Thursday , 26 April 2018

Jason Gray’s Resignation: How Did We Get Here?

jason gray mugWhen McKinney City Manager Jason Gray resigned Monday night, it brought his nearly three-year tenure to an abrupt but ultimately expected close. Controversial personnel and city business decisions marked Gray’s time in McKinney. Gray’s demeanor and the way he handled city affairs ruffled feathers throughout the city and city hall. Gray’s job performance was questioned by his bosses, the McKinney City Council, and also by the citizens of McKinney.

Ultimately, Gray resigned on Monday in mutual agreement with the City Council members. The timeline of Gray’s tenure in McKinney shows that we’ve been headed towards Gray’s ouster for quite a long time.

March 2011 – Gray begins his time as McKinney’s city manager on March 21, 2011. Prior to his time in McKinney, Gray served as city manager of Celina for four years. Gray worked for the City of Frisco for eight years before moving to Celina. At the time of his hiring, Gray told the Dallas Morning News that he planned to be in McKinney for a long time. “I can’t think of a better spot to be in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years than McKinney,” Gray told The Morning News. “Generally speaking, the recession didn’t hit as hard in Collin County. There are resources to do some neat projects that add to the quality of life.”

At the time of Gray’s hiring, Councilman Don Day also told the Dallas Morning News that he hoped Gray would have a long stay in McKinney. “Hopefully, he’ll be with us for the next 20 years,” Day said.

October 5, 2012 – Gray first faced public outrage due to the removal of long-time Police Chief Doug Kowalski. reported at the time that Gray forced Kowalski to resign and that Gray did not consult with any of the city council members before making the decision to remove Kowalski. Gray announced Kowalski’s removal via a Youtube video. In the video, Gray speaks directly to city staff and asks them to maintain professionalism during this change. Gray named Joe Williams as the new police chief. Williams was previously assistant city manager and had also worked with Gray in Celina.

Gray sent the following statement to media outlets, including TSB, at the time of Kowalski’s ouster. “Doug Kowalski is no longer the Chief of the McKinney Police Department. He has been reassigned effective today. Joe Williams, who has been Deputy City Manager with the City of McKinney since May 2011, is the McKinney Chief of Police. This change is effective today in order to maintain continuity of command for the Police Department.”

At the time of Kowalski’s removal, Mayor Brian Loughmiller told TSB he did not agree with the decision to remove Kowalski, “While I did not agree with the decision made on Oct. 5, 2012, I understand the Mayor and Council’s limitations of authority and the City Manager’s role of authority as expressed in the City Charter as it relates to personnel decisions of City Staff including Department heads.”

Loughmiller’s sentiments were echoed by Councilman Ray Ricchi. Ricchi said that the council was completely in the dark about Gray’s decision to remove Kowalski and disagreed with Gray’s decision. “I intend to completely evaluate the City Manager’s job performance and will do so with an open mind,” Ricchi told TSB at the time. “I do not believe the information presented to me justifies the actions taken by City Manager Gray. Additionally, I feel that the manner in which Mr. Gray executed his decision was extremely disrespectful, unprofessional, and inconsistent with that which our citizen’s demand and city personnel deserve.”

The turmoil that surrounded the decision to remove Kowalski did not subside quickly.

October 16, 2012 – In the first city council meeting since Kowalski’s removal, citizens of McKinney packed the city council chambers to hear from the council on the reasons for Kowalski’s removal. The meeting was highlighted by many McKinney residents speaking out and criticizing the decision to remove Kowalski.

Several city council members voiced strong approval for Gray’s decision and criticized some of their fellow council members for speaking out against Gray and his decision. Councilman David Brooks (who chose not to seek re-election in 2013) said during that meeting, “Our city manger is the CEO of our city. It’s up to the CEO to surround himself with talented women and men who can lead forward and accomplish those goals (set by council).”

Brooks also criticized the three members of council (Mayor Brian Loughmiller, Ray Ricchi and Travis Ussery) who had voiced their displeasure with Gray’s decision. Brooks told his fellow council members, “Then comes along a little bit more controversial change and all of the sudden we feel free to do our own personal press releases, to express out there our outrage at what’s happened, to undermine the city manager – council form of government. Do not mistake yourselves, what you’ve seen these past 10 days is an attack on the city manager-council form of government.”

TSB Publisher Angie Bado attended that meeting and described the events of the meeting reported at the time, “Councilwoman Kever, as well as Councilmembers David Brooks, Don Day and Roger Harris publicly declared support of City Manager Jason Gray’s decision to fire the former chief, in what sounded like a scolding lecture a parent might rail upon his errant teenager. All four read what appeared to be prepared statements, saying they feel that the Gray, in his role as City Manager has done a good job during his 18-month tenure.”

