A mass media glimpse into 1 city government’s dynamics

It isn’t often that the maneuverings within the halls of a city government make it into the mainstream media. When it does, it is perhaps worth taking time to examine the situation to see if there is something to learn that could help your community avoid unwanted, and some might say unnecessary scrutiny.

The case that brings this to mind is that out of League City, Texas. You may have seen the recent headline announcing that the city has settled a lawsuit filed by a former city manager. The cost was $145,000. The accusation it resolves is the former manager’s claim that the city violated his freedom of speech by firing him after he filed an ethics claim against the city’s mayor.

It is not our intent to question what happened in this case. We merely use the elements of it to highlight how every Texas city government, division and quasi-public entity faces legal issues on a regular basis, some more serious than others.

Working with skilled municipal law practitioners is a way of providing city officials necessary counsel to anticipate and minimize legal conflict before it arises. At the same time, there is a distinct benefit in knowing you have experienced representation on your side if going to court is required.

As already noted, the League City Council voted to settle the claim brought by the former city manager late last year. No other details are given for why the action was taken, but one explanation often used in similar situations is that it is more cost effective to settle than to face the expense of a long, protracted court battle.

Based on the reported background events of this story, it seems apparent that many factors were at play. Personality clashes likely contributed to the situation, but one element of the Houston Chronicle report stands out as one that may offer a possible lesson.

The story states that the former city manager accused the mayor of discussing details of a development project in public, violating City Council governance policy. He said speaking up was necessary to protect the city’s legal obligations under the city charter.

With settlement comes the reality that the claims and counter-claims will never get a full airing, but effective resolution of the matter does mean the city can now move ahead.