By SHELLY WILKISON
Following a 15-minute executive session Monday, members of the Liberty Hill City Council, who earlier this month said they would not make an appointment to fill an open seat, voted to appoint former Mayor Connie Fuller.
Although no explanation was given publicly, Council members Sammy Pruett and Byron Tippie, who on Jan. 3 said they did not believe the Council should appoint a replacement for Mike Crane, voted in favor of Mrs. Fuller’s appointment. Crane resigned the position in November 2012.
During the same meeting Jan. 3, Mayor Pro Tem Vicki Brewer said she had concerns about appointing Mrs. Fuller to the vacant Place 1 seat. She said Mrs. Fuller, who served as Mayor from 2005 to June 2009, resigned her seat mid-term. Mrs. Brewer questioned Mrs. Fuller’s sudden interest in an appointment.
Mrs. Brewer and Mayor Jamie Williamson have previously proposed the appointment of Liz Branigan for the open seat, but the idea did not have the support of other Council members. Mrs. Branigan’s name was not brought for consideration again Monday. Instead, Councilman Wendell McLeod made the motion to appoint Mrs. Fuller, which was approved unanimously. Mrs. Fuller, a real estate agent, was sworn in immediately and took a seat on the dais between Mrs. Brewer and Tippie.
On Jan. 3, Mayor Williamson told The Independent she would not revisit filling the vacancy. However, she made the statement prior to the Jan. 9 arrest of Councilman Byron Tippie, who was charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
Tippie attended Monday’s meeting, which the Mayor delayed 11 minutes pending his arrival. When Tippie arrived five minutes later, he went directly into the closed session to consult with the attorney on the appointment of a council member, which was the first item on the evening’s agenda.
Tippie revealed during the special Council meeting Jan. 3 that he “came within two seconds of quitting last week,” but the Mayor convinced him otherwise. “This is the most thankless job and I haven’t gotten a single check,” he said jokingly at the time.
As of press time Wednesday, Tippie had not resigned his seat and Mayor Williamson said Monday that he had given the Council no indication of his future plans.
Tippie did not respond to requests for an interview this week from The Independent.
According to state law, a special election must be called if two seats on a city council become vacant long before a scheduled election. The next uniform election date is May 11 — 118 days from Monday’s meeting.
In other business Monday, the Council voted 4-1 to approve an agreement with Williamson County for the use of $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to correct drainage issues on Myrtle Lane. In accordance with the agreement, the City will pay an additional $3,000 in grant administration fees as the County has a policy against paying for such costs.
McLeod voted no on the issue after first making a motion that it be tabled. He said council members did not have all of the pertinent paperwork in their meeting packets prior to the discussion.
Mayor Williamson said the County is waiting to award the grant funds and a delay could put the City at risk of losing them.
Mayor Williamson, whose home is located in the impacted area, said, “I live down there and I have seen it (drainage problems). There is a natural spring that keeps water standing there and it’s doing damage to the roads.”
“This is an area of town where drainage is not functional,” confirmed Engineer Perry Steger. “It’s a critically important project, and this is of highest priority.”
Steger said the City of Liberty Hill did not receive CDBG funds last year because the County “said the city wasn’t spending the money fast enough. They’re sensitve to spending this grant money and want to show HUD that it was spent within one year.”
The County is charged with distributing the federal Housing and Urban Development grant funds each year through its CDBG program.
According to the agreement adopted by the Council Monday, the City will use the funds to excavate 850 feet of roadside ditches parallel to Myrtle Lane and a 600-foot-long trapezoidal drainage channel at the end of the street to move stormwater runoff to the nearest natural creek downstream.
“The water gets so deep, it can stall a car out,” added Tippie.
The Council continues to be divided on appointments to the City’s Economic Development Corp.’s Board of Directors.
On Monday, Mayor Williamson reminded the Council that there are two vacancies on the panel and added that she would like to see Council member Brewer appointed to fill one seat.
The Mayor’s suggestion to add a council member to the panel drew opposition from Tippie and McLeod.
“When we started changing up those organizations, we didn’t want council members on them,” said Tippie.
“I’m opposed to members of council being put on it,” said McLeod. “We had them on there before.”
The Mayor said a council member serving on a committee would “be able to inform the council” of the committee’s business. She said she has attended multiple committee meetings and “had to correct the boards from doing what they should not be doing.”
She said the EDC Board did not meet on its scheduled meeting day — the first Monday in January.
“It’s important that these vacancies get filled so that they can have a quorum and can take care of business. By law, it (the Board) must have seven members,” she said.
“I don’t have another name (to consider) at this point,” the Mayor said.
However, Mrs. Brewer reminded the Council that Jack Harkrider had also expressed an interest in serving. Harkrider, who was not present Monday, previously served on the Council and was Mrs. Williamson’s opponent in the race for mayor last May.
Pruett suggested that the current EDC Board, which is chaired by local business owner Frank Spinosa, make recommendations to Council on whom they would like to see appointed to the Board. He made a motion to table the discussion and the Council agreed.
Also Monday, the Council delayed action on a recommendation by Mayor Williamson to make three city streets open only to one-way traffic.
She said changing Russell Street, Ford Street and Purser Street into one-way streets is a safety issue. She proposed the entrance being Russell Street and the exit being Purser.
She said emergency vehicles and school buses are too wide to travel safely on those streets. Meeting oncoming traffic would make it impossible to pass. The Mayor produced a letter dated April 16, 2010, from former Fire Chief Bruce Watson identifying the problem.
“I think it’s a good idea (making the streets one way),” said Police Chief Randy Williams. “It will never be wide enough for two-way traffic unless we encroach on private property. The pavement on either side is deteriorating.”
“I agree (with the proposal), but we haven’t asked the people who live on the roads,” said Pruett, who volunteered to go door to door and ask residents for their views.
“It doesn’t change the fact that this is a safety issue even if they don’t want it done,” said Mrs. Fuller.
Also Monday, the Council voted unanimously to:
* Authorize the disposal of a 2004 Honda motorcycle seized by the police department in the commission of a felony. He said the vehicle is in disrepair and worth less than $300 and the proceeds from its disposal will be used to pay its storage fees.
* Remove former Councilman Crane from the TexPool account and add City Secretary Tammy Kirk, the Mayor and Mrs. Brewer.
* Adopted a resolution changing the signers on city bank accounts to the Mayor, Mrs. Brewer, Mrs. Kirk and City Clerk Karen Smith.
The Council heard a report from Utility Superintendent Brian Kirk, who said the City’s two new water wells are ready for operation and awaiting final approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He said water levels in the wells currently in use saw a two-foot increase before recent rains.
He said the construction of sewer lines was now complete, with the exception of lines that will serve the new high school west of town.