Council cancels election, approves payroll deduction of police association dues
By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
The City Council this week cancelled the May council election because all three seats were unopposed. The Council also tentatively approved an option for police to have association membership dues deducted from the paychecks, and assigned to a firm the task of assessing city salaries.
No contest for Council seats
Owing to the lack of opposition, the Council opted to forego the municipal election next month for the three member seats in question.
Troy Whitehead, Jon Branigan and Liz Rundzieher were automatically elected in a 4-0 motion, immediately after a related motion that recognized that the seats — Place One, Three, and Five respectively — were uncontested.
Liberty Hill has not had a ballot election for city council in three years. The last one, held in 2014, saw Mayor Connie Fuller elected over Jamie Williamson, who had served for a single term. That year, Ron Rhea defeated David Wise, and Wendell McLeod ousted former member Vicki Brewer.
In 2014, 112 people voted.
In 2013, 47 ballots were cast. In 2012, 165. And in 2011, 148.
Jon Branigan will be assuming the alderman office of his mother, Elizabeth Branigan, who has served on the Council since 2013.
Whitehead took office in 2014, when he completed Fuller’s term and then ran unopposed for election in 2015.
Rundzieher has served on the Council for approximately 15 years.
Payroll deductions tentatively approved over legal concerns
Council voted 3-1 to approve an option for police officers to have their dues to the Texas Municipal Police Association automatically deducted from their paychecks.
The measure passed over concerns from Dottie Palumbo, the City’s legal counsel, who said that it could fall outside of the city’s express legal authority.
The same discussion had been raised in the Feb. 27 Council meeting, when TMPA Representative John Wilkerson spoke in favor of the automatic deduction.
The automatic deduction proposed is voluntary, and ensures a streamlined payment of dues from police officers into TMPA, which Wilkerson stressed, is not a union. Normally, the dues are manually paid by officers every month. The change would transfer that responsibility to the city.
According to TMPA’s website, the organization’s mission is to “protect the rights and interests of Texas law enforcement officers by providing the best legal assistance in the country, effective lobbying at state and local levels, affordable training and exemplary member support.”
Among the services the website states TMPA provides are “contract bargaining”, “management surveys”, “compensation surveys” and “local election/referendum”.
Palumbo raised the concern Monday and in February, that no statute gives the city the specific authority to authorize automated deductions outside certain city employees. State law only specifies the power to do such for cities with populations over 10,000.
She said that as a general law city, Liberty Hill only has authority insofar as it is exactly specified by state law.
The discussion in the February meeting was tabled until further legal research had been done.
On Monday, TMPA Representative Dick Brock presented Council with a list of 50 cities under a population of 10,000 that had already approved similar measures.
“If it wasn’t permissible under the law, these 50 cities would not have them,” he said. “We encourage you to move forward with this issue that the officers are asking for.”
“We need a statute which would give us the express authority to do this,” Palumbo said. “We are not a home rule government, where we can govern ourselves.”
Palumbo requested that the Council wait until the City’s legal department could look into the legal grounding used by the 50 cities on Brock’s list.
Shortly before Palumbo made her remarks however, Councilman Wendell McLeod made a motion to approve the measure. Acknowledging the motion still on the table, Mayor Fuller called for a vote, and the motion passed 3-1.
Troy Whitehead was the only dissenting vote, who said that he wanted to defer until the City’s legal counsel could determine the legal status of the motion.
Palumbo said that legal would still take a “quick look” into the matter, and bring it back for discussion if it was found that there was “something really wrong.”
City employees report that the measure will not be enforced until the legal department resolves the question of its legal standing.
TMPA would pay an administrative fee to the city, up to 25 percent of dues collected, to offset the cost of the city’s labor in automating the payments. The fee would be paid for by TMPA, and would not be charged to the officers.
Firm to assess and compare City salaries
It’s a “huge undertaking” and needed “fire control,” said City Administrator Greg Boatright.
An in-depth analysis of salaries of city employees will be performed by Ray Associates, Inc.
