Council winners promise change
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
A block of candidates endorsed by Mayor Rick Hall swept the Liberty Hill Council races Saturday, with challengers Steve McIntosh and Gram Lankford topping Troy Whitehead and Elizabeth Branigan respectively, and incumbent Liz Rundzieher holding off Bill Brannan.
Though turnout was low, each of the winning candidates tallied 62 percent or more of the vote in their race. There were 118 ballots cast in the city election, down from 129 last May.
McIntosh finished with a 74-41 edge over Whitehead, Lankford grabbed 72 votes to Branigan’s 44 and Rundzieher had the highest vote total with 77 compared to 41 for Brannan.
Broken down among the three precincts that represent portions of Liberty Hill, all but seven ballots cast were in Pct. 206, which includes all parts of the city limits west of US 183 and south of SH 29. No votes were cast in the city election east of US 183 in Pct. 267 and only seven west of US 183 and north of SH 29 in Pct. 207.
For McIntosh, the results showed the voters were ready for change.
“I think they were ready to have a different approach and that was pretty much reflected in the results,” he said. “They want a different approach in the way the city is run.”
Rundzieher acknowledged that turnout was not what she had hoped, but was happy to see the results supporting her campaign.
“They liked what I had to say I suppose,” she said. “They were for the infrastructure I am planning on implementing.”
For Lankford, it was about people not feeling included in decisions before.
“It was pretty clear that people more or less wanted change in the aspect of transparency and a lot of citizens just felt like they were voicing their ideas and felt like they were being ignored by the current City Council members,” he said. “I think that the reason why you saw such a difference in the numbers was because people thought the change, choosing to elect Steve McIntosh and I and reelecting Liz Rundzieher would be in their best interest in the view that we would go forward trying to listen more to what our citizens were saying and making decisions for the city based on what they think is best going forward.”
The three candidates developed a connection through the campaign, advocating similar issues and earning a number of endorsements through social media including that of Hall, EDC Chairman Bill Chapman, and the Liberty Hill Fair & Rodeo, which received a $10,000 rodeo sponsorship from the City in February following a Council vote.
“We did put out there what we stood for and what we wanted and what we would like to see for the city and voters supported that,” Rundzieher said.
Questions were raised during the campaign about accusations within the community of alleged unethical conduct in connection to some city projects by Council members, City staff or appointees, but no specifics were provided at the time. The newly-elected members all indicated this week that it is an issue they will pursue.
“That’s going to be something that’s up for discussion, but it will be addressed,” McIntosh said. “It was a campaign issue, it came from the public, it’s not going to be put aside now that the election is over. There will be some focus on those issues, going backward to review those issues. I don’t want to say too much about that because I haven’t spoken with the other Council members about it in detail, but there will be a focus on that.”
The ethics issue, in part, is expected to be on the City Council agenda May 13, according to Rundzieher, who said she had some information but wasn’t ready to discuss it publicly.
“They will be looked into,” Rundzieher said, adding that she has seen evidence of ethics issues, but declined to discuss them specifically before addressing them with the Council.”
“I know a few of us would like to investigate that and see if any of the rumors were true,” Lankford said. “I think they need to be further investigated to actually figure out if it was just hearsay or there was wrongdoing going on.”
He mentioned the need for a detective at the police department to facilitate going forward with an investigation.
“I think if laws are being broken, if any of the rumors hold any value, I think it is going to be more than just saying these people had ties to each other and they were colluding to make money,” he said. “That would have to be investigated to see if any of the claims hold any value.”
There are indications that a number of planned projects in the City could be eliminated soon after the new Council is set, chief among those being the roundabout that has already been bid out.
“There’s a lot on the table, but as far as what needs to be addressed first but this first City Council meeting is going to be pretty crucial,” Lankford said. “The first thing that needs to happen is we need to do our best to all get on the same page, which a majority of us are. I think the roundabout is most likely not going to go forward, we’re most likely going to change that. I’d like to look into the one-way streets policy as well, not saying anything is going to change immediately because in the essence of safety there is a plan that needs to be solidified.”
Rundzieher has opposed moving forward with the roundabout project, voting against it most recently when the bid was awarded for construction, saying she believed other projects should be a higher priority.
“Infrastructure,” she said, citing her priority of focus going forward. “By that, I mean repairing streets. That’s one of the main things I want to see initially. It’s not my only focus, but that’s the initial one. We have streets here that are so deplorable that they really need to be fixed before anything else is done.”
McIntosh also cited road work as a priority as well as drainage issues.
“We have properties in the city that are getting flooded during heavy rains and those have to be, and should have been mitigated, when the previous projects were put in around them,” he said. “The road quality, in my opinion, is in desperate need of some attention. Then again, keep in mind that without an understanding of some of the other issues, and I haven’t walked all the streets, there are probably some things I am missing or not aware of like water and wastewater issues.”
Lankford and McIntosh campaigned on a greater sense of transparency and inclusion among living outside the city limits.
“The community needs some things done,” McIntosh said. “The infrastructure needs to be looked at and prioritized and I’d like to get people more involved that are not only in the city but are outside the city. We’ve already had some discussions about how we can do that, but I don’t want there to be any disenfranchisement, which I think some people felt.”
He said living outside the city limits did not take away their voice when it comes to city issues.
“In some sense they don’t bear the same tax burden, but in some sense they do,” he said. “Some of those people are business owners, they certainly spend money in the city and I’m not suggesting any radical approach, but I do think the people from outside the city need to be part of the decisions that we make, whether that be live feed City Council meetings or going out to the properties themselves and sitting down with the folks or having a forum with the folks outside and the business owners. We have to create some kind of outreach with them.”
Lankford echoed the idea of making sure everyone is included and heard.
“We’re all going to do our best going forward in order to make the citizens of Liberty Hill feel like they are being heard,” he said. “We are going to try to amplify the transparency between the Council and the citizens so that they feel like their ideas are validated going forward.”
Keeping the lines of communication open, through a variety of ways, is what Rundzieher hopes will address the feeling of those who say they are not being represented.
“I will be putting up a web page for Council,” she said. “I would love to have citizens of the community use it to let me know what they think about what’s going on, what needs to be done, and not wait until an election comes up and then start with their concerns.”
All three candidates expressed their gratitude to voters for electing them.
“I’m appreciative to the voters who voted,” McIntosh said. “I was pretty humbled by it and I’m going to try and do all I can to make the city what they want it to be. Having spent so much time in the last few months talking to so many people I think I’m getting a clear vision of what they’re wanting and I’m going to keep working at that.”
Also in the May 9 issue:
• Parsons wins LHISD School Board seat
• Whimsy & Wonder is May 18
• Gautheir makes third trip to State Golf Tournament
• White signs with University of Montana
• Flake helps Panther baseball advance