December 2012 – The details of Doug Kowalski’s severance package become public knowledge and reignite the debate about his removal. The Dallas Morning News reported that Kowalski was to receive a full year’s salary from the City of McKinney as part of his severance package. As part of his severance package, Kowalski also agreed not to sue the city or make any disparaging comments about the city in public. Kowalski’s severance package also stated that the City of McKinney will continue to provide Kowalski and his family with health insurance until May 2014.

August 15, 2013TSB reports that the City of McKinney is in negotiations with Schuler Development and Cutter Aviation for a city-funded takeover of Collin County Regional Airport. Will Cutter, President and CEO of Cutter Aviation told TSB at the time that he felt Cutter said that Cutter Aviation has been “shoved into a corner” in the negotiations with Gray because the city is currently unwilling to budge on its plans to control the fueling at the airport. Cutter Aviation had run the Fixed Base Operations at the airport, which included the fueling services for any visiting aircraft. “This is true government,” Cutter said at the time. “Buy something and think we can charge less. I’ve got really good relationships with the fuel companies. I can get better insurance rates and better truck rates than the city can.”

November 6, 2013 – The City of McKinney takes over operations at Collin County Regional Airport and renames the airport McKinney National Airport. As part of the takeover, the city pays Schuler Development $25 million for assets on the airport grounds, including hangars and hangar leases. Councilman Ussery questions the wisdom of spending that much money on the airport when there are other areas of the city that need repairs and improvements. “We say that we can do it better than the private sector, but where is the proof of that?,” Ussery said at the time. “I can’t reach peace in my conscience that this is the best thing for the City of McKinney.”

November 19, 2013 – City Councilman Ray Ricchi tells TSB that he regrets the airport deal and worries that the city will be unable to recover the money it spent to purchase the airport assets from Schuler. “The cost of this operation is going to far exceed the expenses and end up not justifying the current action,” Ricchi told TSB at the time. “The city needs to treat this enterprise like a full private business and not like we’re using ‘Monopoly’ money.”

Ricchi said that he supported the purchase of the airport initially because he was under the impression that the city would not be managing the fueling operations itself. “We farm out the management of the golf course, the (Dr Pepper) StarCenter and the tennis courts. Why should this be any different?” Ricchi said. “That’s why I supported the airport purchase initially, because I thought we’d be utilizing outside management for these operations.” Ricchi also questioned the airport operation’s budget figures that Gray presented to the council members. “Every penny of taxpayer dollars must be accounted for and be able to be tracked and justified,” he said. “According to Mr. Gray, it doesn’t appear that we (the city) have that ability. I don’t believe that. It’s not that we can’t (track those dollar amounts). It appears that we won’t.”

November 21, 2013 – McKinney’s longest-serving city employee, Assistant Director of Development Services Jack Carr, announces his resignation. Carr worked for the City of McKinney for 33 years before leaving to become Director of Engineering for the City of Plano. “Plano has been a source of benchmark development criteria for us in McKinney for quite a while,” Carr told TSB at the time. “We always looked at Plano as a model city. This was a good opportunity and a good move for me.” Carr also said that it was time to “take my experience to work a larger city. It’s a long time to be in one position. It seemed like the next logical step for me.”

December 2, 2013TSB reports that Gray receives a decidedly mixed performance review from the city council members.

The council members rated Gray in eight areas: management of the organization, execution of policy, financial management, relations with the council, community relations, communications, leadership, and professionalism. Members rated Gray’s performance on a scale from 0-6, with 0 representing “unsatisfactory” and 6 representing “outstanding.” The individual members’ reviews are not identified by name. Each review is simply given a number to ensure council member anonymity.

Three of the members of council gave Gray zeros, ones and twos in nearly all categories. Three council members gave him fours, fives, and sixes. The remaining review had some positive, negative and average ratings. In every category, there was a significant gap in the ratings from one side of the scale to the other.

In fact, there is no one category of Gray’s review where all of the council members give Gray either a unanimously positive or negative rating. There is no consensus to be found.

Gray’s professionalism and dedication to his job are openly questioned by several council members. One council member says that Gray “gets downgraded in the category of devoting time to the job in the office.”

The council member continues,  “It is the opinion of this member of Council that the CM job is not one that should be performed from home on the computer. The work from home scenario was a practice advocated for different department heads in the past, and in my opinion, it is a bad practice as it sends a negative message to subordinates who are in the office daily working while also attending late night meetings. This is an item that has to improve.

“Coming to City Hall and seeing dark offices in the middle of the day is not a good representation of work ethic in the City.”

Another council member gave Gray an “unsatisfactory” rating in “professionalism, stating, “Mr. Gray has challenged council authority and integrity when questioned on areas of concern and open records request.”

That council member also brings up Gray’s time spent in his city hall office. “He (Gray) has averaged less than 40 (hours) per week in the office and on occasion used vacation time to maintain city paid benefits. Mr. Gray must work a full week and be available to staff and external customers to fulfill the responsibilities of his office and the goals of the city council. He must adhere to the employment contract.”

Another council member, who gave Gray a “poor” rating, says Gray’s “devotion to the job, including time and energy is, at time, questionable.”

