Wendell McLeod, Police Chief Randy Williams
(ABOVE) LHWSC Secretary-Treasurer Wendell McLeod (left) is served by Police Chief Randy Williams with a Temporary Restraining Order stopping him from calling to order the annual membership meeting Tuesday night. The City of Liberty Hill filed a Motion for Declaratory Judgment Tuesday in 26th District Court in Williamson County. (BELOW) LHWSC Attorney Richard Hamala and McLeod. (Staff Photos)
LHWSC Attorney Richard Hamala, Wendell McLeod
The annual membership meeting of the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. was canceled tonight when Liberty Hill Police Chief Randy Williams served Secretary-Treasurer Wendell McLeod with a Temporary Restraining Order issued this afternoon by District Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield.
McLeod was served with the lawsuit and TRO minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin at the Liberty Hill ISD Administration Building. About 18 people were standing by waiting to attend the meeting, but only McLeod and President Tracy Wiggers were present from the LHWSC Board.
City Attorney Kerry Russell told Radio Free Liberty Hill that his partner Art Rodriguez filed a Motion for a Declaratory Judgment on behalf of the City today “after it became apparent” that the current Board of Directors would be unseated at the annual meeting tonight and that the majority of members present could vote against transferring the water system to the City of Liberty Hill. Russell said city officials became concerned about the pending transfer after ballots cast early were counted by the LHWSC Board in an executive session Monday.
“This (TRO) doesn’t revoke anything,” Russell explained. “The City filed a lawsuit to get the Judge to interpret the current contract it has with the water supply corp and issue a declaratory judgment. The purpose of the TRO is to maintain the status quo until that can be decided. We believe the contract binds the water supply corp to its agreement to transfer the assets.”
LHWSC Attorney Richard Hamala, who said he was not present at the hearing today in the 26th District Court in Williamson County, said he had not seen the Motion filed by the City today, but said it appears the City did not want the outcome of the annual membership meeting to interfere with the Transfer Agreement.
“It appears that they misunderstood. They (LHWSC) wasn’t trying to interfere with the Transfer Agreement, it was a vote to proceed with it,” Hamala said.
He explained that according to the rules for non-profit organizations, a two-thirds vote of the LHWSC membership is required to authorize the transfer of the system and its assets and debts to the City of Liberty Hill. Hamala said that was part of the purpose of Tuesday’s membership meeting, with the other purpose being to elect directors to the governing board.
He said the Open Records Act prohibits release of the results of early voting until all voting is complete. Because members could have cast ballots tonight if the meeting had been held, those results remain confidential unless the LHWSC Board votes to release them. However, the Act may not restrict individual members with access to the information, he said.
“A person who has access to information that is protected from disclosure has some discretion what they do with that information,” Hamala said.
In his TRO, Judge Stubblefield wrote, “If the Court does not issue the temporary restraining order, plaintiff (City of Liberty Hill) will be irreparably injured because plaintiff has executed the Transfer Agreement in good faith, begun operating the system and taken steps to finally acquire the system. Moreover, it is probable that Plaintiff will recover from Defendant (LHWSC) after a trial on the merits because the Transfer Agreement in question has been approved by majority vote of the respective governing bodies of the Parties and represents a binding, enforceable agreement. Efforts now to re-consider or alter in any way the terms of the previously executed agreement would constitute a breach of contract.”
“The harm that will result if the temporary restraining order is not issued is irreparable…A threat to the public health and safety in a time of extreme drought cannot be measured by any pecuniary standard,” the order states. “It is impossible to calculate the City’s damages if it cannot obtain a CCN to own and operate the water system or provide an adequate and continuous water supply to its residents, which would threaten public health and safety in a time of extreme drought.”
Russell said his firm attempted repeatedly today to reach Hamala, but calls were not returned. The Judge noted in his order that this was considered in his decision to grant the City’s request for a TRO. Hamala told Radio Free Liberty Hill that he has other clients and was attending another meeting and did not receive the messages.
The Court will hold a hearing on the temporary injunction at 9 a.m. August 23 to determine whether the restraining order should be made a temporary injunction pending a full trial.
“The Council is solidly behind this,” Russell said, adding that Council members agreed with the decision to take the matter to court. “They gave Manny (City Manager Manuel DeLaRosa) the authority to proceed.”
DeLaRosa could not be reached Tuesday night.
When Hamala asked McLeod for the legal document served by Chief Williams, McLeod said he had given the only copy to a reporter for another news organization so that she could make copies.