EDITORIAL: Finally, but why?

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A cloud has hung over the Liberty Hill City Council’s relationship with Police Chief Maverick Campbell for months.

Today, it appears that cloud has disappeared in the summer sun, but for the residents of Liberty Hill, it came and went with little understanding of what it was all about.

That’s not how government is supposed to work.

Make no mistake, some are probably glad this question has been resolved, but where is the explanation?

The City Council made the right decision Monday when it voted unanimously to shift the Police Chief back under the supervision of City Administrator Greg Boatright. The decision comes 13 months after voting to make then-Mayor Connie Fuller the Chief’s supervisor.

In a city the size of Liberty Hill, the administrative knowledge and management necessary to run the city on a daily basis – including its police department – should fall to the administrator.

Having the leader of the city staff — the manager of the city’s business — supervise the police chief removes that position from the possibility of political influence. A system where a chief answers to an elected official opens the door for trouble. Having the police department policing itself and answering to campaigning politicians constantly brings questions of political connections and fair treatment. De-politicizing policing has long been the goal of cities as they seek to build trust between law enforcement and the citizens who pay the taxes.

This change also establishes more continuity. Sure, even staff leadership changes, but elections are held each year, and being that closely tied to the city’s elected officials means that continuity is threatened with every vote.

So it is resolved for the best. But don’t residents deserve to know why the issue came up in the first place? Doesn’t it make sense people may be curious as to why the Police Chief came up on the agenda under executive session time and again through the spring?

Beginning in May, one meeting after another featured an agenda with the question of who would supervise the Police Chief, and each time nothing happened. Thankfully, finally something happened, but no one knows why.

Public discourse is the foundation of our system of governance. Decisions should be made publicly and discussed publicly. If a decision requires discussion behind closed doors, which is often the case, it deserves some public explanation when a decision is finally made.

The hope is this issue is behind our city. The public comment has been that no one had a preference on how the Chief’s supervisory situation ended, but many meetings of discussion imply otherwise.

The Police Chief deserved for this issue, whatever it was, to be resolved more quickly. While it wasn’t hashed out in the public eye in debate, it was certainly kept in the public eye as people wondered exactly what the problem was.

With the changes to the employee handbook and pending changes to the ordinance governing city employees, we can hope it signals an end to the possibility of such changes with every election.

Change is happening in Liberty Hill as the population grows and development comes, and with so many important decisions being made – both with personnel and policy – more public discussion is better than less, even if it is nothing but an explanation to those being served by the council about how and why a decision was made.

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