A draft of the agenda for Tuesday’s League City council meeting landed at the edge of Mayor Pat Hallisey’s hospital bed.
“I can’t wait to get back,” he said, sitting straighter and gripping the bed rails above his head.
Hallisey missed the Oct. 10 council meeting because he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. A loss of circulation led surgeons to amputate part of his left leg. He is still hospitalized at a rehabilitation center where he goes to physical therapy and continues to recover.
Hallisey wants to be back in council chambers by January, he said.
“I’m getting a prosthetic,” Hallisey said. “I’ll be walking again soon.”
City Manager John Baumgartner, council members and other city officials have visited him to talk some business and offer get-well wishes. City council members have stopped by as well.
“Hallisey was and is a true leader,” Councilman Keith Gross said. “There’s a degree to which the council misses his leadership.”
Gross, who doesn’t always vote the same way as Hallisey, misses having a chance to confer with Hallisey on particular issues, he said.
“He’s always abreast of everything,” Gross said.
Mayor pro tem Todd Kinsey ran all the October and November council meetings in Hallisey’s absence and will continue to do so until he returns.
“Things are going about as well they can,” Kinsey said. “We’ve all been really concerned.”
CHAOS OF 2016
About a year ago, the tone of the council was not one of concern for cohorts. The council was in chaos. Six members of the council, including Gross and Kinsey, signed a letter in June 2016 accusing Hallisey of unethical behavior. An ethics review in October 2016 decided Hallisey did not commit any ethics violations, including accusations of sexual harassment.
City council members Heidi Hansing and Geri Bentley had decided a few months earlier not to run for re-election in the November 2016 council race, and voters elected Larry Millican and Greg Gripon to fill their positions. Millican and Gripon were part of the Green Team that had support from the League City Proud organization that helped elect Hallisey as mayor in March 2016.
And in December 2016, the council voted to fire City Manager Mark Rohr, who butted heads with Hallisey soon after his March 2016 election to mayor, and the two continued to butt heads until Rohr’s last night on the job. Rohr is now suing League City and Hallisey, saying that Hallisey violated his civil rights in a retaliation campaign.
A year after the council fired Rohr, things have shifted at city hall.
“We’ve had a cohesive group since the council retreat,” Kinsey said.
The decision to have a council retreat in February at South Shore Harbour Resort was one of the first actions of the new council. It was a daylong, getting-to-know-you session that several members have said let them understand each other a little better.
“The tide has changed,” Hallisey said.
Hallisey’s heart attack came about six weeks after Hurricane Harvey, the largest natural disaster in League City history.
Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of League City, but in the 72 or so hours that followed, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of the area, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding 7,700 homes in the community.
Those 7,700 flooded homes represent about 23 percent of the city’s residences. Of the 7,700 homes, 1,450 had major damage with at least 18 inches of water inside, city officials said.
Hallisey’s house in Clear Creek Village had a few inches of floodwater in places and more than 1 foot in others. He spent most days busy helping League City residents figure out where to get help and what was ahead.
He started putting out daily videos on social media to let residents know what was happening as he got updates and heard concerns. He drove through hard-hit neighborhoods and listened to residents vent about garbage and drainage. He arranged a deal with Kroger to open a distribution center for victims in a vacant grocery store. Trucks of donations rolled in from all over the country, and about 10,000 people went to the center to get canned food, bleach and diapers.
“His leadership through Harvey was impressive,” Kinsey said.
Hallisey was so busy talking to residents and trying to find answers about Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance and other help for them that he didn’t take the time to eat right and grabbed snacks that didn’t help his Type 2 diabetes.
“The message in it is if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others,” his wife, Janice Hallisey, said. She sees this experience as an opportunity to remind others to watch their health and pay attention to their own needs, she said.
In coming months, the city council will vote on some big drainage projects to help prevent future flooding. The city council already took the immediate action needed after Harvey to make sure the city could get federal money to cover some cost of the disaster response, including overtime for first responders and debris pick up.
“We are ahead of pace taking care of Harvey,” Kinsey said.
Hallisey has been keeping up with the city council, and said he is proud of every member for passing the city budget and being leaders during the city’s worst disaster ever. And he’s thinking about the coming drainage projects, he said.
“Whether we can afford it or not, our focus has to be drainage,” Hallisey said. “Government is there to do for people what they can’t reasonably do themselves.”
And even though the council had the positive retreat in February, Hallisey knows the council members won’t always agree on the best way to solve the post-Harvey challenges of the fastest growing city in Texas.
“People who show an ounce of ambition and who want to make League City a better place — I’ll be the first supporter,” Hallisey said.
He is suffering from cabin fever, Janice Hallisey said. She has plans for Hallisey to lead the Holiday in the Park parade Saturday night, an event he helped start with her 20 years ago.
“I’m anxious to get back to work,” he said.