Campbell target of blame in ride-along issue

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Speaking from the podium during the public comments portion of the Monday Liberty Hill City Council meeting, Council member Kathy Canady became the first to address the issues brought forward last week regarding Mayor Rick Hall’s actions during a ride along in 2018.

Hall and the rest of the Council has chosen to remain silent on the issue since allegations were first made public in March, but Canady implied in her comments Monday that the fault for any mistakes made during the ride along fell on former police chief Maverick Campbell.

“I would like to say in light of a recent Independent story slash article, I want to point out yet again, while on his watch of our community, it is not so much that our ride along individuals did something wrong, it is that our previous police chief Maverick Campbell again allowed something he knew was an infraction of the law happen without communicating and educating those he encouraged to participate in the particular event,” Canady said.

At issue was police body camera footage from Officer Jeff Farmer that showed Hall operating the in-vehicle computer system during a pursuit while Hall was on a ride along.

Both the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and Texas Department of Public Safety have addressed the issue, saying that the computers and systems on board are highly regulated and should not be accessed by unauthorized personnel, and such an infraction can be a criminal offense and may jeopardize an agency’s access to that system in the future.

When asked after the meeting to clarify her comments, Canady elaborated in an e-mail response.

“I am saying that according to your story/article/editorial?, (not sure what it was because it started on Facebook and ended up on your website) where I became aware of it – The Independent and Mr. Campbell it seems (and possible speculation by an outside agency) felt like something was done that should not have been done. I believe that ex Police Chief Campbell encouraged people to participate with the ride along process. And if Campbell encouraged ride-alongs, I don’t think he properly educated the civilians in the ride along rules. It appears that other officers felt that there might be issues and brought this to Mr. Campbell’s attention as the Chief of Police. These notifications place the correction measure on Mr. Maverick, again he was the Chief of Police. If there were infractions to this process, I am blaming Mr. Maverick due to his encouragement of this opportunity, his lack of proper education for these individuals, and for his not correcting these issues. I actually believe that he encouraged use of these computers to some of the individuals that he solicited to participate. This is how it appears to me in my opinion.”

The City still has not responded to The Independent’s request to interview both Hall and Lt. Jeff Ringstaff about the incident to clarify exactly what happened and whether the entirety of the video was provided to the newspaper under an open records request.

Hale raise
After a discussion in executive session, Canady made a motion to raise the salary for newly hired Chief Operating Officer Lacie Hale by nearly 30 percent.

“I would like to make a motion to change Lacie Hale’s pay to $120,000 a year and we also add the event coordinator and code enforcement officer to her umbrella of people that she supervises.”

Council member Tony DeYoung attempted to amend the motion to raise her salary to $106,000 annually, with the salary being raised then to $120,000 at the beginning of the next fiscal year in October.

“I’m not willing to do that,” Canady responded, and DeYoung’s amendment died for a lack of a second. The Council voted 4-1 to approve the increase.

“I think personally we started the job at a lesser salary than what I’d like to have seen us start at,” Canady said. “I think by adding these two positions to supervise, and the fact she started off lower than she should have started off, she merits the increase.”

Hale was just hired in March as the City’s new Chief Operating Officer, when the Council decided not to hire a new City Administrator.

Her beginning salary was $91,000. Former City Administrator Greg Boatright’s last salary increase was in September 2018 when he was bumped from $119,000 to $134,000 — five years after first stepping into the role.

Hale formerly served as the City Secretary in Hutto from May 2019 to her move to the City of Liberty Hill. Prior to that she worked six years as City Secretary in West Lake Hills. Hale has been accepted into the International City/County Management Association’s Emerging Leadership Program.

Splash pad open
Though it was not an agenda item for discussion, the City announced the Wetzel Park Splash Pad was open to the public, after DeYoung inquired on the status of the park.

“There is no question on the grounding,” Hall said. “It’s all been approved, it’s safe.”

Council member Steve McIntosh suggested doing more to get the update out to the public, making a non-specific accusation about the information being shared with the public about the project.

“Can we get out an update because there are folks that make up their own facts, so maybe we could keep them apprised of how it’s going,” he said.

The Independent reported July 2 on possible safety concerns raised regarding the grounding of the splash pad, an issue the Council itself wrestled with in a June meeting.

At the time, the City did not respond to questions from the newspaper about why former inspector Jonny Ubelhor – who was terminated along with former Director of Planning Sally McFeron over an issue related to the splash pad – publicly stated he believed he made a mistake in signing the certificate of occupancy for the splash pad and wished he had not, raising questions about safety.

Hall emphasized again Monday that the grounding was checked and verified and the splash pad was safe.

