Council changes vote on Loop 332

By KATE LUDLOW

Two weeks after the Liberty Hill City Council voted to overturn a previous council’s decision to acquire Loop 332 from the State of Texas, two elected officials changed their votes Monday to let the original action stand.

In a confusing change of position that was not explained in public meeting, Council members Vicki Brewer and Mike Crane switched their votes and authorized the City’s engineer to proceed with plans to take over the roadway.

On July 9, Councilman Wendell McLeod made the motion to overturn a 2011 decision to acquire the Loop that runs through downtown Liberty Hill. With Councilman Byron Tippie absent and Mayor Jamie Williamson unable to vote except to break a tie, the final vote was 4-0. In addition to McLeod, Council members Sammy Pruett, Vicki Brewer and Mike Crane voted against the acquisition.

On Monday, the issue came back before the Council as Engineer Perry Steger reminded them that the previous council in 2011 allocated up to $10,000 for his firm to complete a survey of the road in preparation for the transfer to city ownership. The survey had already been completed.

With Tippie present Monday and voting yes, Crane and Mrs. Brewer changed their votes in favor of proceeding to acquire the road, but McLeod and Pruett continued to vote no making the vote 3-2.

Last summer, the Texas Department of Transportation replaced two bridge culverts and made other drainage improvements to the road in good faith that the City would proceed with its plan to take over the loop. TXDoT also promised to repave the road before finally turning it over to Liberty Hill.

Rob Crowson, of Steger and Bizzell said that work on repaving would likely start in September.

“It won’t be until September when the new maintenance money is released anyhow,” he said. “You’re going to get a little bit of time to consider, because they won’t have the maintenance money available until the next fiscal year.”

Tippie made the motion to move forward on the project, but was baffled as to why the July 9th vote was ever taken.

“I wasn’t at the last meeting, so I have no idea. I really don’t,” Tippie told The Independent on Tuesday. “I know that this needs to get done. It was ignorance that caused me to vote against it (in 2011). Then I spent some time researching, and I talked to Manny (former City Manager De La Rosa), and he made me realize what was really happening. I want sidewalks. I’ve wanted sidewalks from the beginning, and I can’t get the sidewalks if we don’t have this road.”

Council member Brewer also voiced her support in Monday night’s meeting, saying that she had talked with a downtown business owner, who was unable to fix her awning.

“Her awning is hanging down, and the part that attaches to the building is hers, but the overhang is in the TXDoT right-of-way. It’s little things like that that are the first step to revitalizing our downtown,” she said.

In a follow-up interview with The Independent, she explained her reasons for changing her vote.

“I voted yes to approve it because 1) TxDOT is willing to perform work, in excess of an estimated $500k, to resurface and repair the road. 2) Steger Bizzell, in good faith, began the work and the City of Liberty Hill was going to have to pay for the work already performed,” she said.

“Regardless of personal feelings and agendas, this current council should honor previous agreements or directives given or offered by previous administrations,” she added. “We must be people of our integrity.

Pruett voiced his continued disapproval suggesting the price would increase with time.

“In short order, it sounds real great, ‘We’re going to get a new road,’ but in 12 years, we’re going to have to probably spend $1 million to get it redone again, so where does that come from?” Pruett said.

The Council also approved an agreement with McLeod mediated by the Texas Workforce Commission regarding McLeod’s claim of age discrimination following his termination from city employment in December 2011.

McLeod was employed by the City as water utility operator last year after the City took over the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. where he served as General Manager for more than two decades.

He was fire from his job and was able to obtain unemployment benefits, but also filed a claim of age discrimination. A TWC mediation hearing was held July 29 in which representatives of the City and McLeod attended in an attempt to resolve the matter.

The terms of the agreement approved by the Council Monday were not revealed in public meeting and The Independent’s request for the information was not provided by press time Wednesday. According to City Secretary Tammy Kirk, the attorney representing the City would not release the agreement approved by the Council because McLeod had not yet signed the document.

The Council discussed the issue during a 90-minute executive session Monday. McLeod was not present in the closed session for that discussion and abstanined from voting on the agreement.

In other business, the Council voted 3-2 to award a completion contract for Wells 6 and 7 to Excel Construction Services, LLC of Leander in the amount of $217,263.50.

According to Steger, the completion contract takes care of “everything above the ground” and will finish out work on the two wells. Though  Pruett and McLeod voted no, Major Williamson explained that the wells were paid for with grant money, and that “this is work that should have been completed months ago.”

The Council also voted 3-2 to authorize a task order for the completion of SCADA and PLC programming for the city’s water system, a move that will bring the city into FCC compliance when the current radio system goes out of date at the end of 2012.

Pruett asked what would happen if the city failed to do so and was reminded by Mayor Williamson that this was part of the Capital Improvement package.

Tippie clarified that funding was already allocated in the budget.

After the brief discussion, the task order was approved with Pruett and McLeod voting no.

On another matter that appeared on the exeuctive session agenda, but was not explained or discussed in public meeting, the Council voted to approve a Tree Preservation Agreement with Liberty Hill resident Johnny Garner.

The Council also agreed to allow Crane and Mrs. Brewer to review applicants for the position of Court Clerk and City Hall Receptionist, and authorized the posting of a police officer vacancy (paid position) and up to three reserve officers (unpaid).

Those positions became vacant after the resignations of Officer George Nassour, City Clerk Mindy Nassour, Municipal Court Clerk Jodie Wells within one week.

There was more confusion Monday when McLeod made a motion to authorize a forensic audit of city finances.

“I want to know how much cash is on hand and how much we owe,” said McLeod.

Crane responded that McLeod “might have the wrong understanding of the term forensic audit.”  Mayor Williamson suggested that McLeod sit down with Terri Moore, the city’s bookkeeper.

“I called her this morning, and she never called me back,” said McLeod.

In the end, a motion was made to put the audit out for bids, to see what the cost and options were, with Crane suggesting that it be put out for bids for “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and 10-year increments,” referring to how far back into the city’s history the audit should go. The motion passed 4-1 with Council member Brewer voting no.

McLeod also requested that the Council take action to have an overflow vent repaired at the 50,000 gallon elevated storage tank, though he had not yet accepted bids or solicited cost estimates.

McLeod made a motion that, “We get this done,” and Tippie moved to open the job up for bidding. The motion passed unanimously.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Clyde Davis was present to ask the Council to take action on changing the UDC Use Chart Chapter 4, Page 4-8, Specific Use, Non-residential Districts, Duplex, C2 to add “C” Conditional Use.

Davis, a local realtor, said the change will allow for conditional use specific to duplexes in the downtown area. The motion passed unanimously.

The Council also got into potentially sticky territory, after it voted 3-2 to allow the Ministerial Alliance to take charge of the invocation at Council meetings.

Tippie, a youth pastor for one of the four churches in the Ministerial Alliance, said the Council was potentially opening itself up for legal problems.

“This was my deal. I first introduced it then. And when it didn’t pass, I did the research into why. Legally, we’re opening ourselves up to a lot by doing this,” he said.

McLeod, who placed the item on the evening’s  agenda replied, “Only four? I thought all of them (churches) were members.”

Regardless of the legal risks, Pruett, McLeod, and Crane voted for the motion.

The council also set a date for a budget workshop — 6 p.m. July 31.