Athens City Manager submits letter of resignation

Philip Rodriguez

City Officials verified that Athens City Manager Philip Rodriguez submitted his letter of resignation today.

Rodriguez’s last day will be Sept. 10, according to the letter, which says, “It is now time for me to move on in my journey ….”

Rodriguez was hired in March 2015 to replace Pam Burton, who had stepped down in December 2014.

Below is the text of the letter.


Dear Mayor Montgomery, Mayor Pro-Tem Winn and Councilmembers Clay, McCain and Whatley:

It has been my distinct pleasure and honor to represent you, our employees and this community as your City Manager since March 2015. Together we have successfully restored severely neglected water and wastewater systems, brought much needed financial stability which resulted in a four-tier improvement in the City’s credit rating and established a 60-day financial reserve for the first time in City history. We invested heavily in quality of life amenities like our parks and historic assets such as the Texan, created strategic plans for Athens’ future, significantly increased public safety by funding and hiring new police officers and fire inspectors, abated blighted buildings such as the old hospital, found countless efficiencies that saved our taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest and fees, experienced significant growth and development and ushered in new investment at a pace not seen in decades. We did all of this and more while establishing a truly impressive city staff that is one of the most capable group of professionals and public servants that I have ever worked with. I am extremely proud to have played a key leadership role in our countless successes as a City, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

It is now time to for me to move on in my journey, and as such, I am providing this letter as my notice of resignation as City Manager, effective September 10, 2017. It is my commitment to work with you and our entire Management Team to plan for a smooth transition of projects, initiatives and responsibilities prior to my departure. Knowing this decision will impact the organization, I earnestly encourage you to rely on the members of the Management Team to help lead the way forward. Each member of the Team is a true professional, subject-expert and leader in the organization and community. In particular, I urge you to consider relying heavily on Gary Whittle, Director of Project Management to serve in an Interim City Manager capacity. I am confident that he can assist the City Council as you ensure quality service delivery for the community until such a time that a permanent City Manager can be selected.

Lastly, I wish to thank Mayor Jerry Don Vaught for his consistent support and mentorship during my time in Athens. He, along with a number of dedicated community leaders like yourselves, ignited a resurgence in Athens that set the stage for the City’s greatest days ahead. Thank you for allowing me to serve as City Manager of Athens, and I wish you and the City much success in the future.

In Public Service,
Philip Rodriguez
City Manager

Abbott adds TRS Care to Special Session

Lance Gooden

Press release

Texas Governor Greg Abbott added retired teacher health insurance, TRS Care, to the special session call after State Rep. Lance Gooden urged the Governor to prioritize the issue.

Gooden filed House Bill 151 last week to address the current crisis in retiree healthcare, and wrote to the governor urging immediate action. He hosted a live interview with the head of the Texas Retired Teachers Association on Tuesday and encouraged their more than 80,000 members to flood the Governor’s office with phone calls and emails.

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Gooden calls for more money for retired educator healthcare program

Lance Gooden

State Rep. Lance Gooden on Friday sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for the issue of the retired educator healthcare program, TRS-Care, to be added to the upcoming special session of the State Legislature.

Gooden also filed a bill Friday to “appropriate $1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for TRS-Care to be appropriated over the next four years, while providing guidance to TRS and enhancing the program.”

See the complete text of Gooden’s letter to the Governor below.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dear Governor Abbott,

As a supporter of retired teachers across our great state, I know you share my concern for current and future retirees. Many educators have expressed their disappointment and outrage about legislation and lack of funding passed in the regular session for TRS-Care and the retired educator healthcare program.

As a result of rising healthcare costs and a long-term disconnect between medical costs and the TRS-Care revenue stream, the program entered the 2018-2019 budget process with a $1 billion projected shortfall. HB 3976 was passed in both chambers to save TRS-Care from total demise, but the lack of funding for the program has resulted in an overwhelming financial burden for retirees living on fixed incomes.

I have listened to stories about retired teachers who are, for the first time in their lives, choosing between healthcare, necessary living costs, and taking on a new job to cover expenses. Our retirees deserve better than what we in Austin have delivered so far. Reminding retirees how much worse off they would have been without HB 3976 is a strategy that many legislators are finding difficult to express.

While there will no doubt be competing ideas for how we secure the present financial needs and long-term funding required to ensure retirement security for Texas educators, I respectfully am requesting the addition of TRS-Care funding to the call for the special session.

Today I filed HB 151, which would appropriate $1 billion from the Rain Day Fund for TRS-Care to be appropriated over the next four years, while providing guidance to TRS and enhancing the program. Since yesterday’s Senate announcements, I have spoken with retired teachers who are not in support of legislation that relies on gambling revenue, has no certain revenue source, or is coupled with contentious education proposals like those that died at the end of the regular session. We cannot afford to have the security of our retirees held hostage in an effort to pass other legislation that does not have broad support.

I appreciate your leadership and look forward to seeing you next week. I implore you to consider adding this necessary item to the call. I am confident my colleagues in the Legislature have heard retired teachers loudly and clearly, and we stand ready to make this right.


Lance Gooden

Governor signs bills authored by State Rep. Gooden

Lance Gooden

Press release

Gov. Greg Abbott has now signed all of State Rep. Gooden’s House bills that have reached his desk. The veto period, which ended this week, saw the death of 50 House and Senate bills from across the state; however, Gooden’s bills were none of the victims.

“I really appreciate the Governor’s signatures to these bills that do things from end a tax, help public schools, and reduce government. This is a positive end to many months of planning and hard work on issues that were brought to me by citizens from across Henderson and Kaufman counties,” Gooden said.

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Robert Nichols announces he will run for reelection

State Sen. Robert Nichols

Press release

Texas State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) announced this week his intention to file for re-election to the Texas Senate.

“Serving Senate District 3 is the greatest honor of my life,” said Nichols. “I humbly ask for voters’ support to continue working on behalf of East Texas. When I first ran, I pledged to work to make state government smaller, more efficient and more accountable. We have delivered on those promises, and I am excited to keep building on our record of success.”

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