THE SPECTATOR: CITY NEEDS MORE TRANSPARENCY

  

“Transparency”.  That was a consistent theme throughout KWHI’s Forum for the candidates for Brenham City Council Wednesday night at Brenham National Bank.

All four of the new candidates said they felt like the City needs to be more transparent in its decision-making process, or that transparency was missing completely in some cases.  On the other hand, the two incumbent City Council members both felt like the City has done a good job of getting information to the public, even putting the burden on the citizens to attend more meetings and read the City’s website.

I can tell you one situation where the City is not being transparent is the forced early retirement, and now firing, of Brenham’s long-time Fire Chief Ricky Boeker.  Last week City Manager James Fisher released to the media Boeker’s 2021 Employee Review as evidence that he was not doing the job he was asked to do.  Fisher said he had numerous discussions with Boeker about concerns over staffing and training for the Fire Department.  Brenham’s City Attorney told KWHI that Boeker’s employee file was public record, so it was okay for Fisher to release the 2021 review.  So on March 31st, KWHI filed a Freedom of Information Request asking for the contents of Boeker’s employee file….to see if those discussions were documented and to see how he fared in prior year reviews.  We are still waiting to receive that information.  Apparently it’s okay for Fisher to pick and choose what he wants to release about the situation.

Thanks to Boeker’s attorney, KWHI has received a copy of his 2019 employee review done by Fisher.  It paints Chief Boeker in glowing terms, calling him a “valuable team leader whose contributions to the success of the organization are immeasurable”.  Boeker’s attorney also sent us a copy of the Fire Department’s Comprehensive Review looking forward from 2018 to 2025.  The report which was given to Fisher by Boeker in 2018, specifically mentions the need for a new training facility and the urgent need for replacing the department’s self-contained breathing apparatus.  Fisher cited the need for more department training as a reason for terminating Boeker, along with saying that Boeker had not made the City aware of the need to replace the SCBA’s.  KWHI has asked whether the SCBA’s had been cut from the final City budget in year’s past, but we’re still waiting on an answer.

Fisher has not given a reason for Boeker’s “immediate termination” just 7 days before his planned “early retirement” on April 15th.  But you have to wonder if Boeker’s release to the media that day showing the Fire Department had passed its biennial compliance inspection by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection might have rubbed Fisher the wrong way.

Transparency.  Something completely lacking in Brenham’s City Manager…and something sorely needed for Brenham’s future.

And that’s the way it looks to this Spectator.

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17 Comments

  1. To say this as nicely as possible, firing the Chief seven days before his retirement, is what some would call chicken manure. (saying it nicely). What kind of person would do this to another man? It simply makes no sense. I get the feeling that Mr. Fisher does not like anyone who does not agree with him and is willing to send a strong armed message to make sure everyone does it his way. Enough is enough, it is time for the city council to fire this guy and get him out of Brenham. He forced The Great Garbage Debacle down our throats with ZERO concern for citizen input, and just a short time later he fires our long serving fire chief who helped the city manager clean up his personal home after the storm. What does this say about the person we have in the city manager’s office? In this contributors humble opinion, it does not speak well of him and he needs to go, quickly?

  2. Well one thing is for sure, thus brouhaha certainly took citizens attention away from the closed door session in which the city decided to make a major purchase of a money pit, the Barnhill Center. So their deflection worked. The only people who get anything out of the Barnhill Center are the wealthy. More than 25% of the cities population cannot afford any of their “events”, much less the fees attached to the use of the cocktail party rooms.

    1. So you are saying that 75% of the city’s population are wealthy? I don’t believe many of the folks attending the mostly sold out shows in the theater are wealthy. Is the ballroom expensive to rent? No more than any other wedding reception area. The entire Barnhill Center complex will be a valuable asset for our city once all of the COVID restrictions are gone. The folks who donated and raised money to renovate the Simon theater deserve our thanks.

      1. Yes sir. The Simon is very historical and neat place to see a movie, watch a performance, or go to a reception. Most people can afford to go and enjoy it. It just depends on your choices. If you want to go to one of their events, then you plan and do it. Not much money at all. I look forward to it being available for more movies, date nights, and concerts.

      2. I liked it better when it was just the Simon Theater.
        You know, where you went to get popcorn and a soda and watch a movie.

    2. It seems as though City Hall thinks the taxpayers can write checks for any amount

  3. Seems like Fisher is slipping to me.
    He’s the one that needs to go & Chief Boeker needs to be reinstated.
    I’m so glad I never had to work for him, sounds like he’s a “ I’m Mr Fisher, and I’m always right” !
    Well, after reading all this if we need a new fire chief then we certainly need a new city manager.
    How did he get this job anyway? A friend or maybe another friend recommended him? Thank You Spectator!

