THROWBACK THURSDAY: Chickens doomed Liberty Hill’s first incorporation attempt

Nathan Wetzel, pictured here with wife Margot, was among the proponents when Liberty Hill first attempted incorporation in 1984. Wetzel, who was later elected as Liberty Hill’s first mayor following a successful 1999 incorporation election, was among those seeking a post as city commissioner in 1984. Both have since passed away. (Courtesy Photo)

Nathan Wetzel, pictured here with wife Margot, was among the proponents when Liberty Hill first attempted incorporation in 1984. Wetzel, who was later elected as Liberty Hill’s first mayor following a successful 1999 incorporation election, was among those seeking a post as city commissioner in 1984. Both have since passed away. (Courtesy Photo)

By JAMES WEAR

It was about this time some 30 years ago that Liberty Hill was abuzz with talk of incorporation, and leading up to the August 11, 1984 election, there was plenty of controversy swirling as residents debated the issue.

I’ve been unable to come up with the official number of votes regarding the election, but good friend Suzy Joseph Lyon told me the outcome was decided by a handful of votes.

“As I recall it was fairly close and at that time a very small number of people were in the proposed city limits. The whole thing was decided by a small number of voters,” she said.

“Two issues swung the vote to the side of not incorporating. The two critical issues were chickens and septic tanks. People were afraid that city ordinances would enter the scene and change the rural way of life that made Liberty Hill the beloved country hamlet everyone liked as it was,” she continued. “Critics started rumors that no one could have chickens in town and septic tanks would be outlawed and homeowners would have to pay thousands of dollars to connect to a city sewer. This fear of change and the costs really were legitimate and scary for folks.”

As it turns out, some of those fears have been somewhat realized. Just in the past year or so, the city did outlaw having roosters in town (chickens got a pass) and yes, many residents have paid thousands of dollars for sewer connection, although the city never did make connection mandatory.

Suzy should recall the 1984 vote — she was one of the candidates for office, although incorporation proponents back then proposed electing a mayor and two commissioners rather than a mayor and five council members.

“Those of us on the other side felt we had to legally define Liberty Hill and begin taking in territory, so as not to be annexed by Leander, Austin and or Georgetown. Many of us felt the change was coming and we had to protect ourselves,” said Suzy.

“The eventual growing pains and bitter power struggles that came from within were not the perceived threat at the time. We just wanted to save our town and protect our way of life. Even those on the side of incorporating were worried about the outcome of a formal added layer of government, but we knew we had to take action. Failure to incorporate was never an option. The prevailing theory was that the City of Austin would creep up through Hopewell, Leander would get Seward Junction and all of Bagdad and Georgetown would take 29 and Rockhouse. People really felt threatened.”

There were two candidates for mayor in 1984: Doug McLeod and J.D. (Jimmy) Spivey. McLeod, who has since passed away, was brother to current council member Wendell McLeod, while Spivey’s younger brother, Gary, would later serve as a council member.

In addition to Suzy, other candidates for the two commissioner posts were the late Nathan Wetzel, who would later serve as mayor after Liberty Hill’s second incorporation attempt in 1999 proved successful; the late Marjorie Bohanon, whose son-in-law, Mike Crane, served one stint on the council; Sharon Clemens and Beverly Cousins.

According to a front-page story in the July 15, 1984 issue of the Williamson County Sun, Bohanon and nine other individuals (who she declined to name, according to the reporter) worked on the incorporation project for 18 months and enlisted engineer Don Bizzell to draw up field notes outlining two square miles of Liberty Hill.

Bohanon and other incorporation proponents called a town meeting in July 1984 to announce the upcoming election with about 75 persons reportedly attending. An attorney by the name of Del Ruiseco was on hand to answer questions. He was quoted as saying, “You’re known as Liberty Hill, but it doesn’t mean anything because you’re not a city. Incorporation is going to give you the opportunity to govern yourselves.”

During that meeting, the late D.W. Hays, who at the time served as Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace, reportedly said that incorporation would mean citizens would have to pay for police protection, as he claimed the sheriff’s department would stop patroling the community. Hays would later become Liberty Hill’s second mayor.

Larry Floyd, who served several years on the Liberty Hill school board, was also at the meeting, and was quoted as saying incoporation could return Liberty Hill to the clean place of the past. “…maybe we can do things to clean it up.”

The 1984 election almost failed to come about as proponents who filed the petition for the election did so without including a published public notice of the election 30 days prior to the date of the intended election. But, Tom McGinnis, who was county election administrator at the time, later agreed to the election after supporters convinced him the election timing was important in establishing a tax base for the city.

After the failed attempt to incorporate, another 15 years would pass before citizens agreed to incorporate in 1999.