Former Missouri City City Manager Odis Jones’ contract was terminated, effective immediately, on April 26 following a 5-2 vote from City Council.
Mayor Robin Elackatt joined Council Members Anthony Maroulis, Lynn Clouser, Jeffrey Boney and Floyd Emery in voting to terminate Jones’ employment. Council Members Vashaundra Edwards and Cheryl Sterling voted against the motion.
Jones’ employment contract laid out a severance package to be paid on termination equal to a lump sum cash payment of 12 months aggregate salary—which includes his base salary, leave time accrued, the monthly amount paid for medical premiums and the monthly amount paid to the Texas Municipal Retirement System. According to the contract, Jones’ base pay is $250,000 annually.
“This is surprising and shocking to me, but certainly within your authority to do, and I respect that,” Jones said during the meeting. “I certainly didn’t see this coming, but y’all made this decision, and what we do in this profession is respect the governing body’s decision.”
Boney said City Council’s goals for the city differed from those of Jones'. During City Council’s strategy planning retreat in March, Boney said council members identified a cohesive vision for Missouri City’s future.
“Ideally when you have that alignment at the council level, you also want to have that alignment at the staff level, particularly with the CEO of your city and the person who's kind of leading the way,” Boney said. “For me, it was just a matter of, you have to have someone that you 100% are in alignment with, and that can help move the city forward and move your vision forward.”
Jones was terminated without cause, which is an action allowed for in his employment contract.
In a statement, Jones said he could not be aligned with what he considers “unethical behavior,” citing an audit related to the misuse of the city’s public, educational and government access channel funds and council’s decisions not to change the city’s pay structure or adopt an ethics commission.
“City managers must have the internal fortitude and integrity to speak truth to power even when it costs you a job, but you maintain your integrity, and that’s what happened here,” Jones said in the statement.
Former City Manager Anthony Snipes, who held the position prior to Jones and whose employment was terminated last February, said city managers understand they serve at the will of council.
“All we can do is to serve as best we can, and when the time has arrived for us to depart, we hope our work speaks for itself,” Snipes said.
Sgt. Jay McClellan, vice president of the Missouri City Police Association, said many members of the organization have expressed disappointment over Jones’ termination.
“Mr. Jones has been a strong advocate for public safety since arriving in Missouri City,” McClellan said in an email. “Many members feel Mr. Jones was doing a good job leading the city and looking out for the best interest of city staff.”
Jones was hired by a 4-3 split vote of City Council in July. At that time, Boney, Maroulis and Emery voted against hiring Jones.
“He came in an environment that was kind of difficult to work in—split votes and divided council—and it was just kind of rocky, but as we stabilized through the November election, a new mayor and at-large council member, I felt as though it's so important that City Council and the city managers have strong alignment,” Maroulis said.
However, both Boney and Maroulis said this was not a political decision.
“If I wanted to make a political statement or move based off of the outcomes of elections, I would have done that immediately,” Boney said. "I wanted to give the city manager an opportunity to do his job under a new administration.”
Former longtime Mayor Allen Owen commended City Council for giving Jones a chance to complete his first six months in the role.
“I think council tried to make it work,” Owen said. “I don't think they came on board to fire him immediately. I will give them credit for at least trying to make things work out and it just didn't work out.”
Council members Edwards and Sterling expressed concern during the April 26 meeting about the financial ramifications of terminating Jones.
Jones’ contract—which was negotiated by former Mayor Yolanda Ford—said he was appointed for an indefinite term, meaning there was not a set end date in it. Boney said because of this, the settlement agreement would have to be paid regardless of when Jones’ employment was terminated. In an emailed statement, Ford said Jones’ contract closely resembled that of the three city managers before him.
“Whether the city manager was terminated the day after he was hired or a year from now or two years from now, his contract would have called for him to be paid the same [severance],” Boney said.
Additionally, the contract states that Jones’ performance evaluations should be done in closed session and applicable documents should be considered confidential, except as required by law. Jones said in the statement he will sue council members and the city if they make public comments related to his job performance that violate the contract. Missouri City officials declined to comment on personnel matters.
An amendment to Missouri City’s charter on the May 1 ballot would require the city manager’s contract be approved by council if passed.
Snipes, who serves as the vice president of the Missouri City Parks Foundation and works as regional director for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said he would not apply for the city manager position at Missouri City.
Boney thanked Jones for his time in Missouri City and said he is deeply excited about a search for another city manager and the future of the city.
“At the end of the day ... we have to have someone at the top that can rally the troops and work collaboratively with the council to help us execute our overall goals and our vision for our districts and for the city as a whole,” Boney said.
A majority of City Council appointed Bill Atkinson, Missouri City’s assistant city manager, as interim city manager. Additionally, City Council approved the human resources department to put out a call for proposals from executive search firms that will aid the city in looking for a new city manager.
Elackatt, Edwards, Clouser, Sterling and Emery had not responded to Community Impact Newspaper’s request for comment as of press time.