- By Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
As regular readers of my typing are aware, I take requests. Today, I’ll tackle one from Austinite Buddy Garcia, who wants to know more about Walter E. Seaholm, the former longtime city official for whom the Seaholm Power Plant was named.
I told you last Sunday that the plant was named in Seaholm’s honor in 1960, five years after he was fired as city manager. Why, reader Garcia wants to know, was Seaholm fired?
Good question. And because it happened so long ago I doubt we’re going to find anyone who was in the room when it happened. But I could be wrong …
Quick review: Seaholm went to work for the city in 1922 and served in various leadership roles for 33 years. His demise came at a Jan. 13, 1955, City Council meeting in a 3-2 vote on a resolution that said, “He is hereby removed from office according to the will and pleasure of the majority of the entire membership of the City Council.” It also said if he resigned prior to Feb. 10, 1955, “proceedings for his involuntary removal from office shall be abated.” Seaholm resigned.
Mayor Charles McAden, one of the two dissenting votes, put this statement in the record: “I am forced to vote ‘no’ because of the fact that although I felt he has made some mistakes, I think he has done a pretty fair job.”
At the Feb. 10, 1955, council meeting, Seaholm made lengthy, somewhat contentious farewell remarks that were included in the minutes, right after a passage noting, “Former Mayor (Tom) Miller, in behalf of a group of friends, presented Mr. Seaholm a cashier’s check for $1,500.”
Then Seaholm spoke at length. “It is with somewhat mixed emotions that I contemplate this final day of my association with the city of Austin’s official family,” he said. “It has been my pleasure to have seen Austin grow from a town of 35,000 to a city of 180,000 souls.”
“I think in fairness to the good citizens of Austin and myself, I should make some comment of the letter from Councilman Ted Thompson handed me a few days ago, in which he outlined his reasons for seeking my removal from the office of city manager,” he said. “I must say initially that the reasons given are less than clear to me and so general in nature as to actually preclude any real answer.”
The minutes also show the council passed a nice resolution honoring Seaholm’s service. He died the following year. The power plant was named in his honor in 1960. A plaque on it praises his long years of service and skips any mention of his firing.
So that’s the paper trail. But, amazingly, there’s also a human one, specifically Terrell Blodgett.
“I was administrative assistant to the city manager at the time,” he told me.
Blodgett is now 94, and he’s long been one of the most respected folks in government, especially city governments. He’s an urban management professor emeritus at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. His impressive résumé includes stints as city manager in Garland and Waco, assistant city manager in Austin, administrative assistant to Gov. John Connally and 13 years in charge of government services for accounting firm Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Co. in the Southwest.
Blodgett said Seaholm had gotten crosswise with council members when he asked for “a multimillion-dollar emergency purchase for the power plant which was not in the budget and for which he was asking the council to waive any bidding.” Planning and communication about planning were not Seaholm’s strong suits, according to Blodgett.
“Thompson told Seaholm that he ‘had come to the council like this once too many times’ and voted to terminate him. Either Council Member Ben White or Emma Long seconded the motion, and Mayor McAden and Council Member Wesley Pearson voted against it,” Blodgett said.
The minutes show that White seconded the motion “with the statement there was nothing personal.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt getting fired was kind of personal.
Back to Blodgett: “Thompson was an insurance guy here and, from the time he was elected, he was a thorn in Seaholm’s side. He didn’t like him at all and thought he was running a less-than-good operation, and he was on his case all the time up until his firing.”
Such is the life of a city manager, Blodgett said.
You’re familiar with a couple of names in this long-ago tale. Seaholm, of course, has his name on the defunct power plant and the impressive redevelopment at the site. Ben White has a boulevard. Emma Long has a park.
Blodgett doesn’t have a roadway, park or power plant named for him. But his name long has been on something that will benefit cities for generations to come. Since 1983, the LBJ School has had the Terrell Blodgett Endowment for Government Services in Urban Management and Finance. Blodgett said about 10 of the students who got money through the endowment now work in Austin city government.
“That’s my pride and joy,” he said of the program.
It certainly is a suitable legacy for a man who has done so much for city governments, maybe even better than having a highway or a park or a now-defunct power plant named for you.