City Council names Hale Administrator

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN
As quickly and mysteriously as the issue of hiring a new city administrator disappeared in March, it materialized this week. And in only a few minutes of discussion, the long-standing question of whether Liberty Hill needed an administrator was answered with a unanimous yes.

In a surprise move, Council members Kathy Canady and Liz Rundzieher added an item to the Oct. 13 City Council agenda to consider promoting Lacie Hale to the position. After only a few moments of discussion the motion passed by a 4-0 vote – with Council member Gram Lankford absent – and Hale was named the new administrator.

Canady said she believed it was time that the position be filled and that Hale was the right candidate.

“It is nothing about anything against Rick (Hall) or the job he has done,” she said. “I just think it has evolved and it is time to bring back (that position).”

Rundzieher echoed Canady’s endorsement of Hale.

“Lacie is very well qualified to be the City Administrator,” she said. “I stand behind her 100 percent.”

Canady also pointed to Hale being from Liberty Hill as a plus.

“I know you’re not supposed to say she’s home grown, but I think it does make a difference when you have skin in the game and education and experience in city government,” Canady said.

Council member Steve McIntosh said he supported Hale or the position, only asking to be sure that all qualifications were met according to the original job posting. Human Resources Director Becky Wilkins assured McIntosh there was no outstanding issue.

Hall remained silent before and after the vote, as did Council member Tony DeYoung.

Hale was hired in March as Chief Operating Officer, when the Council decided not to fill the Administrator post and leave management in the hands of Mayor Rick Hall.

Hale, a graduate of Liberty Hill High School, is a graduate of Ashford University and is expected to earn a master’s degree in Public Administration this fall.

She most recently served as city secretary in Hutto from May 2019 until coming to Liberty Hill. Before that she served as City Secretary for the City of West Lake Hills from December 2013 to May 2019.

Despite the issue not being hinted at publicly prior to the meeting agenda being posted Oct. 9, City Secretary Nancy Sawyer read five submitted public comments supporting the selection of Hale – each nearly identical in word and message to the last – from residents Jeanette Whitehead, Glen and Glenda Gavin, Larry Allman, Brandon Wammack, and Diane Williams.

“Dear Mayor and Council, I see on the agenda for this week’s meeting an item to return the city administrator’s position back as an employee of the city. I would like to say that I support this item and I hope the Council chooses to support this item. I believe this is a very important step for many reasons. The Mayor and Council have specific duties and I think it needs to be separate from the day to day duties. I think this leads to better service for the entire community and more accountability for those needs being met. It is my understanding this current position held in this manner was only to be this way for a temporary time. I think the time has come for those duties to transition back to the City Administrator’s position. I think it is time for the day to day job of the City Administrator to be put back in the hands of a City Administrator and the Mayor and Council to go back to being Mayor and Council,” wrote Whitehead.

When asked why this item was brought to the Council now, Canady said she’d been thinking about it for a while.

“I just finally had time to sit down, do a little homework and it’s on the agenda,” Canady said. “This is not anything against the Mayor, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about for a while.”

When the Council forced former City Administrator Greg Boatright out in August 2019, Hall pledged the City would begin the search for a new administrator, but the process stalled, and in October of that year the Council voted to give Hall temporary administrator duties.

Those duties became permanent when Hale was hired as COO rather than hiring an administrator.

The new assignment for Hale does not include a salary increase. She is currently making $120,000 annually, after a $29,000 pay raise over the summer.

After the meeting, when asked about how the promotion might change the management structure for employees, Hall implied the change would not have an impact.

“State law already says the municipal officers report to the mayor and the remaining employees report to the city administrator,” he said.

Community Center approved
A bid was awarded to Jimmy Jacobs Construction Tuesday for the renovation of the former County barn near the intersection of RM 1869 and Loop 332, but the City needs to secure a funding source for the project, despite a plan in July to use more than $700,000 in remaining bond funds.

