Council business stalled by lack of quorum

Needing a quorum to convene Monday’s Council meeting, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa (back center) communicates by text message with Mayor Pro Tem Mike Crane about his whereabouts as developer Tim Haynie (left), Councilman Charles Canady (standing back to camera), Attorney Art Rodriguez (third from left) and Engineer Perry Steger wait for news. (www.ThunderstruckPhotos.com)

By SHELLY WILKISON

Waiting almost two hours for an elected official to arrive at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Liberty Hill City Council cost taxpayers more than $700 — a price that likely would have gone unnoticed had the Council member arrived as promised.

With a vacant seat on the Council, the body needed three voting members to make a quorum in order  to conduct business. Council members Charles Canady and Jack Harkrider were present, along with Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy. But, since the Mayor has no vote except in case of a tie, her presence could not count toward a quorum.

Councilman Byron Tippie notified city officials earlier in the day that he was ill and unable to attend.

Shortly after the meeting was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., Mayor Pro Tem Mike Crane informed the City Manager by text message that he was still at work at his office in Round Rock and would arrive within an hour.

About the same time, Councilman Harkrider placed calls to Crane’s cell phone and home phone from the Council Chamber. When he did not receive an answer, Harkrider left  voice messages on each line inquiring about his whereabouts.

Manager Manuel De La Rosa told The Independent that he sent a text message to Crane after 8 p.m. asking his estimated time of arrival. He said Crane responded that “he was sorry, but he was still working on the project” and would not be attending the meeting. De La Rosa said Crane told him the project was due Tuesday.

De La Rosa said the decision was made to wait on Crane when the Council member said he would be an hour late. De La Rosa said the “developers (of a new residential subdivision) were on a time crunch to get variances approved.”

Developers of The Estates at Stonewall Ranch, who obtained tentative approval for three variances from the Planning & Zoning Commission two weeks ago, were present Monday to seek Council approval.

Also on Monday’s agenda was the employment contract of De La Rosa. His current contract expires April 17. While the Council

discussed the matter in executive

session when it met two weeks ago, no action was taken in open meeting.

The Mayor told The Independent at that time that she would place the item back on the agenda this week.

When asked for an estimate of how much the delay cost the City, De La Rosa said the City Secretary and the Deputy City Secretary were present at a cost of about $70 each, and two salaried employees were present costing about $90 combined. The City’s engineer, Perry Steger, was also present at a rate of $220 per hour.

City Attorney Art Rodriguez was also present Monday. He is paid $3,250 per month — a fee he said is not broken down into an hourly rate. Although the Georgetown-based attorney said he is not likely to bill the City for the time he spent in Liberty Hill Monday, he typically bills other clients from $200-$300 per hour depending on the type of work he performs.

With staff time and professional fees, the two-hour non-meeting cost taxpayers more than $700, said De La Rosa, who did not include his own time in the estimate.

Other items on Monday’s agenda that were not addressed due to lack of a quorum included:

* Possible action on an arts festival scheduled for April 29 at Lions Foundation Park

* Possible action on exemptions of ad valorem taxes

* Possible action on amending the Fire Code to allow outdoor burning of brush piles, and

* Discussion on future watering policy and regulations.

At the time, De La Rosa said a special meeting would not be called to address the items that were on Monday’s agenda. However, on Wednesday, he told The Independent that “a couple of the council members commented that waiting three weeks (from Jan. 23-Feb. 13) was too long to wait on some items.”

A special meeting is now set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31. At press time, De La Rosa did not have an agenda prepared, but did say that the variance requests from The Estates at Stonewall Ranch will not be on the agenda as Williamson County expressed some concerns about connectivity with the existing Stonewall Ranch subdivision. The County and the developer will be meeting to address those before the matter comes back to the Council.

Regular meetings of the Liberty Hill City Council are set for 6:30 p.m. every second and fourth Monday of each month. The next regular meeting is Feb. 13.