By Jane McNeel
Every Friday, a city manager’s report is sent to councilmembers (and any member of the public or media requesting it, if you want an insider’s look at the workings of city government). The report is usually topped with employee news — achievements, a COVID count, comings and goings. In the last six months of 2021, seeing who is the latest mid- and high-level figure to leave the city staff (and we’re not even going to address the number of recent departures from the police and fire departments) has raised eyebrows.
The exodus had become so noticeable that the mayor felt compelled to address it before last November’s election, trying to turn the departures into a campaign issue to advocate for his slate of candidates. The mayor claimed it was actually a “morale” issue and put the blame on the three councilmembers who most frequently challenge the status quo — Catherine Lewis, Nathan Wesely and Jim Hotze.
That argument is more rhetoric than reality, though. A browse of council votes in the past two years shows consistent 4-3 votes in the mayor’s favor — including final decisions on the budget and staff benefits. And with the mayor’s slate elected, that trend will likely continue with the new members on council.
So, as council gets ready to search for and hire a new city manager, depoliticizing this employee exit and finding the root cause and a solution should be a top priority. The stability of Bellaire’s city staff — the loyalty and service of its longtime employees and the resulting performance and service of city departments — has always been an asset to the community and contributed to the quality of life here.
Let’s understand how city staffing works, first of all.
The Bellaire City Council is only authorized to hire or fire the city manager, city clerk and city attorney. City employees answer to the city manager, not the council. The city manager or his/her subordinates can appoint and remove all other employees.
Now in that context, understand that all of the departing staff members listed below were hired during or after the tenure of Paul Hofmann, the previous city manager, who replaced a number of longtime employees in key positions.
Hofmann himself resigned in August of 2020, but no effort was made by the mayor and some members of City Council to hire a new, permanent manager. A previous department head, Brant Gary, filled in as city manager for nearly a year-and-a-half until he found a full time position elsewhere, and now our fire chief, Deacon Tittel, is doing double duty running the fire/emergency medicine operations and the city.
No matter their qualifications, these interim city managers are essentially “temps.” And more than 60 years in the business world tells me that this lack of leadership and stability could be playing a key role in the revolving door in Bellaire city departments.
So ponder all that as you peruse this list of mid-level and high-level employees who have left the city’s employ in recent months:
- Brant Gary, assistant city manager and interim city manager
- ChaVonne Sampson, director of Development Services
- Bryan Carroll, assistant director of Development Services
- Marleny Campos, administrative assistant, Development Services
- Ashley Parcus, administrative assistant, Development Services
- Joseph McMillen, capital projects manager, Public Works
- Richard Mancilla, assistant director, Public Works
- Jennifer Sessa, assistant director, Bellaire Library
- Anthony Martinez, senior technician, Information Technology
Re-establishing strong leadership in the busy Development Services Department — which has been in turmoil for several years — and in Public Works, which has faced growing challenges in managing the city’s massive infrastructure construction programs and increasingly problematic Solid Waste services is critical.
McNeel has resided in Bellaire for more than six decades. She maintains the BellaireCivicClub.com website as a forum for discussion of community issues and an easy-to-access repository of background information and official documents, as well as spotlighting city events. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.