WHITEHOUSE - There was an overhaul of Whitehouse city leadership Monday night.
The last discussion by three outgoing Whitehouse City Council members happened behind closed doors in executive session. They emerged and voted to accept of City Manager Kevin Huckabee's resignation and approve his severance package.
The terms of the severance package will be disclosed at the end of the week, mayor Charles Parker said.
Three new City Council members were then sworn in following a Nov. 3 election they said was a voter mandate for change in Whitehouse.
Paul Hickey, Dick Jackson and Nicholas Moss won their respective seats after handily defeating incumbents Ben Dieter, Kelvin Fox and Jim Horn.
Before the three men took their oaths of office, they spoke to the Tyler Morning Telegraph and agreed the election was a statement by voters.
Jackson, 70, said he believes voters were unhappy with the city's reputation and wanted council members with a vision for moving forward and refocusing efforts on the city's growth.
"It's about restoring confidence the citizens have in leadership and that we're making good decisions," he said. "So I feel the outcome of the vote was definitely a statement by residents."
Hickey, 36, a sergeant in the Longview Police Department's Planning and Research Division, said much of the voter discontent likely revolved around an incident in May but that it was the city leadership's handling after the fact that made residents more skeptical about city leadership.
The May 14 incident involved Huckabee, the former Whitehouse police chief, multiple police officers and one officer's estranged wife. The incident sparked internal investigations into possible policy violations by Huckabee and others and led to multiple lawsuits against the city.
Hickey said the lack of transparency and open communication with the public regarding what transpired stirred distrust.
"I don't know that the (May) event was so contentious as (the city leadership's) actions afterward," Hickey said. "There wasn't any open communication with the public. We were being asked to trust officials but left in the dark."
Hickey said a focus of the new council members would be transparency and opening lines of communication with residents.
Moss, 36, agreed and said openness would help the council and city move forward with plans to refocus efforts on Whitehouse's appeal to potential employers and homeowners.
"I'm hearing that people want to get Whitehouse back on track as far as commercial and residential growth," Moss said. "The main thing is transparency and getting everyone - from residents to the council - on the same page to move Whitehouse forward."
Mayor Parker acknowledged the controversy but said he believes there are positive things coming for the city.
"I know that you men have the city at heart, so I look forward to working with you," he said.
In a statement, Huckabee said there had been numerous positive changes in the city over the past five years. He blamed "malicious, untruthful statements" for his resignation.
Huckabee said subsequent reports throughout the community harmed his professional relationship in the public sector and left doubts in many residents' minds.
"This has caused an unbearable amount of stress and hardship which is harmful to my health and my family," he said. "I completely understand the burden that the inaccurate statements have placed on the elected officials in this community."
Despite his desire to continue combating false statements, Huckabee decided to resign, he said in the statement.
The new council members entered into executive session to discuss moving forward and searching for Huckabee's replacement. They approved city secretary Stefani Wright as interim city manager, a position she filled while Huckabee was placed on administrative leave following the May incident.
Members also agreed to create preselection committees made of city officials, staff and residents to discuss various aspects of finding a replacement.