Congratulations to Galveston City Council for taking bold new steps to move Galveston forward from the malaise of the past few years.
In a commentary I published on May 17, 2010 I noted that the newly elected city council was planning its first evaluation of City Manager Steve LeBlanc in six years and suggested that it was time to bypass evaluation and just consider selection of a new city manager. It is not necessary to go into detail in this essay, but readers of our coverage of the mishandling of emergency management throughout the years will understand why I believe that change was necessary.
In the 2010 essay I stressed the importance of going outside the city for a qualified administrator.
“Galveston has a history of hiring local city managers with families who like living on the island and, in Galveston, it is hard to find another job that pays as well as the city pays,” I wrote. “Thus, city managers in Galveston tend to stay longer than some think they should. Also, because they are in their home town they have family, friends and an actual political constituency that makes them hard to criticize and/or terminate.”
That did prove to be the case at Steve LeBlanc’s final meeting. Instead of accepting Mayor Joe Jaworski’s kind offer to negotiate a severance package that would allow him to leave in dignity, LeBlanc instead chose to launch an all out political campaign to save his job.
Frankly, when I saw the number and the quality of the people who turned up to support LeBlanc I thought that Jaworski and others on the city council would crater; and LeBlanc would survive. I had underestimated the courage of those who voted to terminate. Although LeBlanc and his supporters repeatedly said that he had accomplished all of the goals of the city council, each of those who voted to terminate cited specific areas that the city manager had not complied with their direction.
Jaworski specifically mentioned a letter from LeBlanc to the Houston-Galveston Area Council opposing a city-sponsored program.
"I have to tell you, this created a political problem for me and our city," Jaworski said. "We can't compromise our position with H-GAC."
Well, the city council did terminate LeBlanc and has named Brian Maxwell as interim city manager while options for a nationwide search for a new city manager are being considered. I have observed Maxwell’s career with Galveston County and the University of Texas Medical Branch throughout the years and have no doubt that he will do an outstanding job for the city.
At the county he was at the right hand of Judge Jim Yarbrough and the pair accomplished a remarkable job of constructing an infrastructure for the future. The Galveston County Emergency Operations Center in Dickinson and the Galveston County Justice Center on Galveston Island are testament to their competence.
Now, Yarbrough is at Maxwell’s right hand and I am confident that the team will reverse the dysfunctional emergency management of the city, as well as provide effective leadership on other pressing municipal issues.
Again, I say congratulations to the Galveston City Council and best wishes for the future.