Council calls for volunteers

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Two weeks after announcing the seven names Mayor Rick Hall suggested for Liberty Hill’s committee tasked with drafting a city charter, he stepped back Monday and announced the Council would seek volunteers to be considered for participation on the committee.

The Council also authorized placement of a city charter election on the November 2020 ballot, beginning the timer on what is expected to be a lengthy process.

“This is something we discussed at the retreat,” Hall said. “We didn’t take any action on it, but we had a lengthy discussion about this and again this is us trying to be prepared for what’s happening in the future.”

Hall reiterated his call to have the City solicit volunteers from the community, something mentioned at the Council retreat, but a step that had not been taken through Monday.

The City did post that call to the community Tuesday through social media.

“This is a great opportunity for us to start working on this, and a second part with this is we also agreed to post something on Facebook and our website to get people to volunteer to come in and be part of this process,” Hall said. “We discussed and threw out some names at the retreat, but nothing was finalized because we haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

The list presented by Hall at the retreat included Bill Chapman, John Johnston, Larry Allman, Kim Sanders, Daniel Duckworth and Council members Liz Rundzieher and Kathy Canady.

Four of the seven individuals – Allman, Sanders, Rundzieher and Canady – live within the City limits.

All five appointees apart from the council members are closely tied to Hall through his involvement with the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce and or Economic Development Corporation, and they have shown support – especially through social media – for Hall and the candidates he has endorsed in recent elections.

Hall said previously that his suggestion of those names was to “get the conversation started” about who would serve on the committee.

But he added Monday that the first step in the process would be the Council deciding on the charter committee participants. The deadline for applicants to serve on the charter committee is Feb. 24, according to the City’s Facebook post Tuesday. Those interested in being considered should email the City at LHCharter@libertyhilltx.gov.

“This is not something that we want to rush,” Hall said of the process of drafting a charter. “This is something that if you talk to a lot of cities under charter law, this is basically creating the constitution that this city will operate under for years to come. We need to do it right the first time because you can only modify a charter every three to five years, so it’s not like when you change an ordinance now.”

Parks Board incident
While nothing was said during the Monday Council meeting to address the incident that followed the Feb. 4 Parks Board meeting, Hall did briefly respond by email to questions about any action taken in response.

As soon as the meeting adjourned, Parks Board member and Councilman Steve McIntosh – accompanied by Senior Director of Planning David Stallworth asked to serve as a witness – called Board member Liz Branigan into the room used by the Council for closed session to address what had been a testy exchange during the meeting.

Branigan said the closed door discussion was hostile, adding that when she was accused of being hostile she stepped out to call in a witness of her own. City Events Coordinator Katie Amsler was then called in to serve as a second witness to the conversation, which continued behind closed doors.

After Branigan emerged from the closed meeting, McIntosh then called in Parks Board President MaryLyn Jones, this time with City Council member Kathy Canady present as the only witness.

While Jones declined to comment on the specifics of what was said, she also characterized it as hostile and wished it had been discussed in public.

Canady – who only witnessed the discussion between McIntosh and Jones, arriving to the Council Chambers about 30 minutes after the meeting adjourned – said in an interview last week that she intended to attend the Parks meeting but arrived late, where she was immediately asked to join McIntosh in the discussion with Jones.

Hall did not elaborate on his actions following the incident, but said his message to the parties involved was, “We need to get along as a team.”

When asked about the awkward position the incident placed City employees in who were asked to serve as witnesses, Hall simply said it had been addressed, but did not elaborate.

Police vehicles
The growing Liberty Hill Police Department is filling a need for vehicles for the additional staff. The Council approved the financing of five vehicles – four Chevy Tahoes and one Dodge Charger – for the department.

The total cost of the vehicles, including police department equipment installation, is $273,120.24, which will be financed at an interest rate of 3.688 percent with five annual payments of $60,813.49 beginning with the next budget year.

“What you’re agreeing to is in the next budget we will need to allocate $60,813.49 to the police department to make this payment for the next five years,” said Finance Director Becky Wilkins. “The interest rate is 3.688 percent and it’s a little higher than usual. We have $10 million in capacity for bonding every year for bank-qualified funding, but the two PIDs (Public Improvement Districts) that we are in the middle of working with – Butler Farms and Summerlyn West – have both expressed an interest in selling bonds this year so we can’t use our bank-qualified money. We have to go with a non bank-qualified rate and our financial advisor will take this indication. When the PIDs do their bonds there will be a repayment agreement for the difference in what a bank-qualified rate was and a non bank-qualified rate. We are paying a higher rate, but there will be some sort of reimbursement to us from one of both of the PIDs.”

According to Hall, this budget year the City has already financed three administrative vehicles, and has two other police vehicles set to be financed related to the additional officers brought on with the Larkspur patrol agreement. Two public works vehicles were purchased outright by the City.

Open meetings training
Canady requested that the Council schedule a workshop to cover open meetings rules and regulations.

“I would like to see us have a training or workshop for open meetings,” Canady said. “This is like an in-service for us and for the public to come and listen as well. I’d like to do it sooner rather than later.”

Rundzieher said it would be a great help as well, and the Council decided to schedule the workshop for the March 9 meeting.

“We can all learn things,” Canady said of the workshop.

FEMA grant
The Council unanimously approved the use of Langford Community Management Services and BEFCO Engineering for administrative services and engineering services in conjunction with a grant application to install an emergency warning siren system.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant being sought would cover 75 percent of the cost of the system if awarded.

The materials provided by the City regarding the agenda item did not specify costs associated with the administrative and engineering services agreed to Monday for the project. In a follow up inquiry by The Independent, City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann did not provide cost information for these services, but said, “Up front cost to Langford or BEFCO for the FEMA grant project for sirens is zero. (The) cost to Langford and BEFCO are rolled into the 75/25 split should the grant be awarded.”

City Emergency Management Planner Casey Cobb told the Council that the plan was to purchase six of the siren systems and the approximate cost was $27,000 per system.

Chamber agreement
Two weeks after the Council voted to approve an agreement with the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce for use of the Fowler/Stubblefield Building downtown, Chamber representatives requested a handful of minor changes to the agreement.

According to the initial proposal, the Chamber would agree to staff the office with an employee or volunteer to keep it open for visitors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and four consecutive hours each day Saturday and Sunday.

The Chamber asked Monday that those hours be changed to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on business days. The Chamber also asked that a mediation clause be added to the agreement.

Chamber Board President Jared King expressed the Chamber’s support of the agreement.

“We are very happy with the agreement overall we just wanted a little clarification on a couple of things overall,” he said. “Overall we’re very grateful for the agreement.”

The Council voted unanimously to approve the changes.

Executive session
The Council met in executive session for just over an hour Monday. On the executive session agenda were consultation with attorney on real property, the wastewater plant expansion, transfer of a portion of the water service area from Georgetown, wastewater and utility agreements with Stonewall Subdivision, and applicants for city administrator.

The only item the Council addressed following the closed session was the city administrator search, where a motion was made to “direct (consultant) Matt Powell to refine the job description for City Administrator and the position of Assistant City Administrator to bring it back at the next Council meeting for Council to decide a path going forward.”

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