The dust has settled a bit since City Manager Jason Gray’s resignation on Tuesday morning. Frankly, I wondered if by Tuesday evening most of city staff was out celebrating a sense of freedom and the vanishing tension in the work place. The dark cloud that has hung over city hall for months has lifted.
During Monday night’s executive session, the McKinney City Council and City Manager Jason Gray came to “a joint decision” to accept Gray’s resignation. Gray would resign effective immediately. Tuesday morning, city staff members were officially notified and told that the current Deputy City Managers Jose Madrigal and Rob Daake and current directors of various departments will be doing business as usual and managing the daily operations of the city.
Mayor Brian Loughmiller said, “The City Council will be working through a transition plan over the next couple of weeks. We are confident that our city staff including directors and managers can continue to operate effectively and efficiently on behalf of the city.”
It became clear to me during the months of following city council meetings, as well as a result of Gray’s Oct. 2013 review, that council members have been divided in their support of Gray. Geryalyn Kever (Dist. 2), Roger Harris (At-Large) and Don Day (Dist.1) have consistently praised Gray for his work, particularly with regard to economic development saying that he played a major role in getting projects to our city. Mayor Pro Tem Travis Ussery (Dist. 3), Randy Pogue (At-Large) and Ray Ricchi (Dist. 4) have regularly chosen not to side with the others in support of Gray citing a variety of concerns throughout the months.
Ricchi has been particularly outspoken about Gray’s unsatisfactory performance saying that Gray has been less that truthful on several occasions and questioned his dedication to his job.
Gray became embroiled in controversy as he began replacing city management to the tune of some $650,000 in severance packages. When former Chief of Police Doug Kowalski was forced out, Gray replaced him with then deputy city manager Joe Williams, amidst outcries of cronyism, announcing the decision via YouTube. Williams and Gray were colleagues during their tenure with the cities of Frisco and Celina prior to arriving in McKinney. Williams took the helm as police chief at a higher rate of pay then either his predecessor or the current Fire Chief Danny Kistner.
Although I obviously was not in the room with members of council during executive session, and no one is willing to comment on details because this is a “personnel matter,” I can only surmise that based on what we knew as a result of Gray’s review combined with the show of support, or lack thereof, from various council members, the mayor must have been the tipping vote toward Gray’s release. If so, I’m glad to see that he stepped up and made a decision. These decisions that effect major change are tough, but a necessary part of leadership.
While I feel a certain sense of sadness at this turn of events — yes, I hate to see anyone lose his or her job — I also feel an enormous sense of relief. Relief that a long overdue decision has finally been made and our city has the opportunity for a fresh start. As council meets to discuss the city manager transition today, it’s time to think about where we go from here.
McKinney is terrific place to live. It has excellent schools, a unique, hip, but still charming, historic downtown, extensive recreational facilities, with more to come. It has a burgeoning arts community, and a community of citizens who care about each other, who pull together in support of those who need help. Yes, we have a lot of great things going on here. Enormous growth is still coming our way. This brings with it opportunity and also the need to define specifically who we want to be as a city when we grow up.
There is a great deal of “upside” to fresh starts and I believe that when one door closes another door opens. This is our opportunity to take the time to figure out a process of healing, to assess our strengths and weaknesses and to build us back up again. Perhaps, once done, we will “look” slightly different that we did before. Possibly we will begin moving in a slightly different direction. Who knows at this point?
A business colleague of mine is a guy who corporations call in as a “fixer.” With over 3o years of experience in executing hyper growth for software companies, he analyzes, assesses, and makes recommendations to a corporation as to how it can obtain better results. In the corporate world, it’s all about results. I’ve heard him say hundreds of times, “We are in the results business, not in the best efforts business.” He is able to see things with fresh eyes, without any prior entanglements and without bias and bases his assessments what he sees are opportunities for improvement.
This is a direction that could be valuable for our city at this crossroads. Call in an experienced former city manager who has a proven track record as interim. Use him or her to assess, to get input from staff, citizens and city leaders. Come up with a plan and go forward before the next city manager is hired.
What I do know is that the trust between city management and city government, between city staff and city management, and between city government and the public must be rebuilt. The pervasive fear that existed among city personnel must be put to rest. Confidence in the process and in the future must be instilled. All of this will come from the top — our mayor and city council — and trickle down.
I feel that one of the attributes that makes a good leader is the capability to inspire people. Lead us Mr. Mayor. Demonstrate enthusiasm, determination, and optimism and inspire us. Seize the day. We will follow.
Angie Bado is owner and publisher of TownSquareBuzz.com, McKinney’s leading independent news source.