  4. Glad to see the Spectator get involved since it affects local citizens on both sides. Our council members should also be open to public concerns and publish their phone numbers and respond to their E-mails. I’d also like to see the Spectator ask the USACE be more transparent on decision on closing of some boat ramps that are used by hundreds of local citizens for daily boating. There was no information in press release for citizens to respond by phone or E-mail. Even press release was at bottom of page 4 of local paper. These ramps are maintained by taxpayers dollars and rarely used doing off season but will sit there idle after Oct. 1. Yequa Park #2 is the only protected ramp that used safely by seniors or those with physical issues. The release by KWHI received many responses from local citizens and how it will effect them but no follow up by media.

  5. Well, I guess the candidates that didn’t have enough information to comment, certainly do now. And the incumbents carrying water for Fischer, appear to be complicit, in this mess.

  6. Such is politics! I live in Austin County and see the same things happening within Bellville and Austin County leadership. Apparently politicians can be less than upstanding, no matter how “small” the arena.

  7. There has to be more to the story. I cannot see a City Manager just firing someone with no cause. I am sure lots of things lead up to this decision.
    Being In the fire service myself, I can see how Brenham FD has stalled in its attempt to move forward and leadership is to blame. Give the city manager the benefit of the doubt and let’s see how this pans out.
    Yes, Ricky is a great guy and Brenhamite but maybe, just maybe he is not a good leader. I think they don’t need the good Ole boy to be chief. Bring in someone who challenges the department to be and do better.

    1. Thirsty Thursday why don’t you put your real name up what you scared or something? Ricky Boecker has went and beyond the call of duty. No one is perfect sir or whomever you are…Are you perfect? Then apply for the job and we’ll see just how good you are. I’ve known Ricky since he had to become a man at 12 years old after his father was killed in a tragic rollover near the old Starlight theater many years ago. Yeah maybe he is a good old boy the question is what are you? A big city transplant ?

  8. Good job Spectator ! Out here in the country you have to watch where you step and be neighborly towards one another. City Manager may have stepped in a big one. Time will tell when all the information is out. I hope the Fire Chief gets his deserved honorable retirement party.

  9. Performance reviews are exactly that – an annual review of someone’s performance in the workplace. A good leader will ensure that there is nothing on the written review that has not been discussed at some point over the year in person – there should be no surprises. In addition, if there are expectations/concerns/issues that haven’t been met, an action/improvement plan should be put in place to assist the employee in meeting those expectations.
    In 2019, Ricky’s review is glowing; there is no 2020 review, which makes sense because we were in middle of a pandemic. The review for 2021 is definitely more negative, but even in that, there aren’t specific complaints about Ricky’s performance. The comments are more commiserative in nature, for example – “I know that there is frustration on your part in that the department is not where you want it to be or where I believe it should be.”
    Fisher brings up the issue of training, which rightly should always be a concern in any first responder organization. Yet even as he berates Ricky for the lack of training in 2020, he acknowledges the part that COVID played in that. While in person training is always better, in today’s time, virtual trainings and conferences are much more common. Even the Texas Department of Emergency Management has recognized that. There is always a benefit in sharing information no matter how it’s conducted.
    The criticism of failing to budget for equipment and apparatus doesn’t ring true. While I recognize I haven’t been involved in the City’s budget process for some time, I can speak to the years I was – all City departments did their best to maintain equipment and to seek alternate funding sources. Grants are never a guarantee and actually can’t be used to supplant normal operating funds.
    Fisher praises Ricky for his involvement and leadership during the pandemic and vaccination process but slams him for a comment made regarding to the Fire Department’s response to a fire in downtown. Mr. Fisher isn’t a firefighter. During all the years I worked for the City of Brenham, one of the main fears was a fire in downtown. Due to the age of the buildings and their proximity to each other, the Department has always expressed their concerns in fighting a fire there effectively. Please note, the comments aren’t attributed to Ricky or anyone else in the department.
    I’ve always been proud of my tenure with the City – mostly because of the men and women with whom I worked. I can honestly say that I am glad I’m not part of James Fisher’s City.

  10. I think there are limits to what can and should be released to the general public. In this case transparency is sorely lacking.
    I am concerned that James Fisher as a city manager lacks the necessary skill set to be an effective manager for Brenham, and that is concerning to say the least. Managing a multi-million division of a top 100 company I know transparency is important. But being a good and responsible manager is important as well.

  11. I totally agree with the Spectator. We need more transparency.

    Looking at Boeker’s performance reviews it doesn’t sound like Fisher had any major concerns. Not of the level to terminate the man, and he gave very positive comments. It seems like there is a hidden motivation.

    But, not just with the Boeker issue, the city needs much more transparency.

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