Events update
The unknown of the future regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus has claimed its second event this year in Liberty Hill with the City announcing the Whimsy & Wonder Festival has been canceled.

“The event that was scheduled in May, had got pushed off to August because of COVID, we’ve made the decision to cancel that because we’re still up in the air with everything,” Hall said. “We had a sponsor for that and I’m working with him to agree to sponsor it next May. Hoping we can get back on the normal schedule for that.”

The Christmas Festival is still scheduled for Dec. 12, and after the cancellation of the July 4th event, the City has been able to rebook the band Little Texas to play at the Christmas event this year.

After having the July 4 fireworks display take place in the field between Liberty Hill Intermediate and Liberty Hill Junior high schools, Hall said the location proved ideal and is being considered for the future home of the entire event.

“We could do our whole entire event there next year so we’re going to work with (LHISD Superintendent Steve Snell) on that,” Hall said. “There’s plenty of room, there’s no busing you have to do because there well be plenty of parking for people to walk from. There’s enough room where we’re doing it to still have the festival, still have the fall zone required (for fireworks).”

The festival has historically been held in City Park.

Dump truck
The Council voted unanimously to purchase a new dump truck for the Public Works Department. The new truck has a price tag of $135,000, but the City will get $50,000 in trade-in value, leaving $85,000 to be financed.

The current truck is five years old, but has had extensive mechanical issues.

“More times than Wayne (Bonnet) can count this truck has left him stranded on the side of the road,” Hall said. “We’ve had a lot of issues with it. I feel as a safety issue for our employees and our citizens that are out driving alongside us, and because this has seen more shop time than road time, this is a great recommendation.”

The current truck was paid for with cash, so there is no balance to pay off. The Council will have to decide on the length of financing, according to Finance Director Becky Wilkins, but once it is purchased there will be no payment due for a year.

Trees
The Council discussed the option of changing the drainage plan at the new parking lot being constructed on the old washateria lot at the corner of Loop 332 and CR 279 in an attempt to save four pecan trees on the property, but ultimately the decision was made to continue with the current plan.

“This changes the overall design of the project and it has some benefits of course in saving trees, but it also has some detriments too in that the original design was for an open channel to improve drainage through this area from Hickman to 332 and collect that drainage water,” said engineer Curtis Steger, who was asked if the drainage change would be an issue. “It’s not going to get any worse, but it won’t get any better I believe.”

The potential drainage problems, along with the increase in price – almost $112,000, according to the proposed change order – made the change impractical for the Council.

“The issue was the family had planted them and there was an emotional attachment,” McIntosh said. “Originally when I heard about this I kind of sympathized with that, however, when I saw the bill I kind of became less so. My focus on the bill is really the issue.”

The City plans to try to replace the removed trees elsewhere. Even with the removal of the trees, there will be more than a dozen trees remaining on the property.

New plan?
Hall announced at the conclusion of the meeting he has asked Halff Associates, who has worked with the City on the Swim Center, trails and other programs, to take a new look at the City’s drainage plan.

“They will be looking at a drainage plan for the city,” Hall said. “The current drainage plan we have for the city has got a price tag somewhere in the $5 million to $6 million range, which is building retention ponds all over the city with the majority of that cost buying up property, taking it off tax records, putting a hole in the ground then we have to maintain that every year for those retention ponds.”

The City previously worked extensively on a multi-phase drainage plan with K. Friese and Associates through 2018 and into 2019.

In discussions with Hale, Hall said “the best permanent solution is to dredge all of our current drainage ditches that over the years have filled in with debris, open those channel.”

Hall said he plans to bring a proposal back to council with potential costs of a new engineering study.

Bill Pickett honored
Bill Pickett, born in Jenks Branch in 1870, went on to become a ranch hand and later a famous rodeo cowboy.
The Liberty Hill City Council read a proclamation Monday naming Dec. 5 as Bill Pickett Day in Liberty Hill, to honor the 1989 inductee into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Hall read the proclamation before Canady spoke a few minutes on Pickett’s life and accomplishments.

“Bill Pickett was the best-known African-American rodeo performer of all time,” Canady said. “He was a well-known African-American rodeo performer, and invented the rodeo sport of bulldogging, now known as steer wrestling, and entertained millions of people around the world with his riding and roping skills.”

Pickett traveled the nation and world doing shows and rodeos, showing off his bulldogging skills for more than a decade. He died in Ponca City, Oklahoma, in 1932 at the age of 61.

“He is a part of our history that we have not tapped into,” Canady said. “As part of the pioneer thing Liz (Rundzieher) and I are working on we felt this would be our first important project to see if we can get approval to make the city limits on 279, erecting a sign, and maybe name the road from there into town after Bill Pickett.”

The Council voted unanimously to move forward with the proposal.

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