December 30, 2022

Righting the Ship in 2022

One of the main storylines of 2022 is that we’ve finally got our permanent City Manager, and she, in turn, has been busy filling other key positions.  The challenge of persistent personnel vacancies, which is by no means unique to Bellaire, is concerning because it directly impacts the City’s ability to provide the level and quality of services our residents expect.  It’s also not fair to keep stretching our overworked staff, though they’ve admirably risen to the occasion, and it’s not sustainable in the long run.

For the chief executive role to have remained open two years was far from ideal, but it was more important Council took the time necessary to find just the right person we could all unite around.  We’re thrilled to have welcomed our new City Manager, and in her first four months she’s already proven to have been worth the wait.  It’s a big job even under ordinary circumstances, and all the more so now as she’s tasked with rebuilding the team and righting the ship generally.

The City Manager is responsible for the rest of the staff, and has made tackling outstanding vacancies a priority.  She has successfully recruited and hired new directors in IT, HR and Development Services, and is presently searching for our next Public Works director.  Across all positions we currently have 21 vacancies (11% of budgeted FTEs), down from 27 (14.6%) a year ago.  Obviously these numbers have and will fluctuate as people come and go, but we’re optimistic we’ll continue chipping away at the total over the coming several months.

For our part in supporting the City’s recruitment and retention efforts Council approved a mid-year salary step increase for eligible employees, and then came back with a budget that includes further raises, while holding the nominal tax rate flat.  It also incorporates in the general pay plan a minimum wage of $15 an hour.  To benchmark our ongoing market competitiveness we plan to undertake a formal compensation study as well.

So a dominant theme in 2022 has been an inward focus on the city organization itself, which again is ultimately about service delivery to residents.  Such internal needs have consumed most of the City Manager’s time and attention since she got here, and will for the foreseeable future.  Something else she’s working on is an updated strategic plan, building on the consensus visioning we did at the start of this year, to ensure staff alignment with Council policy direction.

Meanwhile, out around town there’s a lot to be excited about.  New restaurants with more on the way, along with those that have long been staples of our community, have put Bellaire on the map as a dining destination.  The landmark Bellaire Triangle, home to some of them, will soon undergo a major transformation.  The planned developments at Bellaire Place (the former Chevron property) have been approved, with the promise of new businesses and amenities for residents to enjoy.  That’s the Comprehensive Plan at work, and the fulfillment of our long-term vision for the revitalization of our established commercial areas that has been years in the making.  Still, to ensure its continued validity we’re initiating a Comprehensive Plan review, a deliberately inclusive public process that will help guide redevelopment moving forward.

Five years out from Hurricane Harvey we’ve not lost our sense of urgency over our flooding problem; quite the contrary, in fact.  We’ve made meaningful progress in conceptualizing and planning major infrastructure improvements, and have recently refined our objectives and priorities in working toward implementation.  We are now poised and have our team in place to take the actionable next steps in advancing our regional drainage improvement program, to include optimizing projects for external funding and partnerships.

Looking back, 2022 represents a turning point in getting things back on track after a difficult couple of years.  Under new management we’re optimistic, but also realistic in understanding these things take time and that our emphasis on organizational rebuilding will carry on well into 2023.  We remain grateful to our city staff for the essential services they provide, and for their patience as we strive to make good on our commitments to them.  We stand behind our City Manager, and support her leadership in addressing our current challenges while building an even brighter future ahead.