Branigan makes pitch for Mayor’s seat
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Liz Branigan says she chose to challenge Rick Hall for the mayor’s seat because she is passionate about Liberty Hill. A 40-year resident of the community, she has many memories of how it once was and believes she knows how it needs to be.
“My late husband and I moved here, we raised our children here,” she said. “We played in community leagues. My daughter and I played for the Liberty Hill Angels at one time. That was in the 80s.”
That experience led her to join the Liberty Hill Parks Board, which she serves on today, and also led to three terms on the Liberty Hill City Council. She lost to current Council member Gram Lankford in the May 2019 election. But it has all been experience that has led her to this place.
“This has taught me a lot about the workings of government,” she said. “I know how to run a city. I hope you understand when I tell you my heart is here.”
She is quick to draw a stark contrast to Hall on two issues that loom large in the Nov. 3 election – council member terms and salaries. The next mayor, according to the budget passed by the Council in September, will receive a $40,000 salary. She opposes having a paid mayor in Liberty Hill and said she would decline the salary.
“When I was on the Council I didn’t take anything,” Branigan said. “Forty thousand dollars for a city of 2,433 people? Round Rock’s mayor makes $12,000 a year. Cedar Park and Leander’s mayors don’t make anything. Georgetown’s mayor makes $20,000. These cities that are several times larger than us have mayors that either volunteer or have a much less salary.
“I didn’t go into city politics to make a profit, and I will not accept the $40,000,” she added.
She does support the idea of a small stipend for the council members, but with a caveat as she is not convinced the work is always put in to justify it.
“In return for the stipend I’m going to expect them to do their homework and to know what they’re talking about,” she said.
On the ballot proposition to extend council member term limits from the current two years to three, Branigan doesn’t see a need for the change.
“This is not a burning issue, but I don’t think we need to do it at this time,” she said. “It’s possibly more efficient but I can’t see any reason to make this change. If somebody doesn’t work out we can get rid of them in two years. People who are successful can rerun in two years.”
While she did not specifically note anything she’d change in the current budget, she believes it has grown too fast in recent years.
“The current budget is 77 percent higher than two years ago,” she said. “I have studied this entire budget and there is not a dime in this for infrastructure or for capital improvements. There was money at one time for capital improvements, but that money has disappeared.”
A large part of that increased budget is in personnel, and though Branigan believes changes can be made, she said the increase in the police department has been good for the City so far.
“I have met and talked on several occasions with (Police) Chief (Royce) Graeter and I think we will meet again,” Branigan said. “I think with the City growing in the manner it is now we are justified in the expansion that has been done in our police department. In the future I think we need to be careful on how we expand.”
Other staffing areas would get a closer look.
“I really think we need to go line by line through the budget and do cost value analysis to see what can be consolidated,” Branigan said. “Possibly some of these positions can be made part time.”
A long-time advocate of the swim center project, Branigan also thinks the City has lost sight of the community’s wishes when it comes to prioritizing capital projects.
“I think that our capital projects should be led by our citizens’ needs in the community,” she said. “We have currently no money for capital projects, they have to be financed through tax notes. I think with the current state of the city’s finances we have to be very, very careful and seek citizen input on their priorities. After some open meetings and some surveys we can start to prioritize what our capital improvements should be.”
Before the surprise decision Tuesday to promote Chief Operating Officer Lacie Hale to City Administrator, Branigan had taken issue with the dismissal of former administrator Greg Boatright and Hall’s assumption of those duties.
“I am not going to be so arrogant as to feel I can impersonate a City Administrator,” Branigan said. “I think the first thing I want to do is hire a qualified, competent City Administrator. For example, the capital improvement projects that have been done have all had enormous overruns. When I was on Council we didn’t have that problem. Our City Administrator was familiar with construction and we knew through him what was a reasonable cost and when our bids were awarded we had reasonable expectations.”
Despite her issues with how the current administration operates and the decisions made, Branigan is not simply nostalgic for the way things were in years past.
“We were not perfect,” she said. “We made some mistakes and there were places where we could have improved and I’m very much aware of that. But I’m now very disappointed to see how far down the City has fallen in only two years.”
Communication is one thing she believes is better in some ways.
“The one thing I’m seeing done better by this administration are the community updates,” she said. “I don’t think I would do them the same way they are currently being done, but I think the citizens two years ago did not feel as included as they should have felt. I think we’ll continue the community updates but instead of a canned presentation we’ll have question and answer sessions and time for citizens’ comments.”
And on the issues of ethics, favoritism and concerns about personal interests, Branigan looked back on the history of Liberty Hill, and pointed out that her opponent seems more closely tied to developers.
“For years this was a working class community and almost all of our citizens followed construction trades. My son is a local developer,” she said. “I try to maintain a distance between family and the city. In the past allegations that were made about the City favoring certain members of the construction community were found to be fraudulent. These things do not happen. I favor friendly relations with developers and all of our suppliers and members of the community. As for developers having undue influence, I’m not the one that has accepted large donations from developers.”