EDITORIAL: It’s time to move city government out from under the shade tree

City politicians embarrass the community when they act with a lack of personal decorum. Petty personal feuds, bizarre negative attacks and frivolous criminal complaints seem to dominate Liberty Hill’s landscape and even with elections around the corner, there may be no end in sight.

When Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy wrote a controversial, personal attack against a fellow city council member and his wife in 2010, The Independent declined to run the article. Since real journalists adhere to rules, standards and ethics, we immediately recognized it as being untruthful and damaging.

When the Mayor’s political ally at the time, Jamie Williamson, ran the article unedited in the weekly Leader, we winced the way you do when you see two vehicles about to collide. The Mayor, Mrs. Williamson and the weekly Leader have all been sued in State District Court.

They say time changes everything, but in Liberty Hill time seems to just rearrange the same old things. The two former political running buddies weren’t picking or grinning April 9 when the Mayor had her old friend ejected from a council meeting by the Police Chief.  Mrs. Williamson was not permitted to express her opinions during the public comment section of the meeting because the Mayor said Mrs. Williamson was using it as a political platform to run for office. Mrs. Williamson, who has filed as a candidate for mayor, has since filed a criminal complaint with the Liberty Hill police and the Williamson County District Attorney against Mayor Murphy for cutting her off at the podium and having her escorted outdoors.

Politicians aren’t allowed to govern by emotion or get personal even if it’s just running a small town’s city council meeting. However, part of the Mayor’s frustration last week may have come from a lack of decorum from some of her political opponents who for the past year have continually run an anti-mayor, anti-city manager, anti-government monologue routine from the back of the room.

What goes around comes around, and soon those who encouraged such behavior may well find themselves trying to govern. No doubt they will be looking to the Police Chief when they don’t like the background chatter.

Just another reason newspapers and journalists are not allowed to cross the line and become part of the story. Owners and reporters from legitimate news organizations don’t gather signatures or start petitions or participate directly in the political process. That would be like the football players also serving on the referee squad. In the end, when it comes time to report the news, readers know they cannot trust a shade tree news source that also dabbles in shade tree politics to report truthfully and without bias.

The fact is, neither newspapers nor politicians are allowed to publish unsubstantiated claims or flat-out damaging lies against their neighbors and then hide behind rights of free speech.  At the same time, those who file criminal complaints and start petitions every time they get mad quickly gain the reputation as the little boy who cried wolf. Forcing taxpayers in a small town to foot the bill for this kind of reckless and emotionally-driven behavior is not good strategy for those seeking to lead.

A city that is 12 years old has passed its childhood and is at the age of accountability. The excuse that Liberty Hill is small does not abdicate us from a responsibility of transparency, truthfulness and honest dealings. Those who seek to lead, those who seek to influence elected officials and those who seek to serve in appointed positions should show clean hands and let voters know their aendas. That’s just good government.

Every time a line of decency is crossed, every time an ethical rule is bent and stretched, it gives the impression that Liberty Hill is a rough, hick town and still part of the wild, wild west. It’s troubling that in this climate of a bad Western, some very large decisions about the future of this community are being made.

Before voters go to the polls next month, we encourage our readers to find an opportunity to ask questions of the candidates and try to discern who will help lead city government out from under the shade tree.