By Charlotte Aguilar
With the departure of Interim City Manager Brant Gary on Dec. 3, Bellaire is now faced with looking both for a permanent leader and a short-term one — giving a City Council half composed of lame duck members the opportunity to name the temporary successor.
The announcement of Gary’s departure was made, unceremoniously, in what appeared to be a chipper Thanksgiving blog post — entitled “Thankful for our city staff” — by Mayor Andrew Friedberg Monday (Nov. 22), but in which he bemoaned low staff morale and an “often-hostile political climate” in the city.
Gary’s resignation from the interim position to which he was appointed 16 months ago “also highlights, along with other high-profile resignations of late, (that) we’re at a critical juncture with our staff,” concluded the mayor. It was not immediately announced where Gary was going.
He first served Bellaire as public works director from 2014-17 before leaving to become assistant city manager of Fulshear. He returned to Bellaire as assistant city manager in December 2019, and was named as interim leader when City Manager Paul Hofmann left to run the city of Bastrop in August 2020.
Despite Friedberg’s concerns about staff morale and turnover, the mayor downplayed the severity of the city being without top management. “While at first his leaving may seem a major disruption to the organization, it really doesn’t change things all that much considering we’re about to begin the hiring process for our next permanent city manager anyway,” Friedberg wrote. “With a new council set to take office in January, this is already at the top of our to-do list.
“Brant’s departure does mean that the current council will need to appoint a replacement to serve as interim in the meantime.”
The seven-member council that appoints an interim leader will be very different from the one serving in January. Already, two new councilmembers who were endorsed by the mayor — Win Frazier and Ross Gordon — were elected on Nov. 2. A Dec. 11 runoff between independent Andrea Ehlers and Brian Witt, the third candidate in the slate endorsed by Friedberg, will decide an open swing seat that will determine whether Friedberg controls council chambers for the next two years.
After coasting along as mayor with a largely supportive City Council for his first terms, Friedberg — who was unopposed in election to his final term this month — started facing resistance when three new councilmembers who questioned the direction of the city and its leadership were elected in 2019.