Council picks Graeter as new Chief

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The City of Liberty Hill didn’t have to look far for its next police chief as the Council voted unanimously Monday to hire interim Chief Royce Graeter.

Graeter most recently served as lieutenant in the Liberty Hill Police Department under former Chief Maverick Campbell, and was named interim chief when Campbell was terminated in March.

Mayor Rick Hall told The Independent Tuesday he believes Graeter has the qualities to lead the department.

“We feel that Graeter is the right choice for the position of chief of police because of his background in law enforcement with over 24 years of service and extensive training and knowledge and previous experience,” he said. “Integrity and honesty is something that we should also be looking for in any leadership position. His department highly respects him and that is a good thing for that department.”

The Council deliberated the decision as one of five items on the executive session agenda for an hour and a half, before returning to open session and unanimously approving the hire with no public discussion.

Graeter was hired as an employee and not under a contract at an annual salary of $115,000.

“He preferred it not to be under a contract because he felt like he wanted to be able to continue to prove himself to the City and not be bound by contract,” Hall said. “He wants to show he is willing to do the job and can do the job, so he was fine either way. I think it shows dedication on his part not to be under contract and if he’s okay with it then the City is too.”

James McLaughlin, General Counsel and Executive Director for the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said most Texas cities hire police chiefs as employees who are not under contract.

Campbell was employed under contract by the City with a salary of $124,000.

Campbell’s attorney, Tiger Hanner, filed a grievance on behalf of the former chief with the City, seeking reinstatement. The Mayor would not address the issue of the grievance and Campbell’s request for reinstatement.

“That’s currently being investigated and until that’s done the only comment I will make on that is the City decided to hire Royce Graeter as the Chief of Police for Liberty Hill,” Hall said.

The grievance was filed April 9, one month after Campbell was terminated without public explanation by the City Council.

“The grievance seeks that he be reinstated,” Hanner said. “He shouldn’t have been terminated and they violated his contract as it is. Ultimately that’s the request in the grievance that it be investigated and he be reinstated.”

Hanner added that Campbell would not hesitate to take further legal action if the City does not act on the grievance.

“We will pursue appropriate legal actions,” Hanner said. “We are trying to give the City an opportunity to review this and correct it, but if they choose not to take that opportunity we will pursue the appropriate legal route. In filing the grievance, Maverick has been committed to serving the City. He’s also committed to protecting his rights under the contract. The grievance process is part of reviewing their actions and it is the first step we’ve taken in that regard.”

The grievance was on the April 27 Council agenda under executive session, but the issue was not addressed in open session.

The Independent filed a Freedom of Information Request for the grievance on April 30, but has not received a response from the City as of May 6. The deadline to the allowable 10 business day period to respond to the request is May 14.

EDC grants
After the Liberty Hill Economic Development Corp. considered an initial proposal April 30 for a business grant program in response to the crunch on local businesses due to the impact of COVID-19, the City Council stepped in Monday and moved the project forward.

The Council approved the framework for the program by a 4-0 vote, with Council member Kathy Canady abstaining. Canady said she abstained because she owns a business within the city limits.

Hall said he expects the application to be posted on the City website this week, but did not have a specific date or details. He said applicants would be considered at the next EDC meeting, which is scheduled for May 20.

“I don’t know all the details of that off hand,” he said. “All those applications will come into the City portal then they will go to the EDC for acceptance. It will be the same as the facade grants (and other programs). The EDC will be the approval authority and it will come to the City for final approval.”

The program will take $100,000 of EDC funds and make available up to 20 grants for up to $5,000 each for local businesses.

The criteria stipulates to be eligible a business must have 50 or fewer employees, have a publicly accessible location within the corporate limits of Liberty Hill, must not be home-based, have been in continuous operation over the previous 12 months, in good standing with the City regarding fees and financial obligations, and must provide a current sales tax certificate.

Businesses must also demonstrate current or anticipated declining revenue beginning March 1, due to the impact of COVID-19.

The EDC had named a committee of Board members Liz Rundzieher, Jamie Etzkorn and John Clark to work on the issue and bring it back for consideration at the May 20 meeting, but the Council moved forward with approval of the program Monday.

“This is extremely important to continue to help supporting our businesses,” Hall said. “As bad as our economy has been hit right now, anything the EDC and City can do to help these businesses during this struggling time is beneficial to sustain them. It was extremely important we were able to get this done.”

Municipal Judge contract
Council gave Hall permission to renegotiate the contract of Municipal Court Judge Kevin Madison.

Hall discussed the issue with The Independent Tuesday as more of a contract formality.

“It is supposed to be done every two years when the Mayor is elected and unfortunately the City didn’t do anything,” Hall said. “The contract essentially says that if nothing is done it is automatically renewed, which is okay by the contract language, but in speaking to (City Attorney) Tad (Cleaves), he feels that we should have a reconfirmation of contract signatures every two years just from a legal standpoint.”

He added that it is something he is trying to do across the City.

“I’m trying to make a standardized contract for everybody, whether they are a contractor, under a professional services agreement or whatever,” Hall said. “We’re basically going to put it in our language so it meets our standards.”

No changes are anticipated to the contract, according to Hall.

“At this point there are no changes I am aware of, unless he is wanting something that I’m not aware of,” he said. “From the City’s side it is just putting the proper language in the contract that we need to have in all contracts going forward.”

Public information
The Council approved its new public information policy and named recently-hired Chief Operating Officer Lacie Hale as the new public information officer.

The new policy, which mirrors Texas Code 552, spells out the requirements and methods for requesting information, the timeline for a City response and rules for determining whether requesters can be charged for information.

“I really think this is very aligned with the local government code and the open meetings act,” Hall said. “We didn’t divert anything from that, but it gives us local understanding and quick reference for making sure our requesters are clear in what they’re asking and making sure everybody fully understands the timeline. It is just to me more of a bookkeeping thing to make sure everybody knows this is the process.”

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