After some of the cultural issues faced by Shawn Oubre as city manager of the Texas coastal city of Orange over the past 13 years, his assumption of duties as Woodway city manager this fall should find him facing considerably fewer battles over such controversies as Confederate monuments and atheist Christmas greetings. The biggest talk of Woodway the past few weeks has been the scourge of rose rosette devastating roses in the city’s 16-acre jewel of a botanical park, Carleen Bright Arboretum.
Some residents in this hilly, wooded suburban community of about 8,800 have wondered who could step into Yost Zakhary’s boots. While the charges of sexual harassment against Zakhary last spring were serious enough to justify his resignation in April, he had otherwise won considerable praise through the years as both city manager and public safety director, particularly for keeping the town clean and slowing speeders.
By contrast, Oubre as Orange city manager has had to demonstrate keen sensitivity in the racial, religious and cultural battles so defining our times. In 2013, for instance, city leaders there — bowing to the outrage of some residents, nearly a third of them African-American — denounced a monument project honoring the Confederacy. However, given the monument was on private land, the city acknowledged it could do little but ensure those backing the monument strictly met ordinances on lawn maintenance and such. Placement of the “Confederate Memorial of the Wind” on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, of all places, did little to help racial harmony.
And when the Orange County Atheists pressed their First Amendment right to install a banner next to a Nativity display outside Orange City Hall at the height of Christmas season 2015, Oubre shrewdly considered the cost of possible litigation amid some folks who hate taxes more than atheism. He nixed the atheist request to share space on city property and moved the Nativity scene to a private park, largely defusing the crisis. By some indications, it appears the city took a cue from organizers of the Confederate Memorial of the Wind.
The past year has seen Orange and other coastal cities grapple not only with Hurricane Harvey but the tortuous path to restoring neighborhoods impacted by flooding. And while such events shouldn’t confront Oubre, 57, in daily management of Woodway, his crisis management back in Orange, population 19,000, was understandably cited by local officials as confirming their faith in him. Woodway Mayor Bob Howard told Trib staff writer Tommy Witherspoon that local council members liked Oubre’s longevity in Orange, his willingness to commit long-term to Woodway (which allows time to fine-tune and ensure council visions), his obvious experience in crisis management and his educational and law enforcement backgrounds. (Oubre, complete with doctorate in public policy and administration, is a former police officer and chief, so he’ll have an idea of what law enforcement encounters.) To that, we add an ability to show resourcefulness and pragmatism on occasion, even while acknowledging that government alone cannot solve all that ails society. Such as dealing with that infernal rose rosette.