Gray received an “excellent” rating from the remaining three council members in “professionalism,” with one council member saying, “The CM is professional and unbiased in all community/business/employee and council member interactions.” The remaining two council members did not add a comment to their “excellent” ratings.

Gray responded to the points raised by the council members in a response to each council member’s review. For his part, Gray appears to acknowledge that he needs to spend more time representing the city but denies the charges that he doesn’t spend enough time in the office, that he lied to the council, that he does not communicate effectively, and says he will work to remedy some of the issues that concern the council members.

Gray also asks the council for a $60,000 raise which would have increased his salary to $250,000. The council ultimately chose not to give Gray a raise but did give him a $10,000 bonus. The review also stated that Gray would be reviewed again in February.

January 2014 – A local political action committee that seeks to remove Gray from his position is launched by McKinney resident Laura Kayata. Kayata told TSB that she founded McKinney Watchdog to “do the right thing” and “because I was employed by the city for a time, I understand the Code of Ethics and how it should work. McKinney deserves better,” she said. Kayata’s PAC quickly acquires a following on Facebook, reaching over 1,700 “likes” as of February 25.

Kayata speaks frequently at city council meetings and accuses Gray of “cronyism” in his hiring of Williams as police chief. Kayata also speaks about the “brain drain” that has taken place as many long-time city employees have left during Gray’s tenure.

January 9, 2014 – Councilman Don Day responds to the criticism of Gray by Kayata and others with a letter to TSB. In the letter, Day says, “Much of the umbrage directed at Mr. Gray stems from the fact that Mr. Gray has replaced a number of department heads on city staff.  What gets lost in the noise is that Mr. Gray was hired by council to change the culture at City Hall, to upgrade key staff position consistent with the growth of our city and to make McKinney a more user friendly community. Change is always difficult and particularly when it involves changing some of the City’s almost 900 employees.  The majority of these personnel changes where expected by Council and therefore Mr. Gray is being chastised for doing the job he was hired to do.”

Day also says in his letter that Gray’s $10,000 bonus was approved unanimously by the seven members of the city council.

January 22, 2014 – Gray comments publicly on criticism surrounding his job performance. TSB reports that during a city council meeting, Gray says “that he has become aware of rumors of corruption in city government and assured the public that he is unaware of any such corruption in any segment of the city. Gray also addressed the continuing concerns of the citizens that surround his hiring of McKinney Police Chief  Joe Williams.”

“I have worked with Chief Williams in three different communities. There is a high level of trust between us,” Gray said at the time, elaborating that he had “confidence” in Williams’ ability to do the job.

February 18, 2014 – During a city council work session, Gray tells the council that revenue at the city-owned airport is “behind where we expected at this point.” During that meeting, Councilman Ricchi again questions the costs of operating the airport. “My concern, and it’s always been my concern, is the lack of due diligence and the total truth of everything that was presented and not vetted,” Ricchi said. “The due diligence (on the purchase of the buildings at the airport) was poor at best. The construction budget is being used for the startup, when it was supposed to be used for the reducing the debt.”

February 24, 2014 – TSB reports that Gray’s performance has not lived up to expectations. TSB Publisher Angie Bado criticizes the city council and city manager for their lack of leadership throughout these last few turbulent months. Bado writes, “But what I hear repeatedly, from sources who don’t want to be named within the city ranks, is that, on average, Gray devotes less than 40 hours at week at his job and is often absent until late morning the day following a council meeting. Although I’m told that one of his job requirements is to be out in the public eye, frequently attending city events, Gray has failed to live up to that expectation thus far. He has rarely been seen at any city functions during his three years as city manager.

“I’ve heard a number of sources close to the situation say that Gray’s management style  — one of micromanaging — fails to empower those under him. This has led to a number of high-level departures within city departments, something that the Watchdog PAC has labeled ‘brain drain.’  That so-to-speak ‘brain drain’ could certainly hinder our city’s ability to move forward as we must continue to replace and retrain leaders, getting them up to speed.”

Bado also writes that city employees “fear for their job” if they speak negatively about the city to the media, council members or the public. “Morale is low because of lack of trust and lack of empowerment of job performance,” Bado wrote. “This comes from the top.”

Bado also reports that, “Sources inside the city have said that Gray singlehandedly negotiated the deal with the airport and that city staff wasn’t involved until council approved it. Council had to rely on the information presented by one individual and not vetted by any others among city staff.”

February 25, 2014The City of McKinney announces that Jason Gray has resigned as city manager. “We are thankful for Jason’s efforts in moving the city forward in key initiatives of the Council and look forward to continuing to move the City forward in a positive direction,” Mayor Brian Loughmiller said in the release from the City of McKinney.

Gray is also quoted in the release. “I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the community and appreciate the work of the Mayor and Council,” Gray said.

The city has not named an interim city manager, provided any details on Gray’s severance package or stated what the city’s next steps are.

Gray’s name and bio have already been removed from the city’s website.

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