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Rowlett mayor John Harper suddenly resigns; new mayor to be elected soon

ROWLETT – Embattled second-term Rowlett Mayor John Harper suddenly resigned from his position last Tuesday, stating in his resignation letter that it had “sadly become very certain” that neither Mayor Pro Tem Todd Gottel nor the majority of the City Council will “let me govern.”

Just one month ago Harper had stated that he intended to resign this Fall, but after the City’s budget meetings, as a result of all the name-calling and attacks on his character and family which he said he’s been enduring recently.

However, he added, if he did not resign now “the name-calling and nattering will continue, and it will continue to injure the reputation of not only me but also the city of Rowlett.”

Gottel will now serve as mayor until a new one is elected. The City will hold a special election within 120 days to fill the remaining two years of Harper’s three-year term. The date will be set at the May 3 City Council meeting.

Relationship problems had been simmering for months between Harper and City Manager Lynda Humble, whom Harper had personally recruited in 2009 from her position as Assistant City Manager at DeSoto.

Gottel told The Rockwall News that problems seemed to arise between the two when Humble said “No” some months ago to one of Harper’s requests. From that point on, their relationship grew tense and Council members were caught in the crossfire.

Harper said that when Council members Donna Davis and Michael Gallops were elected last June, the personality of the Council seemed to change.

With a 30-plus year background in financial management in the U.S. Air Force, at Texas A&M – Commerce and at the Cooper Institute Research Division, where he currently is the Chief Financial Officer, Harper explained that he was frustrated that Council members would not take his word for it that Humble was financially mismanaging the City and taking it in the wrong direction.

He said that since none of the current Council members have experience with running a business, which he has done for many years, that was the cause of one of the primary problems at City Hall.

But the majority of Council members stated that because the City Charter granted Humble the power to govern the City as the Chief Executive Officer, they would follow her lead. Gottel expressed concern publicly that several statements made and figures used by Harper were in error.

After Harper decided to speak out publicly against the City Manager and Council at a Rowlett TEA Party meeting in March, where he called Gallops “either a fool or foolish,” relationship problems came to a boil.

Council members and city residents began to lash out publicly against the mayor, calling for him to resign immediately, because they said he had no business casting a negative light on Rowlett publicly.

Harper wrote in his resignation letter that when he saw the April 19 “City Council Meeting agenda which clearly showed no interest on the part of the councilmembers in curtailing the name-calling and unwarranted personal attacks on my integrity and character,” he decided “reluctantly” to resign.

He explained that, outside of City Hall, he and his family have a very good life, his employer has been asking him to work full-time and he just didn’t need all the problems he was encountering from the Council and special interest groups.

He said from a financial perspective, since he was spending over $1,000 per month out of his own pocket on City business, and only being paid $150 per month as Mayor, that also influenced his decision. He said he and his family could only take so much from his opponents.

Harper has been calling on Rowlett residents to elect new Council members who will stand up to Humble and other Council members who are supporting her decisions, generally without even questioning her.

“I do hope this action will cause the silent majority to focus on the issues facing Rowlett and elect new council members on May 14,” Harper said.

It remains to be seen who is right about the direction the City is taking to deal with its financial problems. As one local citizen said at the TEA Party meeting, “Someone is lying. Humble says one thing. Harper says another. They can’t both be right.”

Following is Harper’s resignation letter:

Mayor Pro Tem Todd Gottel
City Hall (delivered by hand)
Rowlett, Texas

April 19, 2011

Dear Mayor Pro Tem Gottel:

When Debra and I returned from South Carolina a week ago I was re-energized.  I love the City of Rowlett…I am passionate about the City of Rowlett.  But, I learned I have to harness that passion in more positive ways.  After the haze brought on by our family emergency was dissipated, I knew I had to redouble my efforts to improve communications with the Council and with Rowlett citizens and planned to make that special effort this week with hopes that the Council would do the same.

However, late last week I was provided an advance copy of the upcoming City Council Meeting agenda which clearly showed no interest on the part of the councilmembers in curtailing the name-calling and unwarranted personal attacks on my integrity and character.   Three separate agenda items are set for April 19 with a clear purpose of weakening the Rowlett Mayor.  Even you refused to provide me specifics of any events you believe are violations of the Code of Ethics for which you claim I should be censured or reprimanded.  That, no doubt, is because there are no violations.

Regardless, it has sadly become very certain to me that you and the majority of the City Council will not let me govern.  Instead, the name-calling and nattering will continue and it will continue to injure the reputation of not only me but also the City of Rowlett.  So, I will reluctantly step down from the position of Mayor of Rowlett, effective immediately.

I am very pleased that I had a major role in the transformation of the City of Rowlett over the past four years.   Today, Rowlett is recognized nationally as one of the top 25 Best Small Cities in the entire United States of America!  In all of Texas, the Texas State Comptroller has hailed the City of Rowlett for achieving a unique and high level of transparency and accountability.  I am very proud of both of those significant achievements.  And, there are others.

I wish you only good fortune in moving forward.   I believe both the momentum and direction are in place for Rowlett to achieve its true destiny.  I urge you to stay focused on the truth and be forthright with the citizens and friends of Rowlett.  Maintain the direction that you and I, working together, set during the past four years.  Do not allow any more backsliding.  I will pray for your personal strength.

I regret disappointing any one of the overwhelming majority of voters who re-elected me in 2010 to lead the City.  However, I will remain involved in city matters, but as a private citizen.  I will continue my public service elsewhere and am exploring several opportunities to serve within the North Texas region.

I truly wish the citizens of Rowlett continued prosperity and growth.

Respectfully,

John E. Harper

PS – I do have a request…please arrange to leave my city email account open to my access until May 2 so that I can download and keep the messages I now have filed in my local folders.

By J.J. Smith, Publisher

 

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