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Rockwall City Council votes 5-2 to accept resolution terminating City Manager’s contract

ROCKWALL – After limited discussion, the Rockwall City Council voted 5-2 last night in front of a packed City Hall crowd of about 100 people to approve the resolution prepared by City Attorney Pete Eckert to terminate the open-ended contract of former City Manager Julie Couch.

The Council voted 5-2 at its last meeting Nov. 7 to direct Eckert to prepare the resolution. In both votes, third-term Council member Margo Nielsen and first-term member Bennie Daniels were opposed.

Couch had been employed by the City for 32 years, the past 18 as City Manager. Friday, Nov. 4, was her last day.

No reason has been given by Council members for terminating her contract because Eckert advised them not to since it is a private personnel matter and they would be subjecting themselves to lawsuits by commenting further.

“The Council just decided to go in a different direction,” said Eckert after the meeting. “This kind of thing happens all the time.”

Mayor David Sweet and Council members Mark Russo and Michelle Smith echoed Eckert’s comments after the meeting, when asked by TheRockwallNews.com for specific reasons for her termination.

“According to our City Attorney, we cannot speak to personnel matters in this contract,” said Smith.

As was done at the previous meeting, Mayor Pro Tem and second-term member Russo made the motion to approve the resolution. Third-term Council member Cliff Sevier seconded the motion. The wording of the resolution is listed at the bottom of this article.

The Council’s vote did anger some members of the crowd. Former two-term City Council member and defeated mayoral candidate Glen Farris publicly called Council members “Chickensh_ts” for their decision.

Before the vote, Nielsen read prepared remarks for the record, praising Couch for what she has helped to accomplish as City Manager. They are as follows:

“Thank you Mr. Mayor, I have provided the City Secretary a copy of my remarks and request that my comments be read into the official minutes of this meeting.”

“Julie Couch has worked for the City of Rockwall for 33 years, almost her whole adult life.  For the past 18 years she has served as City Manager.  While many Council groups have come and gone, Ms. Couch has been a constant, providing stability and leadership within the function of municipal government. She has assembled and led one of the finest management teams in the State and is recognized as being one of the best City Managers in Texas.”

“Despite a bitter economy, Rockwall has added new businesses like Toyota and Costco, and popular restaurants like Free Birds, In and Out Burger, and Campisis. And, Downtown, has prospered and grown, becoming a vibrant and strong economic base in the historic section of the City.”

“There’s a long record of successes that occurred under Julie’s management because she has the vision, knowledge and experience to get projects like the Harbor and the Medical Corridor completed.  Since there is no immediate increase in revenues, you have to be able to look out 10 or 20 years to see the benefit to the City. Some Council’s caught Julie’s vision of how the projects would benefit Rockwall in the long run and some didn’t.”

“The hospital district, a prime example of a public/private partnership, has been developed in the last six years. A project of that size didn’t just happen… Coordination among the owner, developer, hospital development team, City Council and REDC Board and 6 City departments was vital for the success of the design, development and creation of the medical corridor.  Julie Couch, always poised and positive, was the central figure in the success we are enjoying today.”

“Another project that has her signature all over it is the Harbor District.  The Harbor has a certified assessed value of $76 million dollars. But, just a few years ago that property was valued at $3,000,000. It is now a thriving entertainment district with a fabulous hotel that is doing well. The fountains, the docks, the lighthouse – all the elements that combined, make the Harbor a great point of public access to Lake Ray Hubbard – are because of Julie.”

“She’s kept property taxes low in spite of large bond issues that were passed by the voters.  New fire stations, a new animal service center, a new city hall, road projects, drainage projects and new neighborhood parks are but some of the major projects completed during her tenure. Some voters clamber for an all paid Fire Department, others want no higher taxes – you can’t have both, but under Ms. Couch’s leadership, we have had the best of both worlds and taxes remained low.”

“Our Police Department has one of the lowest crime rates in the state.  Julie was responsible for bringing Mark Moeller to Rockwall and with his background and experience Rockwall has a reliable and well trained department that attracts recruits from out of state. Last year 211 applications were received for only 4 positions.  Rockwall is a good place to work.”

“Just a few short years ago, the City was in gridlock from rapid growth and few additional resources to manage it.  The new mayor, Bill Cecil, along with the approval of the new Council, proposed a bond issue to build John King.  Julie and her team constructed a seven mile road that met standards of regional TXDOT staff in four short years and the project came in under budget. The road will soon be open all the way from 205 on the north to 205 on the south because Julie successfully negotiated with the railroad commission and department of transportation to keep the at ground railroad crossing and have TxDOT build the overpass on I-30. Again, the vision for John King has changed from a state corridor between the north and south part of the City to a commercial corridor, ripe for economic development.”

“Statewide, she is well-known and respected.  This coming year she is slated to be the president of the Texas City Managers Association, a division of the Texas Municipal League. She is completely at ease testifying in front of state legislative committees and, her opinion is well respected by legislators. She navigates the legal complexities of municipal government, picking and choosing her battles, which she seldom loses. Her institutional knowledge is unparalleled.  Fortunately, she developed a team of department heads that are already doubling down on their on-going responsibilities while they are picking up other duties to fill the void her departure has left.”

“Julie’s vision of Rockwall 20 or 50 years out will be so difficult to replace.  Whatever the decision tonight, here are some facts that are indisputable:

  • Since 2009 the tax rate has remained 50.31 cents and, unlike other communities, assessed value of property within the City has increased every year, now exceeding 3 billion, 100 million dollars.
  • Sales tax collections have risen each year since 1998.
  • Our reserves are comfortable at 3.5 months.
  • The City’s annual audits are unqualified.
  • We been one of the fastest growing cities in the state and country for several years.
  • We were recently rated one of the top 10 places to live in the nation.
  • We were recently ranked the top place for new job growth.

“It seems to me the City, under Julie’s management, is going in the right direction and has been for some time.  So, I won’t be supporting this resolution tonight because I cannot fathom the new direction we should take.”

Following is the wording of the Resolution:

A resolution of the City Council of the City of Rockwall, Texas, removing the City Manager; terminating the City Manager agreement and providing an effective date.

Whereas, the City Manager may be removed at the discretion of the City Council; and

Whereas, the City Council has determined that it is in the best interest of the City to exercise its option to terminate the CITY MANAGER AGREEMENT.

Now, therefore be it resolved, the City Council of the City of Rockwall, Texas:

Section 1. That the City Council hereby removes the City Manager, exercises the option to terminate the City Manager, and confirms the terms of the separation with the City Manager as contained within the City Manager’s agreement.

The Mayor and the City Staff are hereby authorized to complete the terms of the separation.

Section2. That this resolution shall take effect immediately from and after its adoption, and it is so resolved.

Passed and approved by the City Council of the City of Rockwall, Texas, this 21st day of November, 2011.

Approved by David Sweet and attested by Kristy Ashberry (City Secretary).

By J.J. Smith, Publisher

 

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