EDITORIAL: The smell of double standards

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They stink.

And recently the stench of double standard has become unbearable as the current City Council steps over the messes it creates while appearing to dutifully “clean up” everywhere else in the City they claim to catch a whiff of something unsavory.

The most recent double standard comes in the casual dismissal that it is even reasonable to question the potential conflict of interest posed by thousands of dollars in donations to Mayor Rick Hall’s reelection campaign by developers currently moving projects through the City process.

Hall denies any issue, and perhaps that is true, but to shrug off the question like it is not reasonable is ridiculous. Hall is involved in everything that happens in Liberty Hill government. He has created that scenario, and to say City departments handle projects, and council approves them as though he is unaware or distant from any of it is a hard pill to swallow.

But more than the casual dismissal of the issue is the history of this Council’s love of slinging ethical arrows around.

To understand the most recent rewrite of right and wrong we should look back all the way to Spring 2019, when three Council candidates – Steve McIntosh, Gram Lankford and Liz Rundzieher – spent much of their campaign implying some sort of unethical behavior by unnamed individuals affiliated with the City on certain planned projects.

Each were willing to say they had heard about such problems, but were not willing to elaborate, simply saying change was needed. Hall, who endorsed the trio of candidates reluctantly addressed the issue in April 2019 as it became louder.

“The only thing we can do, is either have the newspaper or somebody look into it,” Hall said. “That’s one of the problems any growing community faces is as small as we are, rumors get started and it doesn’t take long for that rumor to go clear across the community. Then sometimes, if they say it enough it appears to be a reality when it’s really not.”

But no one was willing to share more details of the rumor they readily spread, but were also not willing to disavow it as illegitimate.

The Independent was encouraged to investigate the issue, and even wrote a pair of stories on the matter with whatever information could be found that might shed light on the rumors, but nothing ever materialized.

Once the election passed and the win was in, there was a momentary flash of action when it became apparent that local resident and developer Chris Pezold was the target of their accusations. But in moments that effort fizzled and the Council lost interest. The response to the newspaper’s inquiry on their follow up met with angry response that the paper was trying to make something of it. Clearly there was no real unethical behavior to seize on, and once the election was over the rumor lost its luster. But it was useful while it lasted, right?

So how do we determine when there is a conflict of interest and when there is not one? It was a critically important issue once. Was it important when the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce got to negotiate in secret for free office space in a City building, even with Hall’s spouse being employed by the Chamber?

Was it important when Council member Kathy Canady falsified a loan document and chose to live in a business she was not supposed to according to City ordinance, all the while being the first in line to cry out for accountability from former City employees terminated at the first sign of any mistake?

Is it important now as donations roll in for a Mayor seeking reelection as those donors work their development projects through city approvals?

Tell us when to be concerned or outraged, because when this Council was formed, there certainly seemed to be a real focus on public accountability and setting a higher ethical standard.

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