In the last 6 months of 2021 numerous mid-level and high-level employees left the City of Bellaire’s employ. A recent claim of the Mayor and his candidates in the 2021 City election was that City employees are unhappy and leaving due to actions by the three recent members of Council, Catherine Lewis, Nathan Wesely, and Jim Hotze.
However a quick browse of Council votes in the past 2 years will reveal constant 4 to 3 votes in the Mayor’s favor, including final decisions on the budget and staff benefits. And that trend will likely continue with the new members on Council.
Who Hires the City Manager, Who Hires the Staff?
Please note, Bellaire’s City Council is only authorized to hire or fire the City Manager, City Clerk, and City Attorney. The City Manager or his/her subordinates can appoint and remove all other officers and employees, and City employees answer to the Manager, not the Council.
All of the departing staff members listed below were hired during or after the tenure of Paul Hofmann, the previous city manager, as he replaced longtime employees in key positions. Mr. Hofmann resigned in August of 2020, but no effort was made by the Mayor and some members of City Council to hire a new manager.
In my work experience this lack of leadership is the most likely reason folks are leaving their employment with the City. Now, as we enter 2022, our interim city manager is the Fire Chief.
But who knows? Considering the problems and expense created under the last city manager, with the City’s debt now north of $110 million and more on the horizon, two recent lawsuits, the divisions created within the City over concrete pathways and sidewalks, City of Homes logos, rezoning decisions, comprehensive plans, and botched construction projects as just a few examples, maybe the City is better off under the current interim-management.
These mid-level and high-level employees have left the City’s employ in the past 6 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 Library Director
- Anthony Martinez, Senior Information Technology Technician
Where Do Things Stand as of January 2022?
Development Services has been in turmoil for several years. The egregious decision to approve the illegal parking lot at 4300 Bellaire Blvd in early 2020 led to a lawsuit against the City. Then came the loss of a 15% discount on flood insurance in July of 2021 due to poor documentation and reporting. Meanwhile the City was relying on contractors to handle inspection duties. Director Sampson resigned this past July. Currently our building official, Christian Somers, is serving as an interim director.
Public Works was involved in the oversight of a City contract for street and drainage construction that includes Bolivar St. and Spruce and Fifth in the H-E-B area. A Status Construction, the contractor for that project, filed suit against the City in August of 2020 over a payment dispute. The project remains unfinished, including installation of over $80,000 of ornamental streetlights. Leaks due to Siemens water meter installations continue. Of interest, Brant Gary’s first round of employment with Bellaire was from 2014-2017 as director of Public Works.
With a new year and a new Council, what’s next? First up is a search for a new city manager, starting with a closed discussion at the January 3, 2022, Council meeting.
The interlocal master drainage study will soon be complete, and more bond issues will likely be part of that discussion.
Members of the Patrons for the Parks are seeking over $5 million to renovate Evergreen Park, but there are no funds available for this kind of project. More bonds to satisfy a few hundred residents? And what’s wrong with trees, an expanse of green lawn, and a few comfortable benches?
What about zoning and planned developments? Who approved the site plan for the recently constructed medical building and garage at the corner of 4460 Bissonnet and Newcastle? Did they understand that the rear of the building faces Bissonnet?
Two of the three new Council members are former P&Z chairs, and both approved controversial and unpopular zoning changes. Winfred Frazier was chair in 2014 when the UV-D zoning was approved. Despite strong opposition from residents and businesses, Council approved the change by a 5 to 2 vote. In 2019 Ross Gordon voted to approve rezoning 4301 Bellaire Blvd from residential to commercial, but fortunately Council voted no.
The Randalls site in the UV-D (the zoning district that requires least 75 percent of the front building facade of all principal buildings shall be at the front property line, with zero feet of setback, be at least 2-stories tall, and allows mixed-use/multi-family), will be available. It’s the one site that is least detrimental to residential areas, now owned by Kimco Realty, and is currently available for lease.
The North Bellaire Special Development District (old Chevron) zoning has been approved and the developer plans to fill it up with commercial and retail. Approval of final plans for the site may be sought this year. The possibility of a hotel or a new service station at the corner of Loop 610 and Fournace has been mentioned. The site has been for sale and the Shell station is gone.
Will there be a move to rezone the ChristChurch Presbyterian site, part of an R-4 residential district at the corner of Bellaire Blvd and South Rice, from residential to commercial? It’s been advertised as a commercial corner.
The City of Bellaire received a Public Information Request in November 2021 from the office of a local attorney regarding 6400 Bissonnet (PD 9-10), the original Prudential/AT&T site. The 1.99 acre site approved for a replat by P&Z in 2010 when Councilmember Frazier was chair, but was not approved for development by the Board of Adjustment in 2021 due to the lot coverage and 4-acre minimum requirements in that zoning district. Find the detailed request here. Are we going to see another lawsuit?
What’s the impact for residential neighborhoods in the vicinity of these commercial or possible commercial areas? Traffic, noise, flooding, residential property values? How would any Bellaire resident feel about any commercial developments across the street or on the other side of their rear fence?
When it comes to a new City Manager, hopefully we’ll end up with someone who knows how to manage, listens to others, understands finances, and doesn’t think they have to change our 100+ year old City into a master planned community. Our City of Homes provided the base for our current standing as a sought-after place to live. Shouldn’t we try to preserve what’s left of it?
Comments can be emailed to our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org Request that your email be forwarded to the Mayor and members of City Council.