Council directs Mayor to vacate office at City Hall

By SHELLY WILKISON

Further limiting the Mayor’s influence after restricting her powers and duties two weeks ago, a divided City Council voted Monday to direct Mayor Jamie Williamson to vacate the office she has occupied at City Hall for the past year.

City staff confirmed that the Mayor cleared her office at City Hall early Tuesday after being directed during a four-hour meeting the night before to turn over equipment and all documents pertaining to City business.

Council members Wendell McLeod, Connie Fuller and Liz Rundzieher voted in favor of the move, while Council members Vicki Brewer and Elizabeth Branigan were opposed. As has always been the case, the Mayor may only vote to break a tie.

On May 13, the Council approved a six-month employment contract for Interim City Manager Greg Boatright over the objections of Mayor Williamson and Mrs. Brewer. At the same meeting, the panel adopted an ordinance limiting the Mayor’s powers and duties. Taken together, the decisions effectively diminish the role Mayor Williamson has played in the past year as the City’s chief executive officer responsible for overseeing the daily operations of city government.

In the past six weeks, the Mayor has come under fire by the majority of the Council who have accused her of being slow to act on Council directives she disagreed with, including the accommodation of a new city manager whom the Mayor has claimed is unqualified for the job.

While some anticipated that new faces elected to the Council May 11 and seated for their first meeting Monday might change the dynamics of the body, action taken this week to remove the Mayor from city offices indicate the majority still lack confidence in her.

“If the City Council was assured there would be cooperation between the Mayor and the City Administrator, (having an office for the Mayor and Administrator) would be the ideal thing,” said Mrs. Fuller. “But we haven’t seen the Mayor ever work with the Council. We’ve seen her object and break the law by not following City Council directives. This (change) is necessary so staff understands that City Council is in charge, and not the Mayor. The whole idea is to put things in proper order in the city.

“I hope that you will work with him (Boatright), Mayor. This (present situation) is no good. Please, we need to get together,” Mrs. Fuller told Mayor Williamson.

“I’d like to see them share office space and work together,” said Ms. Branigan, prior to voting against the proposal.

After the Council voted two weeks ago to approve Boatright’s contract as interim manager and director of the Economic Development Corp., the Mayor told The Independent she would not give up her office space to Boatright, nor would she relinquish any of her duties to him.

After his contract was signed, he was provided with an office just inside the entrance to City Hall, which had previously been used for storage and an occasional work area for the contractual city inspector. While Boatright’s contract calls for him to oversee the daily operations of the City and authorizes him to assign office space, his office is located outside the staff work area, which requires a code for access.

Mayor Williamson said Monday that she was willing to discuss the workplace arrangement further with Boatright outside the public meeting, adding that she thought the present arrangement would ensure efficient operations of staff and work best for Boatright, who as director of the Economic Development Corp. would likely see many visitors.

“I have concerns about the amount of traffic coming through City Hall,” she said. “As manager and EDC  director, there is a potential distracting effect that could happen with EDC traffic coming through City Hall.”

Boatright noted that when the Mayor has meetings, guests often use a side entrance near her private office.

“But this is up to the Council. I will do what the City Council directs me to do. It’s not my role to get political,” he said. “Yes, we (the Mayor and Boatright) got off to a rocky start, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Mrs. Brewer made an unsuccessful attempt Monday to persuade the Council to reverse action taken two weeks ago that stripped the Mayor of most of her authority.

“In the last two weeks, there have been instances where the Mayor needs to be there (at City Hall) to handle many things,” said Mrs. Brewer. She added that Boatright had agreed with her that the action needed to be rescinded, but Boatright denied that.

“My role is not to agree to repeal an ordinance. This is not anything that would be pertinent to my role,” he said.

Mrs. Fuller, who was opposed to restoring the Mayor’s authority, accused Mayor Williamson of restricting Boatright’s access to the office.

“The first duty in his contract is to advise staff, and he is not allowed to go in the office. The Mayor has had her administrative duties curtailed by law and she refuses to follow the law,” she said. “The reason this is needed is that the Mayor continues to defy the vote of the city council and things are not being done professionally.”

Boatright said that in the Mayor’s defense, since his first days on the job, “we have had some conversations. Some have been heated, some not. We’ve made some inroads in figuring out what our roles are as the City Council has defined them.”

Mayor Williamson said she had not denied Boatright access to City Hall. Mrs. Brewer explained the delay in Boatright’s starting date was due to a delay caused by the City Attorney in returning his contract for employment.

Mrs. Brewer’s motion to restore the duties of the Mayor failed by a 3-2 vote with Mrs. Rundzieher, Mrs. Fuller and McLeod voting no.

On Tuesday, Mayor Williamson told The Independent that with the restrictions on her authority and her typical duties now assigned to Boatright, there is nothing she can do.

“They tied my hands. There’s nothing I can do,” she said. “I can’t direct staff, no day-to-day operations, no spending authority, no policy (implementation), no representation with citizens of the community. I can’t assist committees, do job review or performance evaluations. I don’t have anything.

“I guess I will just show up to meetings every other Monday,” Mayor Williamson said, adding that if asked to assist the new manager, she will refer him to those council members who voted to hire him.

Mrs. Brewer, who lost the title of Mayor Pro Tem to Mrs. Fuller in a subsequent vote of the Council on Monday, predicted Tuesday that the two sides will not be able to come together and work for the good of the community until the Council reconsiders its decision to remove the Mayor from the City’s daily operations.

“I don’t see the two ends of the rope coming together because of the wording in his (Boatright’s) contract,” Mrs. Brewer said. “They don’t want the Mayor having any part in the day-to-day activities. But I don’t see Greg having the opportunity to do that (daily operations) because of the business community’s expectations of him. Only way I see for the good of Liberty Hill is to rescind and restore the Mayor’s powers and allow the Mayor to have the authority she’s been operating with.”

Because the new ordinance prohibits the Mayor from spending money without the prior approval of the Council, members spent a great deal of time Monday going through individual invoices for the months of April and May.

Members asked for clarification and explanation of some expenses, and ultimately approved all invoices for payment.

Mrs. Fuller’s attempt to make staff work areas more accessible to council members failed 3-2 after Mayor Williamson noted that the request could potentially open areas that are now secure to the general public.

In October 2012, Mayor Williamson issued a policy statement restricting access to city staff areas.

“There are documents even I’m not allowed to see from the police department and municipal court,” Mayor Williamson said, adding that costly equipment in the water utility office must stay secured.

“It’s an insult to the City Council to say we’re going to do something to cause damage. This is a power play. We’re not going to go in and interfere with staff. We are professionals,” said Mrs. Fuller.

“The staff doesn’t need distractions. Anything a council member needs can be done by email or phone,” the Mayor said.

Mrs. Rundzieher, Ms. Branigan and Mrs. Brewer voted against rescinding the policy statement, with Mrs. Fuller and McLeod voting in favor.

Mrs. Fuller was elected by a 3-2 vote to serve as Mayor Pro Tem, replacing Mrs. Brewer. Mrs. Fuller was supported by Mrs. Rundzieher and McLeod, and she cast a vote for herself. Ms. Branigan and Mrs. Brewer voted no.

Ms. Branigan nominated Mrs. Brewer, but no action was taken on her nomination.