The Houston City Council signaled last week that changes are coming to Houston City Hall.
A majority of the council in a closed session that lasted nearly two hours before adjourning at about 10 p.m. Monday, decided it wants new leadership in the office of city administrator. Larry Sutton, who has held the post since November 2007, was given 30 days to leave the position, which oversees the daily operation of the city and its budget and workforce, according to minutes of the closed meeting released Thursday.
Sutton’s tenure is longer than any other person to hold the position since the city hired its first administrator in the 1980s.
The council voted 4-1 to end the employment of Sutton effective in 30 days. Donnie Wilson made the motion, which was seconded by Kim Bittle. Joining them were members Jeremy St. John and Viki Narancich. Wilson, Bittle and St. John were elected April 4 and were sworn into office on April 17. Absent was Alderman Joe Honeycutt, who was out of the state. Alderwoman Sheila Walker dissented.
Mayor Don Tottingham did not agree. “I just feel like they should have observed things within city government for a few months before they made a decision,” Tottingham said Thursday. Tottingham said a majority of the council had failed to follow the city’s personnel policy that details a process of a verbal warning with counseling and eventually a written notice before termination.
“It says if you are not convicted, accused of something, then you should be counseled,” said Tottingham.
Those seeking the removal disagreed, and Mayor Pro-Tem Wilson said members were within the parameters.
A statement was released Friday afternoon by the four supporting change:
“In the employee handbook it states under Dismissal-Employment and compensation with the City of Houston is “at will” in that they can be terminated with or without cause, and with or without notice, at any time, at the option of either the City of Houston or yourself, except as otherwise provided by law.
“And to follow with the handbook we followed Ordinance Sec 2-89 Removal-The City administrator shall serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority. The Mayor with the consent of the majority of the board of aldermen, may remove the city administrator from office with or without cause. The city administrator shall be given thirty (30) days notice or thirty (30) days pay in lieu of notice prior to the removal office. If requested, the mayor and board shall grant the city administrator a public hearing within fifteen (15) days following notice of such removal.”
Members met for a nearly two-hour closed session Monday to discuss legal and personnel matters that ended just before 8:30 p.m. Tottingham said there were no votes taken.
Wilson also sought to terminate City Clerk Tonya Foster, but the motion failed to receive a second, according to the released minutes.
Sutton and City Clerk Tonya Foster awaited the council’s decision last Monday night from Sutton’s second floor office. Sutton, a Houston native, came to the city from the Missouri Department of Transportation in Springfield and previously worked with the Missouri Department of Mental Health and at the Missouri Department of Corrections at Licking. Sutton replaced Bill Bates, who retired.
It is the second departure at Houston City Hall this year. Economic Development Head Ron Reed left in January.
Sutton remains on the job after Monday night’s decision, Tottingham, who made the public announcement, said.