orientation and goal setting, those items were deferred until that meeting.

Reilly repeatedly stressed that he wanted those items on the agenda to advance more transparency in municipal government.

He said that the city council’s rules “are very important. I want to live by our rules. They are quite different from the rules of general dinner table etiquette.”

The council’s rules, Reilly said, can provide a way for more “robust discussions” of city issues.

During the meeting, Reilly demonstrated that he intends to fully discuss business before the council.

As the council considered a resolution to approve the city’s investment policies — an annual requirement under state law — Reilly asked numerous questions of City Finance Director Rhonda Daugherty. Reilly said he would prefer to table the resolution, or take no action. But City Attorney Alan Petrov explained that the Texas Public Funds Investment Act requires an annual review by the council.

The council unanimously approved a resolution endorsing the city’s investment policies.

The council also gave preliminary approval to a change to the city’s code of  ordinances that would allow Dr. Dan Jordan to open a new veterinary clinic on Kirby Dr. The Building and Standards Commission had recommended that the council approve a  change that would allow the veterinarian to “kennel” animals, which are in the clinic for veterinary medical care.

Steve Brown, chairman of the Building and Standards Commission, delivered the first of several bad puns during the discussion, when he said, “The BSC doesn’t have a dog in this fight.”

“What we are trying to do is good for the city — developing a long dormant property on Kirby and protect the nearby residents.”

Several West U residents whose pets have been treated by Dr. Jordan endorsed the change. West U’s code of ordinances limits the number of dogs and cats that residents can have.

But, because of unclear language about the maximum number of animals that could be kenneled in the facility — which was pointed out by Councilmember Mardi Turner — the council wanted to approve the change on first reading, with clarifying language to be added before the second reading of the ordinance at the council’s July 13 meeting.

Reilly strongly objected, saying: “I don’t feel comfortable” passing the ordinance on first reading because “I don’t think that’s fair” to those residents who had objected to the new veterinary clinic at meetings of the Building and Standards Commission.

Kelly also objected, saying the corrected ordinance should be done by the BSC.

Sample, however, urged the council not to delay, citing possible damage to the veterinary practices.

The council gave its preliminary approval to the  change by a vote of 3 to 2, with Sample, Turner and Burt Ballanfant in favor and Reilly and Kelly voting against it.

During a very lengthy discussion on future agendas for the city council, Reilly suggested that council members be allowed to bring up key issues for consideration at each meeting.

Reilly had apparently brought a lengthy list of items for the council to discuss at future meetings, saying that he wants “a lot more openness.”

He suggested that the council ask the West U Solid Waste and Recycling Board to be prepared to make a presentation to the council at their July 13 meeting on recycling green waste. Turner seconded that request.

Reilly said that council agendas in West U are “a complete mystery” to the public until 5 p.m. on the Friday before each regularly scheduled meeting.

The council did approve a staff change that promotes Assistant Director of Public Works Dave Beach into the full-time position of Director of Public Works, in anticipation of Assistant City Manager Chris Peifer’s retirement later this year. Peifer has served as assistant city manager and director of the public works department.