Members of the Houston City Council held a contentious meeting Monday night sparked by the hiring process for an unfilled parks director position.
Mayor Willy Walker said the park board’s hiring efforts had been flawed, the candidate selected hadn’t been employed because of it and the process would be restarted. He met with two park board members following the open meeting.
Walker passed around a posted agenda later in the meeting that he said didn’t include the employment discussion.
Jennifer Shelton, the park board’s secretary, said the body had deliberated over five applications and made a recommendation to City Administrator Scott Avery. She asked for clarity on the process and whether the park board was allowed any input on the position, which has been held by multiple people over the last several years. The last director served three days. It’s not the first time the board has asked for clarity on its role in hiring — the most recent was during the summer during another rough patch between the park board and city.
The board had asked to be placed on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting. Rather, Shelton spoke during a time period where citizens complete a card to speak.
“We are just super willing to try to work together and get everything done, but it just seems like it’s hard,” Shelton told the council. “So we’re all trying to just do our best and just move forward but we need a direction from you guys.”
Councilman Kevin Stilley was critical of the city’s lack of communication with the park board and Avery.
In other matters, members:
•Delayed action on a trash contract with WCA after questions surfaced over the paperwork’s accuracy with what the council had earlier approved.
•The council approved the purchase of a tractor for mowing from a Cuba, Mo., implement dealer. The cost is not to exceed $54,000 and was included in the city’s earlier approved budget.
•Decided to seek comments from the council on a proposed grass mowing policy. Any revisions will be discussed Jan. 18. Additionally, the city attorney will include his input.
•Continued discussion of a policy to spark residential construction. Avery asked for a review of his draft to the council. Any payouts would occur in 2023.
•Heard Avery recommend the purchase of equipment that would allow the city to make underground installations of fiber with its own equipment rather than rent one that costs $225 a day. Stilley said he had serious concerns about spending additional funds with only 60 customers signed on. “I’m worried about the fiber deal,” Stilley said, noting lagging revenue on the project and unrealistic projections in the 2022 budget. Councilman Mike Weakly said the initial poor revenue picture was expected as the project launched and COVID-19 had delayed work.
Ultimately on a 5-1 vote (Stilley no), the cost of the $15,800 piece of equipment will be split between the electric, water and fiber departments.
•Discussed duty payments to volunteer firemen. Avery said he hadn’t had time to verify them. Payment will occur in January. Jeremy St. John, a firefighter, said members had historically used the money for Christmas and taxes. Avery requested that paperwork be submitted earlier, and the department said it would adjust to accommodate the city administrator.
•Heard Stilley call for a meeting of the council’s parks and recreation committee and review the ordinance governing the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. Additionally, he called on Avery to be on-site at events to receive input and observe them.
•Heard Stilley say the operation of the parks department was the subject of many citizen complaints. Avery said he knew of none and would work to correct them if he knew. During a pointed discussion initiated by Stilley, Avery said he was trying to work with the park board. “I’m trying to work with parks board. I’ve had discussions with Justin Brown (board president) who I’m supposed to be working with. But for some reason, the parks board wants to end around everything. I just want to get a parks director in here.”
Stilley erupted. “The only thing that they want is the best thing for our sports program.”
Walker said the hiring process for the director had been flawed and city would conduct itself lawfully. “By the book,” Walker said.
Some of the council wanted a closed session Monday to discuss matters it is allowed to do so under state statute. State law requires the public be informed 24 hours before doing so. Not meeting the timeline, the council members adjourned.