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Kovacs ousted as Galveston City Manager - The Galveston County Daily News : Local News

November 27, 2014

Kovacs ousted as Galveston City Manager

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Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 1:00 am

GALVESTON — Slightly more than two years after being hired as city manager, Michael Kovacs has left his position as the city’s top administrator.

Kovacs resigned Tuesday as part of a mutual agreement with the city.

The council voted 4-3 to ask for Kovacs’ resignation. Mayor Lewis Rosen and council members Marie Robb, Elizabeth Beeton and Rusty Legg voted for the motion. Council members Cornelia Harris Banks, Terrilyn Tarlton and Norman Pappous voted against it.

Kovacs said nothing after the vote. His resignation became official immediately, city spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers said.

Kovacs will receive $136,208.27 in severance. His salary was $140,000 per year. Both sides agreed not to disparage the other after Kovacs’ departure.

Neither Legg nor Robb spoke publicly during the meeting and both declined to comment afterward.

Rosen said Kovacs’ departure was for the good of the city.

“I want the city to grow,” he said. “I want the streets to be repaired, I want the everyday operations to go smooth.”

Failure to communicate

Beeton, who was one of the two council members to call for the special meeting, did elaborate on her vote during and after the meeting.

“We had issues with communication,” Beeton said. “I think Michael was conflict aversive, and he was working to avoid conflict as one of his highest priorities, and this is a position where this just isn’t possible.”

Before the vote was taken, Tarlton and Harris Banks said they thought any failures being attributed to Kovacs should instead be put on the council. They both listed some of Kovacs’ accomplishments as manager before saying they would not vote to remove him.

“Everyone knows that this has been a dysfunctional council,” Tarlton said. “If we’re going to talk about what’s lacking at City Hall, it’s the council, the management that’s at fault, not Kovacs.”

Pappous chalked up Kovacs’ departure as a difference in personalities, although he was more critical of the role of the council in that difference.

“City Council’s personality was predatory and divisive, and the city manager’s personality was uplifting and nurturing, and I think they were in conflict,” Pappous said.

A sometimes critic of Kovacs, Pappous said he had promised last fall to “give him a year” to sort out differences. He said he attempted to keep that promise Tuesday.

Kovacs’ history

Kovacs was hired in January 2012 to replace longtime City Manager Steve LeBlanc. He had been an assistant city manager for Park City, Utah. He also had worked in management positions in Port Aransas, Presidio and Surfside Beach, S.C.

Kovacs was hired in the midst of political upheaval. Months after he was hired, five new council members were elected, largely on an anti-public housing platform. As part of the conflicts with state and federal authority over the city’s plans for housing, millions in hurricane recovery money was withheld by the state, requiring his administration to find ways to continue projects that were underway based on the assumption of receiving disaster funding.

More than five years after Hurricane Ike, the city still has tens of millions of dollars in disaster recovery projects underway. While Kovacs last summer touted the city’s progress on completing $81 million in FEMA-funded projects, he also recently attempted to outsource the management of $150 million of community development block grant funds to the Texas General Land Office as the city turned its attention to the $12 million in local capital projects it planned for in this year’s budget.

Kovacs often advised the council against openly challenging the state on certain issues, sometimes putting him at odds with council members seeking stronger responses.

Kovac’s administration was also in a constant state of transition. From the time he was hired, the city has had to replace several high-level employees, including an assistant city manager, a planning director, a finance director and a city engineer.

Maxwell chosen interim

The council moved quickly to name Assistant City Manager Brian Maxwell as the interim manager.

Maxwell will serve as the interim manager until a new permanent manager is found.

Maxwell has taken the reins of the city before. After LeBlanc was fired in 2011, Maxwell briefly served as the acting city manager until an interim was hired.

Kovacs said very little during the meeting, except to suggest that Maxwell might deserve a raise because of the added duties he’ll have.

After the council voted to make Maxwell the interim manager, Kovacs left council chambers. Maxwell chose to sit at a table in front of the council and not take the city manager’s emptied seat.

“He was a good man to work for, and I learned a lot from him,” Maxwell said of Kovacs after the meeting. “We’re going to continue doing what’s right for the city of Galveston.”

No details on search

The council briefly discussed how the search for a new permanent manager will be approached, but left the meeting with no clear plan.

The city’s charter prevents the council from hiring a new manager 60 days before or after the May 10 election, which would mean a permanent hire would need to be made by March 10 or the next City Council would need to wait until at least the middle of July, longer if there is a runoff election, to make a permanent hire.

Maxwell said he would add an item on the council’s next agenda seeking clarification on the council’s intentions for the search process.

After LeBlanc was removed in 2011, the search that ended with Kovacs’ selection took nearly nine months.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.