In a tense meeting June 20, the Board of Directors of the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. voted 3-2 to immediately turn over all operations of the water system to the City of Liberty Hill.
Intended to bring an end to months of controversy regarding the management practices of General Manager Wendell McLeod, Board member Jerry Casebolt made the motion allowing the LHWSC to pay the City up to $5,000 per month to manage the business.
Casebolt and Directors Glenda Gavin and Charles Canady voted yes. Casting no votes were Tracy Wiggers and McLeod, who also serves on the Board of the corporation where he is an employee.
“It’s about me losing my job,” said McLeod, a statement that resulted in City Attorney Kerry Russell erupting from the audience, “Well, Wendell, what’s more important? You losing your job or the people having water around Liberty Hill?”
The continued employment of McLeod, who for months has shrugged off allegations of mismanagement, is at the heart of the raging debate that was ongoing at press time Wednesday. Also a member of the Liberty Hill City Council where he was re-elected in May, McLeod has continued to cast votes on the Council and the LHWSC Board that impact his and his wife’s employment at the LHWSC.
In recent months, the open political warfare on the LHWSC Board dissolved into technical manueverings that have included postponement of the annual membership meeting, Wiggers refusal to call a meeting to order, failure to post public meetings in accordance with state law, and items not being placed on meeting agendas for debate.
On Monday, opposing legal opinions were offered by attorneys for the LHWSC and the City of Liberty Hill as the two sides accused each other of various actions or inactions. In the end, those who supported the idea of the City taking over LHWSC operations cited lost water, customers not being billed properly, and McLeod’s refusal to disconnect service to certain individuals who had not paid, including a relative, as reason enough to seek professional management from the City.
But when Casebolt brought his motion forward to transfer operations to the City, opponents challenged the ability to consider it since it was not duly posted on the meeting’s agenda.
Attorney Russell, who identified himself as a member of the LHWSC, interjected that the reason the item was not on the agenda was because McLeod and Wiggers had refused to post the item at the request of three board members in an attempt to keep the item from being discussed or acted upon.
“As a member of this, as one of the original founders of this organization, I want to know why it wasn’t posted,” said Russell, demanding to know who made the decision to omit the item.
Wiggers accepted responsibility for not including it.
“I did…because I have a hostile board,” Wiggers said.
As the debate continued Wiggers gaveled for order several times as McLeod said several times that people wanted him to lose his job.
“You can’t condemn the people of this town to a poor water supply so you’ll have a job,” Russell said.
Russell accused McLeod of mismanaging corporate funds by paying customers’ bills for wastewater service out of water service funds — an action he said was illegal.
“You (McLeod) have been paying people’s sewer bills out of water funds, and that’s a felony. Nobody wants to prosecute you (McLeod). Can’t you get it through your head that we want to help you?” Russell said.
While the Board has disagreed for months about the need to hold an annual membership meeting as required in the corporate bylaws and even voted in the past to cancel it in light of the pending transfer of the water corporation’s assets to the City of Liberty Hill, directors agreed Monday to hold the meeting August 9. The Board agreed to hold the meeting in order to meet the request of a federal lending agency that is considering a transfer of the LHWSC loan debt to the City — a step that city officials and attorneys say would complete the transfer process.
Directors poured over the details of how to call the meeting, how to conduct an election of board positions, and settled on a system of secret balloting to be tallied by LHWSC Attorney Richard Hamala.
McLeod sought to appoint Wiggers, Clyde Davis and Gary Spivey to a Credentials Committee that would organize the annual meeting and set rules for an election for board members. Instead, Casebolt suggested that the entire LHWSC Board serve as the committee, and although McLeod objected, questioning the legality of the idea, the attorney said it could be done.
“You got a problem with us all being on the committee?” asked Casebolt.
“Yes,” declared McLeod, “because you all are ganged up on me.”
“I want us to be honest,” Casebolt responded. “I want all of us to see all the ballots, all the proxies. I want us all to count them. I want there to be no argument about the number of votes.”
“I made a mistake by putting this (item) in there (on the agenda), didn’t I?” McLeod said.
Casebolt’s motion passed 3-2 with McLeod and Wiggers voting no.
A lengthy discussion ensued on whether to allow LHWSC members to simply show up to the meeting, bring their proxies and vote with a show of hands as has been done in the past, or to move toward a more formal, recorded system where members would mail in their ballots.
In the end, all agreed with a motion by Canady that ballots would be mailed to all members with the account numbers on the ballot. The ballot would include a return postage-paid envelope addressed to Hamala’s law office. A locked ballot box will be stationed at the LHWSC office on Grove Street for those who wish to return the ballot in person and Hamala will have the only key. The Board agreed not to accept nominations from the floor during the annual meeting. Only nominations from mailed ballots will be considered.
The Board was legally bound to act within 60 days of receipt of a letter written by McLeod demanding a membership meeting be set.
Also discussed were past due accounts, unexplained loss of water, uneven application of rules regarding disconnections of service, and drought restrictions for water customers.
At one point, Liberty Hill Police Chief Randy Williams pointedly sought to understand the system by which some people have been allowed to take water from public fire hydrants while others are not. In response, McLeod said if officers had a question about who should be using water from hydrants, they should contact McLeod.
In other matters, the Board reviewed exceptional usage cases that McLeod complained about for using too much water while it is in short supply.
The observation was made that some of those customers were also behind on their payments and their water service should have aleady been disconnected for lack of payment. This prompted a lengthy discussion regarding the business practices of the LHWSC, how billings are done, how some customers have been delinquent in their accounts for long periods of time and continued to have water service.
“I just can’t bring myself to cut people off who are out of a job,” McLeod said. Some directors pointed out that there were people on the past due account list who did not lack the ability to pay. One church was presented as an example.
“Tell me what to do then, give me some direction,” said McLeod.
Casebolt responded that turning the operation over to the City was a solution.
“We’ll have a way to enforce and you won’t have to worry about it,” Casebolt said.
“This way you won’t have to be worried about hurting people’s feelings or making anyone mad anymore,” said Mrs. Gavin.