By Charlotte Aguilar
City Manager Paul Hofmann will be leaving Bellaire after six increasingly controversial years at the helm, with the Bastrop City Council voting Tuesday night to hire him to run that Austin-area city of about 9,500 residents. His last day on the job in Bellaire will be Aug. 2.
Most notably during his tenure, Hofmann led Bellaire through recovery from Hurricane Harvey, which damaged or destroyed one-third of the city’s homes and a significant amount of city-owned property and equipment. He also founded the popular Bellaire Citizen’s Academy for training residents to become involved in city government, and oversaw completion of the city’s municipal complex, including a new City Hall/Civic Center and police/courts building.
But as his time in the job went on, Hofmann found himself more frequently under fire for his penchant for large consulting contracts, a growing city debt, and what many residents saw as tone-deafness to their desire to keep Bellaire’s traditional emphasis as a “City of Homes” in favor of commercial interests.
Last November, dissatisfaction over those issues — and such misfires as botched infrastructure construction projects and an insistence on sidewalk construction in residential areas — helped fuel the largest turnover in Bellaire City Council since the 1970s, with three new councilmembers who had opposed the status quo taking office in January. Where Hofmann had once enjoyed limited pushback from the counciltable, he was now facing intense questioning and narrow approval margins on votes.
Mayor Andrew Friedberg, in a blogpost Wednesday (June 24) said the City Council will appoint an interim city manager, “likely for the next several months at least.” He said since recently appointed Assistant City Manager Brant Gary has chief responsibility for budget development, “there shouldn’t be any interruption to that process,” which is in progress with City Council, working toward an Oct. 1 start date to the 2021 fiscal year.
Friedberg — a strong supporter of Hofmann — alluded to the uneasy relationship between the newer councilmembers and the city manager in his remarks about the selection of a successor: “While the council as a whole will make this hugely important decision, individual members will share ownership in their selection. The currently prevailing dynamics of the council-manager relationship will no longer get in the way.
“We’ll be able to restore our focus on the issues, when the city manager is no longer made out to be, himself, the issue. This may just be the very thing we need to move forward productively and constructively as a council, granted so far we haven’t had much of a chance to come together and build consensus amid all the disruptions of this most unusual year.”
Ironically, Hofmann’s predecessor in the Bastrop job resigned suddenly in January over what she complained was the City Council’s micromanagement of her office.
Bastrop had hired two search firms to help find candidates. Hofmann came to Bellaire after four years as city administrator in Castroville, preceded by three years as city manager in Kerrville, earlier positions in Sugar Land and Alvin, and 15 years with the city of Austin.