The survey would help to update the salaries and job descriptions of the city’s 23 employees, which are currently classified in 18 job titles.
Council voted 4-0 to authorize Boatright to sign an agreement with the company.
The proposal from the company says it will “determine appropriate classifications” for the 23 employees and ensure that they are paid “fairly and competitively.”
Ray Associates will compare the city’s salaries to similar positions in cities with comparable situations, a list of which will be presented to Council before final use.
The comparison goes beyond job titles, and will instead breakdown what duties are actually involved in the positions.
Boatright said this would provide an opportunity to update the job descriptions for different department heads. These were found lacking in accuracy during the employee assessments performed in recent days leading up to Monday’s meeting.
Additionally, Ray Associates’ survey will take into account more generalized factors in assessing the salary of a given position. The proposal given to Council listed 10 factors that would be considered. They included “required knowledge, skills and abilities,” “supervisory responsibility,” “level and frequency of outside contacts,” and more.
The company has performed a similar service for other cities in Texas. The proposal packet listed eight cities, out of which Boatright said Bastrop was a relevant reference point, as it is “fast-growing and faces some of the same challenges (Liberty Hill does).”
The $29,754 price tag for the study specifies that it does not include “reasonable and documented expenses,” such as travel, which it said was not expected to exceed $1,000. The motion approved by Council specified that the amount should be capped explicitly.
Boatright said that this amount equals a cost of about $1,200 per employee.
“But this is information that will be useful for years,” he said. “It’s a great first step in addressing the problem that we have in compensating our employees fairly.”
Fuller said that the assessment would “lay a framework for the future basis” of the city’s budget planning.
Firm to draft a drainage master plan
Council voted to approve a contract with K. Frieze and Associates to perform a comprehensive, city wide drainage master plan.
In its first phase, the plan would assess current conditions, develop short and long term solutions for flooding problems and identify potential funding sources.
“Right now, we don’t have a plan,” Boatright said. “All we can do is suggest when we see plots.”
Boatright said a duplex lot on Myrtle Street offers an example where drainage issues are apparent, and affect residents.
“If you’ve driven down there, there are pipes that are aimed at houses,” he said. “That’s concerning.”
Chad Cormack, who recently gave a presentation to city employees on drainage modeling software, would play a major role.
“We have the right person and the right company to help us in this initial step,” Boatright said.
Boatright said that he would be interested to see what effect the railroad has on the city’s drainage, and added that it appears to “act as a dam throughout the city.”
Fuller said, “we’ve needed this a long time. We just never had the means to do it.”
She added, “even though we can’t do all the projects right now, if we’ve got our plan, then we can put it into operation incrementally in a long-term plan.”
Boatright said that the $25,750 for the project should be taken out of the Tax Notes fund. Of the $1.6 million identified for projects in the fund so far, Boatright said they have used about $289,000.
Annexation Services Agreement goes back to the drawing board
A proposed agreement with Bojorquez Law Firm, P.C. would provide outside help to the city in annexation efforts, which city employees have highlighted in the past as a needed service.
When the agenda affirming the agreement came to discussion, Boatright requested that Council hold on approving it. Additional measures needed to be added to the agreement, he said, and Council agreed to table the matter until April 24.
Boatright said that he and City Planner Sally McFeron had discussed the matter at length, and would like to spend more time talking with the associates at the firm.
The city is allowed to unilaterally annex up to 10 percent of its existing land mass every year, though unused percentages can accumulate for a maximum of three years.
The topic has become a priority for the city in recent years, especially as an influx of agreements have kept the city’s planners “just knocking down what comes through the door,” as Boatright has begun to say.
The city lost 7 percent in annexations last year out of an allowed 30 percent.
In other business, the Council approved a site plan for a new upscale nail salon and daytime spa called the Radiant Salon, which will be located at 2621 Ranch Road 1869.
The Council also set Spring and Fall dates for Clean Up Days. May 19 will be for curbside pick-ups, and May 20 for drop-offs at the county barn. Fall’s dates are Oct. 20 and 21 for the same schedule.