CASTLE HILLS — A routine City Council meeting to evaluate the city manager’s performance turned into an ideological battle and ended with the review being postponed.
Arguments and frayed tempers marked the packed special session Oct. 4, which had been called to assess the progress of City Manager Ryan Rapelye, but became a debate about micromanaging City Hall, among other things.
Rapelye is the fourth city manager in about two and a half years.
“Every year we have a new city manager, or an interim city manager. Stop being like previous city councils and work together,” said John Kenny during the citizens-to-be-heard portion of the meeting.
He implored the city’s elected leaders to end a revolving door of city administrators.
The nearly two-hour session consisted of several heated exchanges involving Mayor Tim Howell, Alderwomen Lesley Wenger, Amy McLin and Maretta Scott, and Aldermen Douglas Gregory and Clyde “Skip” McCormick.
The council voted 5-0 to table until November the “deliberation on the employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline (and) dismissal of the city manager.”
At the conclusion of the Oct. 4 session, the council also voted to adopt a city manager evaluation form created by McCormick. The vote was 3-2, with McCormick, Wenger and Gregory supporting the initiative.
The evaluation and possible action on the employment of Rapelye, who was hired to run the city of about 4,400 in February, were the lone agenda items for the Oct. 4 meeting.
At the outset of the gathering, Wenger made a motion to go into executive session “on a personnel item that pertains to the evaluation that cannot be discussed in open session because it involves other personnel.”
McLin immediately called a “point of order” after Wenger’s motion.
“That’s item No. 2 on the agenda,” McLin said, noting the council had not talked about the first agenda item.
“Discussion and possible action on adoption of an evaluation process and evaluation form for the evaluation of the city manager” was listed as the initial discussion. Evaluating the city manager was the second.
Wenger moved to change the order of agenda items. Howell then asked City Attorney Paul Fletcher about the legality of going into executive session to consider altering the placement of the agenda items and discussing Rapelye’s employment.
The mayor was told the city manager could opt to have the discussion aired in public, rather than behind closed doors.
Wenger said she was not trying to “violate” Rapelye’s choice of having his employment examined in an open forum, “but one of the items that we have to discuss that we put off discussing … has to do with other personnel.”
Several times during the meeting, tempers flared between Howell and Wenger.
“I’m running this meeting, Ms. Wenger, in case you didn’t know,” Howell said.
Wenger’s motion to move agenda item No. 2 to No. 1 eventually failed 3-1. Wenger voted “yes,” while McCormick, Scott and McLin dissented. Gregory abstained.
McLin, who along with Scott introduced adopting an evaluation process for the city manager’s job performance, said she did a lot of research with other cities.
“What I found in my research is the purpose of evaluating a city manager doesn’t just have to do with evaluating a city manager and the way they are performing. It actually has another purpose and that is actually to see how council is doing and to see how we are actually improving, if we are achieving our goals and if we are providing clear direction to our city manager,” McLin said.
She added, “Are we fulfilling our roles as a policy-making body or are we getting too involved in the day-to-day administration of the city?”
Scott advocated for the creation of a citizen committee that would be a part of the evaluation process of the city manager’s job performance.
“I personally would like to involve the citizens themselves to look over and decide how we need to evaluate our city manager because, after all, he is running our city for you,” Scott said.
McCormick said he did not object to having some type of standardized independent form process for evaluating the city manager, but he was against a citizen committee.
“The citizens of this city elected us to do the job for them, not to turn it back to them when it gets a little hard and say, ‘You guys do it,’” McCormick said.
When residents were allowed to speak, Kenny urged the council to follow protocol.
“It’s not fair to any city manager to be evaluated on the same day the evaluation criteria is created; that’s just ludicrous. How can you evaluate Ryan (Rapelye) when he doesn’t know what your expectations are?” Kenny said.
The city has had several top administrators since 2016.
Diana Pfeil was terminated as the city manager July 11, 2016, following a 4-1 “no confidence” vote by the council. Mike Shands was appointed the interim city manager. Then, in January 2017, Curt A. Van De Walle was hired to permanently fill the spot. He resigned in December 2017.
Before joining Castle Hills, Rapelye served as assistant city manager of Brenham from 2016-2018. Prior to Brenham, Rapelye was the assistant city manager for Del Rio from 2011-2016. He also worked for the city manager’s office in San Antonio from 2004-2011.