EDITORIAL: Why should Liberty Hill’s Mayor, Council be paid?

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Should the Liberty Hill Mayor and City Council members be paid?

The question is simple. It is reasonable. It is one Mayor Rick Hall has only vaguely addressed and an issue the Council has thus far chosen not to mention.

When was the last time someone chose to pay themselves with your money and not at least offered to explain to you why?

Based on the proposed 2019-2020 City budget, Council members – who have not previously been compensated – will be paid $12,000 annually, or roughly $500 per regular Council meeting to serve this community. The Mayor will receive a salary of $40,000 rather than the $500 monthly stipend approved in late 2017 – a 567 percent pay increase. In total, the budget proposes spending $100,000 on salaries for elected officials. How many potholes can be filled with $100,000?

Each penny of the tax rate represents about $31,000 in revenue. The raises for elected officials then account for 3 cents of the 49-cent tax rate. Is lowering the rate 3 cents an option worth discussing?

This addition to the budget raises hundreds of unanswered questions, but the most important one is “why?”. Maybe this compensation is a good thing. Let’s talk about it.

Each Council member will have a golden opportunity at the Aug. 26 meeting to address whether they support the compensation plan or not, and tell the community on the hook for paying that proposed salary why they deserve it.

Choosing not to answer the question is a message to the community that voting in favor of their own paycheck is not important enough to explain and that accountability is just a word tossed about during campaign time.

The puzzle that was poured out on the table by Mayor Hall when he was elected in May 2018 has many pieces that singularly don’t signal a whole lot. However, when you put them together they begin to create a picture of Hall running the city with the backing of a council he has chosen to pay for their service.

No one can say – nor should they say – that Hall’s ideas for Liberty Hill are bad in terms of managing growth, development, or infrastructure. But regardless of any well-meaning goals, the consolidation of control and authority evidenced by Hall’s recent fight for increased supervisory authority, the sudden departure of City Administrator Greg Boatright, and the proposal for salaries for elected officials is dangerous for Liberty Hill.

Should residents of Liberty Hill and the City Council elected to serve them suddenly put everything in the hands of a Mayor who before 2018 held no public office or worked in government?

Would Hall be hired as a city administrator if he applied with a resume and went through an interview process?

Hall ran for a position that paid a stipend. He ran for a position of public service. He is quickly turning the position he won with 72 total votes into one that looks very different than when he arrived.

The jury is out on what the future holds for Liberty Hill under Hall. Perhaps it is intense growth and prosperity. Perhaps it is something else.

Each Council member ran for or was appointed to an unpaid position of public service. They are now on a fast track to change that.

Hall said Council members – aside from Liz Rundzieher – didn’t know about the compensation plan before the budget was proposed Aug. 12. Was it a surprise? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that one of them might ask about it when they first saw it proposed? It is odd that to date no one on the Council has mentioned it. Is it a lack of awareness? Embarrassment? Or is it something they feel they don’t really need to justify?

The notion of selfless public service is tarnished by talk of a paycheck, unless someone wants to step up and explain the importance of it. Many cities do pay their Council and Mayor. Should Liberty Hill be one of those cities?

Paying elected officials changes many things about expectations and how we view their role. Often elected officials get to fall back on the premise that they are volunteers, doing thankless work, making difficult decisions and giving up their own time for the community.

If Liberty Hill is going to pay the Mayor to lead the City, what role will the next City Administrator have? Who becomes responsible for what?

What additional responsibilities or expectations should there be going forward, or is this $100,000 simply long overdue compensation for their efforts?

Would these elected officials have supported compensation for the Council a year ago?

It’s not the newspaper’s role to decide if the City Council is doing something wrong or not on this issue. There is no legal issue with the Mayor and Council voting to pay themselves.

It is the newspaper’s role, however, to ask whether the Council is doing things the right way or not. The Independent believes each member of the Council and the Mayor owe it to Liberty Hill to publicly explain why they should be compensated.

If that justification makes sense, then Liberty Hill can chalk this move up to growth. If it doesn’t, we can chalk the issue up to the fact we are not really all that grown up yet.

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