EDITORIAL: Civic responsibility goes beyond pitchforks and torches

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More than 75 area residents showed up at the City Council meeting Monday eager to make their voices heard.

They were heard. And while both groups present probably went home happy and satisfied they had shown the City of Liberty Hill how the First Amendment works, most should sharpen their sense of civic responsibility beyond the ability to show up, point fingers and threaten legal action.

Standing up and slinging uninformed accusations while demanding representation without taxation takes some of the luster from the appeal to everyone’s sense of community and demonstrates just how uninvolved people have become. Petitioning the government for change – or a lack of change – is as American as it gets, but what’s always been assumed is that petitioners should be informed participants in the process. A number of times Monday, residents showed that was just not the case.

The last of 10 area residents who chastised the Council over its annexation plans used the canceled roundabout project as evidence that city management and staff are not able to manage money or projects effectively, much less annexation.

One gentleman let the current Council off the hook for the roundabout, saying it was before their time, and praised Mayor Rick Hall and the Council for its leadership. But the fact is the Mayor and new Council are the ones who put a stop to the roundabout project in May. The group being praised was the group that decided that the City could walk away after already making a $400,000 investment.

City staff developed the roundabout project over the course of a year and the previous Council approved that plan, as well as the nearly $400,000 spent before the May cancellation.

But those facts didn’t stop the rant as the gentleman worked to prove how incompetent the City is.

The other angry group of residents showed up to fight a new road planned through their Sundance Ranch neighborhood. They claimed backroom discussions, hidden agendas, poor planning and a lack of communication from the City led to this threat to their rights and property, then followed up with their own promises of a fight.

The problem is there was no new road plan recently unveiled. There is no imminent road to be built through the middle of Sundance Ranch. The road in question is a conceptual proposal as part of a long-range master transportation plan passed by the City Council more than a year ago. The map in question dates back to at least April of 2018.

The plan was not hatched in a dark alley and it was not developed in a vacuum. It was discussed at multiple meetings and community input was sought throughout the process of developing the plan.

But last weekend a resident found a map no one had bothered to be concerned about before and it created a wave of emotional anger and assumptions. The reaction was uninformed, with one resident going so far as to scrutinize a plan for a shared use path from downtown to City Park, just south of Sundance Ranch, believing it was associated with the road plan in question. The irony of the suspect line of questioning during a separate hearing is that the planned shared use path would not impact those residents at all – not their property or their tax bill – but would allow them to walk downtown from their neighborhood, perhaps to visit Veterans Park, see the refurbished Fowler Building or play in the splash pad, all built on someone else’s dime.

To a degree, the local government works for everyone in the community, even those outside its incorporated limits. But even if the tax burden is not shared, the burden of being engaged and informed should be.

Residents can’t claim they are not told when the local government takes action on something. They can admit they didn’t bother to pay attention, say they didn’t feel they had time to participate, or that they just didn’t care until it was at their doorstep, but claiming they were not told is like sleeping through geometry class then blaming the teacher for not being able to solve a proof.

It is a claim as old as posted public meetings and not particular to Liberty Hill. These meetings are two Mondays per month. Other meetings as called are posted. The Independent is at every one of those meetings and reporting weekly on City business. Ten minutes a week thumbing through the newspaper would have clarified the fate of the roundabout. It would have helped people understand the long-range transportation plan, and explained the long-discussed desire to build a shared-use path from City Park to downtown.

The City of Liberty Hill and the new City Council don’t have it all figured out and the road to the future has been rocky lately. But how many people are really paying attention and caring about what happens from one meeting to the next?

There’s a good chance that the meetings for the remainder of 2019 won’t draw as many residents combined as Monday’s did. Why not? A budget will be set soon and road priorities will be discussed. Will you be there?

Building a great community is a proactive task, not one where the population tunes it out until a decision has been made then descends on the decision-makers to question their competency or cast doubt on their intent.

Over and over Monday evening, residents stood at the podium and referred to the Liberty Hill area as a community, imploring neighbors inside and outside the city limits to come together and embrace one another and hear one another. But here’s the catch, to truly be one community everyone has to participate in the process and understand the challenges, the needs and the plans intended to improve that community as a whole.

The Independent is a bridge between the City and area residents. It exists to tell what is happening, explain what it means and facilitate some of the public discussion. If you want to be informed and if you want to understand the how and why of local government, The Independent is a good start.

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