Updated Feb 23, 2024 - News

Scoop: Houston's transportation chief was forced out

Several people, including former Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and former chief transportation planner David Fields, walk along the street

Former Mayor Sylvester Turner, left, and Houston's chief transportation planner, David Fields, center, walk along 11th Street in 2022. Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

Houston's former chief transportation planner, David Fields, was forced out of his job, city documents obtained by Axios show.

The big picture: Fields' sudden departure came a month after Mayor John Whitmire took over City Hall with a different vision for Houston's transportation future from that of his predecessor, Sylvester Turner, who hired Fields in February 2020 to help usher the city away from car dependency.

Driving the news: Axios obtained an interoffice memo from Planning and Development Department interim director Jennifer Ostlind that shows Fields resigned Feb. 5 "in lieu of termination of employment."

  • When Fields resigned from his role in the department, Whitmire's director of communications, Mary Benton, told the Houston Chronicle that "he was not asked to resign."
  • "The mayor was not part of the discussion with David Fields," Benton told Axios late Friday. "I was told that he was not asked to resign. I was not part of the conversation with the planning director or [interim] planning director."
  • Ostlind did not respond to requests for comment.

The intrigue: During one of Fields' last public appearances at a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting Jan. 24, he indicated he had been told to continue business as usual.

  • He was out of a job less than two weeks later.

What they're saying: Fields declined to comment for this story but said on X that he was proud of the work he accomplished in the last four years.

  • "Houstonians recognize they deserve transportation that works no matter how they travel: walking, rolling, riding transit or driving," Fields said. "If the best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago, be proud that we did not let another day go without planting the seeds for a forest."

A former Planning and Development Department staffer, who asked to remain anonymous over fear of retaliation, told Axios that Fields was terminated abruptly in a way that was "unsettling for everyone present."

  • "Many of us had tears in our eyes, confused about why it was happening so rapidly," the source said. "He apologized for the way it was happening, saying he'd been asked to leave a few moments before and was instructed that it was to be immediate. He gave away a few of the plants in his office as we watched him pack his things."

Zoom in: Whitmire has reversed course on at least one major street safety project initiated during Fields' tenure and has since ordered a review of several other street rebuild efforts across the city.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Mary Benton.

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