You have to admire League City Councilman Keith Gross’ willingness to stand on principal, but sometimes the higher principal is saving public dollars by following the path of least resistance.
That’s what the city council did in a special meeting Thursday by agreeing to settle a lawsuit with Mark Rohr, the former city manager fired in December 2016.
About a week ago, Gross, who’s leaving office in January, had thwarted a similar effort to settle the lawsuit by arguing that it simply wasn’t right to do so.
“The lawsuit says his speech caused us to fire him,” Gross said a week ago. “I can assure you, nobody fired him because of his speech. It was because of his inability to work with the council as a whole in the past and future.
“If we approve this settlement, in the newspaper it will say that the city settles its lawsuit with Rohr. He’ll feel vindicated.”
League City can’t settle every lawsuit just because it might be cheaper than standing up and doing the right thing, Gross said.
Shortly after Gross’ comments, the council split a vote 3-3 on whether to settle the lawsuit. Gross and council members Hank Dugie and Greg Gripon opposed the settlement, Mayor Pat Hallisey abstained and Councilman Nick Long was absent.
Gross was dead-on in his assessment of the situation. The council fired Rohr because he got into a war with the mayor, not because he spoke his mind.
Rohr’s firing came after months of open fighting with Hallisey. Rohr in September 2016 accused Hallisey of breaching the city’s charter by discussing an economic development prospect that was supposed to be confidential and violating the city’s council-manager form of government, in which the city manager runs day-to-day operations.
The bottom line, however, is that letting Rohr think what he wants to think, and tell potential employers a story in which he’s the victim, is better than spending huge sums of public money to make a point that is ultimately beside the point.
That’s not to say the city solved the problem at no cost.
Rohr will receive a total of $145,000 as part of the settlement agreement, with $45,000 of that coming from the city itself and the additional $100,000 paid through insurance funding, said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for the city.
The council in 2016 already voted to pay Rohr a severance package of $158,602, plus a performance incentive pay of $40,000 and an accrued vacation pay of $18,506.
That all adds up to more than $400,000, which is no small sum of money. It’s a pittance, however, compared to what protracted litigation might have cost.
Gross was right that there was no justice in having to pay a lot of money to settle the lawsuit, but the council was more right in cutting its potential losses and just moving on.
• Michael A. Smith