The Council heard estimates for the project ranging from $500,000 with potential grant funds to help cover costs in January, to a higher projection in July of $750,000 with no grant possibilities, the approved bid Tuesday was considerably higher at $858,643.

The City received four bids, the one from Jimmy Jacobs Construction being the lowest by more than $200,000.

When the Council gave the go-ahead to the project to go out for bid in July, there was $710,319 in remaining bond funds that were said to be earmarked for the project, but Tuesday, Wilkins, who also serves as Finance Director for the City, said those funds were no longer available.

“There should be enough CIP funds left to cover the projects that took the place of the roundabout, which were the streets and the parking lot,” she said. “After that we’re looking at going the route to borrow money.”

Council member Tony DeYoung asked about the funds previously planned for the community center and Wilkins said those were spent.

“We did (have the funds) before the bills started coming in for the parking lot,” she responded.

Instead, Wilkins suggested the Community Center and Swim Center projects could be bonded together late this year at $2.375 million.

Canady emphasized that if the projects were funded with bond money that those funds would be used only for what was specified.

“Yes, once you guys approve going out for the tax note there will be a specific budget for each one of these projects in that with a contingency so if one of the projects was going a little over you guys are going to have to decide whether you’re going to cut something from the project or you’re going to use that contingency money,” Wilkins said. “We have to make sure we have enough money to do these projects but we’re not going to mix other things in or start another project and take this money and put it (elsewhere).”

Wastewater Plant cost increase
The Council approved Change Order No. 7 for the wastewater plant expansion, tacking on an additional $810,105 to the project that has already well surpassed its original budget.

The most recent addition brought the projected cost to more than $12.5 million — nearly $3 million over the original bid award.

The original change approved in April was for the City to use equipment from Suez Environment, rather than from Microdyn MBR that supplied the equipment for the most recent expansion. The wastewater plant opened in 2018 and uses Microdyn equipment and technology, and the extension was also going to use the same equipment and technology.

The equipment, which was set to cost the City $2.2 million through Microdyn, will cost $2.6 million from Suez, the new supplier, adding on $400,000 to the project cost at that time. The equipment cost is separate from the bid award approved for Cunningham Constructors & Associates, Inc., of Georgetown to build the plant.

The change in May was with construction company building the expansion, in the amount of $1.35 million.

Development agreement
The Council unanimously approved a development and 380 incentive agreement with 1941 LTD, for the development of about 285 acres located east and west of Ronald Reagan and north of SH 29.

The agreements will eventually bring the land – currently in the Liberty Hill ETJ – into the city limits.

The incentive agreement will reimburse developers 50 percent of all sales tax revenues generated by the development for a period of 10 years.

The new agreement will supersede a previous agreement Hall said dates back to 2005.

“It was initially set for a 20-year period, which would have ended in 2025, and they came to us to add an initial 10 years,” he said. “That agreement was sales and ad valorem tax versus this agreement which is only sales tax.”

Ethics questions
Weeks after the Council declined to further investigate an ethics complaint filed against Canady, she called for the Council to consider changes to the ethics ordinance, but did not specify what was wrong with the current ordinance.

“We’ve got a lot of things we need to work on, but the beginning of that is to have a code of ethics that’s not just cut and pasted and made by an individual without having ever been put forth to our legal department or anything else,” Canady said. “Y’all had a copy of the old one and it’s not correct. It’s not how it should be. It just had bits and pieces of things that were put in a document and put some numbers with and I would like us to direct Tad (Cleaves) to come up with one that’s legal and real.”

Cleaves said cities sometimes appoint committees of community members to take up the issue, but he could come back to the first November meeting with a discussion item for the Council.

“I just want it to be fundamentally correct,” Canady said. “A workshop sounds great, I don’t know what you guys think.”

Hall agreed with Canady that it needed to be changed.

“You’re right, Kathy, our policy we have right now is lacking a lot of guidance and a lot of direction,” Hall said.

The current ethics ordinance was passed by the Council in October 2018 and was drafted by then City Attorney Dottie Palumbo with the Bojorquez Law Firm.

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