EDITORIAL: A challenge to the City

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The Independent has a service role in the Liberty Hill community. The City of Liberty Hill’s only role is to serve the community.

Part of that service is accountability. It is understanding the reality that when someone asks, the City must respond. No one expects city officials to tell people what they want to hear in all cases. Tough decisions must be made at times, but explanations and documentation are essential in supporting those decisions.

City Hall owns no information. It has no secrets. If it is focused on its role in the community, there should never be a point where it obstructs, avoids or ignores when any member of the community requests information about City business. That is not the case.

Nonetheless, City Hall is determined to convince you that it values transparency and openness, that it has nothing to hide and makes no effort to avoid sharing information.

In response to that now regular declaration coming from City Hall, The Independent is issuing a simple challenge to those making decisions in Liberty Hill. If there is doubt that the newspaper is seeking information for a valid reason, or suspicion the newspaper is going to “make up facts” as a few Council members like to suggest, the City should respond to each request for information from The Independent by posting that request, and the data requested on its Facebook page for all to see and evaluate. Now that’s transparency.

We can begin with the five outstanding requests that have yet to be answered, one dating back to February, a couple from March, and two new ones in July. I’m sure everyone would love a chance to decide for themselves if that information is important for the public to know.

The City wants to play a cat and mouse game about proper dates, rules for release and police videos, but Mayor Rick Hall has admitted a number of times – in recorded interviews – that from the time those videos were first requested he knew exactly what The Independent was asking for. He hung his hat on a technicality, then said “well, those are the rules.”

What about the rules regarding access to onboard patrol vehicle computers? There doesn’t seem to be much interest in the rules on the part of the Council or Hall about what he did in that patrol car. Maybe that’s a different set of rules.

Yes, The Independent fought hard and loudly for that video. Imagine if the paper had shrugged and walked away when the City refused to hand over the information the first time. By fighting the release of that video, even through “legal” means, Hall essentially hid his own actions as long as he could.

The way Liberty Hill deals with requests for information – at least from The Independent – is not standard. As an example, the paper sent requests to the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality on July 12. The same day the paper received verification the request was received. The next day the agency sought to clarify some things on the request and politely said it might take a few days to gather the information. No 10 days of silence followed by no response or an automatic request to the Texas Attorney General to withhold the information.

Is asking questions a problem? Questions are only a problem when the answer is not a good one.

Is asking for data from the City a problem? Only if the data shows something the City doesn’t want to share.

The City implies there are too many questions. That people should “understand that when you hear that the folks working in City Hall have no comment to questions from the media, there’s likely a legitimate reason for doing so”. If there’s a legitimate reason, then we’re happy to listen and report the good reasons information can’t be shared or explained.

The reality is, the City acts as though that information is not yours. What the City spent on security devices at your City Hall? A secret. What City revenues and expenses are to date in the City budget? There are no responsive documents to that request. What is the ride along policy for the Liberty Hill Police Department? Silence so far. The list goes on and on.

If the Mayor and City Council are doing the right things the right way, then all of this information will validate that. So let’s take a look, talk about the issues and let the City show us all that things are being done the right way for the right reasons.
Without that, transparency in Liberty Hill remains pretty fuzzy.

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