Contact Us

Houston Staff Shake-Up Under New Mayor Likely To Impact CRE


Houston Mayor John Whitmire has appointed new heads for Houston’s Planning and Development, Finance, and Housing and Community Development departments during his first 100 days in office.

The staff shake-up doesn’t end there, and so many changes at the top could alter how the city interacts with commercial real estate players.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire

During his campaign, Whitmire highlighted the need for new leadership at City Hall, pointing to inefficiencies in former Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, the Houston Chronicle reported. So far, Whitmire has announced new directors for at least five city departments during his brief tenure, while other leadership positions are empty as longstanding senior officials resign

Houston Office of Business Opportunity Director Marsha Murray is the latest department head set to depart. Murray will step down by the end of March, the Chronicle reported, citing Whitmire’s office. 

The administration is searching for a replacement to head that department, which promotes access to city contracts for small businesses or those run by women, minorities and people with disabilities.

The department can do better, mayor’s office spokeswoman Mary Benton told the Chronicle.

“Mayor Whitmire will improve the department and meet the public’s expectations,” Benton said. 

Murray’s departure announcement follows the resignation this month of Andy Icken, who was Houston’s chief development officer for nearly 18 years. That position also has yet to be filled, according to KPRC 2, whose investigations revealed alleged wrongdoing committed by Icken during his time at City Hall.

Icken had ties to a $500K deal that resulted in another city staffer pleading guilty to accepting bribes and asked a former airport director to create a position that ended up being a $95K internship, KPRC 2 reported.

Houston’s chief development officer oversees policies and tools for attracting growth and investment to the city. That includes managing incentives like Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones, which can help finance commercial development in areas that otherwise wouldn't attract market development in a timely manner. 

Whitmire late last month appointed Mike Nichols, a previous nonprofit leader, as the head of the Houston Housing and Community Development Department. Turner in March 2022 appointed previous Director Keith Bynam, who stepped down, according to the Chronicle.

An investigation by KHOU 11 found that Bynam had sold iPads for $10 and laptops for $75 to city staff, leading the Texas land commissioner to accuse the department of “greed and incompetence” and Whitmire to vow to investigate and “operate an ethical and transparent City Hall.”

The Housing and Community Development Department is charged with creating affordable housing opportunities for residents and working with service providers and developers to improve quality of life for Houstonians.

In other personnel moves, Whitmire also replaced former Houston Airport Director Mario Diaz with Jim Szczesniak, the department’s former chief operating officer. 

Former Houston Finance Director Will Jones shifted to the role of deputy controller of financial reporting under Controller Chris Hollins. As one of his first actions in office, Whitmire appointed Melissa Dubowski, who had been deputy finance director since 2019, as the new finance director, according to the Chronicle.

Jennifer Ostlind was appointed the city’s Planning and Development Department director following the retirement of longtime Director Margaret Wallace Brown. That department oversees the city’s regional and community-based planning efforts, including land development standards, historical preservation and transportation planning.