Facing a storm of political backlash, Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers Friday formally declined an offer for a $550,000 city-owned home that was a provision within a contract previously negotiated.
Following Sellers’ decision, along with the city council’s choice to decline an agreement with Scott Felder Home to purchase the residence, Kyle city leaders will now return to the drawing board as they try to renegotiate in a “traditional fashion.”
But for Kyle Mayor Todd Webster, trying to retain Sellers is now the city’s task.
“I think the objective all along was to go in and figure out what would motivate him to stay longer. We have good leadership and want to make sure that stays in Kyle. We want to make sure the city benefits from that leadership as long as possible,” Webster said. “In the end, what we came up with, financially sound as it was, it was going to subvert that goal rather than accomplish it.”
During a special called city council meeting Friday morning, Sellers said he and the city council sought to enter into a longer-term arrangement after they gave him positive performance reviews.
Sellers said the city discussed “innovative contractual options that not only ensured this long term arrangement, but (would) be a financial win for the city.” Sellers said the city for the last few months had negotiated the purchase of a home for use by a city manager in the future.
One of the main provisions within Sellers’ contract was a $29,000 reduction in his base salary that would have gone toward a $550,000 home in the Cypress Forest subdivision, which would have been purchased by the city. Monies to purchase the home, a 4,100 square-foot residence, would have come from the city’s general fund reserves.
According to city estimates, the home, which would have been a city-owned asset, would appreciate by $227,000 and have cumulative lease revenue of $487,000 after a 30-year period.
But Sellers said the offer became too divisive of an issue after community members learned of the potential agreement. In a later interview, Sellers said as news of the agreement was disseminated and citizens weighed the pros and cons of the deal, there was a political component “that up to this point had not been fully vetted.”
It ultimately led Sellers to decline the offer.
“I’m heartbroken that this process that was intended to be good for the city has caused so much angst and contention amongst our citizens,” Sellers said in his statement.
He added later that the political side of the equation “didn’t sit right with members of the community” and that the council was responsive to it.
Council member Travis Mitchell said on the dais that it was tough to weigh strong public sentiment against his financial judgment.
Mitchell said the city’s offer would have been a good deal and moving forward would have been a financial plus as far as influencing a contract with Sellers.
“But I’m not intending, and I never wanted, to shove an idea down the throat of the people of Kyle, even if I think it’s best,” Mitchell said. “I appreciate the feedback, honestly.”
Council member Daphne Tenorio said she felt the home was a good investment.
However, she said several caveats to the contract, primarily enrichments that included taking the home off of the tax rolls and that the home wasn’t going to be run at fair market value, would have led her to vote against the deal anyway. Tenorio said she was “pleasantly surprised” at Seller’s decision to decline.
But Tenorio said she received roughly 100 emails and text messages over the course of the last few days from constituents who disapproved of the agreement.
“We didn’t do as good of a job being transparent as we could have,” Tenorio said.
The city now eyes starting over on a possible new contract with Sellers. Webster’s said he aimed to “get everyone together” in the renegotiation process. That could potentially lead the city to look at the market analysis and do a more “traditional” negotiation, which could mean a salary increase. No decision has been made on what direction council will go.
Webster said he is aiming for an eight-year contract extension. He cited his desire to retain Sellers as city manager in order to maintain stability within the city.
“Things have changed culturally in a positive way. It’s important because when you see increases in productivity and quality of work, you see things start to happen that way and they continue,” Webster said. “The longer staff believes in the leadership, it reinforces positive cultural change.”
Sellers said he “wouldn’t go into detail” regarding reports that there were already offers he was entertaining. However, he said his commitment “has been and continues to be” for Kyle based on support he’s received from the city, staff and residents.
He added that when he was hired by the city, there was an understanding he would be hired below market value, which was “fine for me.” Sellers said he had to prove to himself that he was deserving of even being at market value.
“As for contractual negotiations in the future, I look to the city council to recognize what I have done over the last two years with the city,” Sellers said. “It’s never in a vacuum what we have accomplished together.”