By SHELLY WILKISON
The Liberty Hill City Council took no action this week to extend the employment contract of the City Manager, who in recent months has drawn the fire of some in the business community and some school district officials.
After a 40-minute executive session Tuesday, the Council reconvened in open meeting to act on a motion by Councilman Charles Canady to approve a proposed three-year contract for Manuel De La Rosa at the salary of $86,000 per year.
Identifying himself as the “swing vote” in the decision, Councilman Jack Harkrider said that while he thought De La Rosa is doing a good job, he could not support the proposal because a three-year contract was too long. He was also concerned by a provision that would require the City to buy the remaining time on De La Rosa’s contract should he be fired without cause.
Harkrider said he was seconding Canady’s motion for the sake of opening public discussion. While no other Council members voiced objections in the open meeting, Harkrider’s admission that he is the swing vote indicated the panel is split with Canady and Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy expressing support. Mike Crane and Byron Tippie were silent on the matter. The Mayor cannot vote except to break a tie. Rather than vote on the contract after Harkrider voiced his objections, the Council voted unanimously to table the item until the next regular meeting Feb. 13.
“I don’t feel right about this,” said Harkrider on Tuesday. “My gut tells me that we could work out an agreement with Manny for less years. I will vote against three years and full payout.”
Harkrider, however, was part of the same council that unanimously approved the employment contract of Wendell McLeod, who was hired by the City in July 2011 as water utility operator after the City took over the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp.
McLeod was given a three-year contract that provided for a complete buy out of his salary if he had been terminated without cause.
In McLeod’s case, however, he was fired for cause months after his contract was nullified by a Williamson County District Court’s decision to support the merger of the two entities by condemnation.
Harkrider also supported the employment contract of Police Chief Randy Williams.
Williams was awarded a three-year contract in 2011 that contains a provision for up to a six-month buyout should he be terminated without cause before its expiration.
De La Rosa, who said Tuesday he would not negotiate his contract in public, told The Independent on Wednesday that the contract proposed to Council by the Mayor did not contain provisions that were new to the City of Liberty Hill.
“There was nothing in my contract that wasn’t done here before,” he said.
The Mayor said the purpose of offering De La Rosa a longer term contract was to “stabilize the City.”
While announcing his opposition to the terms of De La Rosa’s contract, Harkrider said that he plans to seek re-election to the Council although he was told that “if I vote yes (on the contract), I will have someone run against me.”
“The only people who want to see him (De La Rosa) out are those who don’t live in the city and want to see things done their way,” Mayor Murphy responded.
Harkrider said De La Rosa had “saved the City” and united a city council that was “split like crazy. He’s pulled it together and started moving us ahead. I strongly support Manny (De La Rosa) and I don’t want to see us lose him.”
Council members Tippie and Crane were not present for last week’s regular meeting where the item was posted for consideration. That meeting was not convened for lack of a quorum.
At the time, De La Rosa said a special meeting would not be called and the items could wait until Feb. 13. However, days later, the decision was made to call the special meeting for Tuesday because some items could not wait.
In addition to the discussion about the Manager’s contract, the Council took no action on most of the other reposted items Tuesday.
Those items included a discussion on looking into possible exemptions of ad valorem taxes for city residents age 65 or older. Mayor Murphy proposed that city staff look into the impact to City coffers.
The Council also discussed, but took no action on amending the Fire Code to allow outdoor burning of brush piles. State law prohibits burning inside the city limits.
De La Rosa also informed the Council that he would be developing an outdoor watering policy for city water customers and asked for input from Council members.
He said the City might consider options for customers who are raising vegetable gardens, possibly allowing them to water by hand.
He said converting the water from the City’s well at City Park into potable or drinking water is also being considered. He said plans to add a playscape to the park and other amentities will require the use of potable water.
“We should also look at putting a higher price on big (water) users,” added Mayor Murphy. “We have users just dumping it on the ground and we can’t afford it in any way. A lot of people are growing their own food and that’s a legitimate use.”
The Council did adopt a resolution that establishes procedures to aid in monitoring the tax-exempt status of bonds and meet IRS requirements.
Also Tuesday, the Council heard from Planning & Zoning Commissioner Wes Griffin, who distributed a statement about his ethics, which he said were founded in his belief in God.
In recent months, the Council has questioned whether Griffin and other appointees are in compliance with the City’s Code of Ethics and Conduct.