EDITORIAL: You don’t need to hide nothing to hide

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When Mayor Rick Hall was on a ride along with former Liberty Hill Police Officer Jeff Farmer in 2018 it is alleged that Hall acted inappropriately during a high-speed police chase.

This particular incident was the first of what has evolved into a number of allegations made against Hall relating to constant ride-outs with officers since he became Mayor, and requests for rides from officers for the Mayor and his spouse.

That first allegation was the subject of a Freedom of Information request submitted to the City of Liberty Hill by The Independent on March 2 to obtain the video and audio from the officer’s body camera and police unit. The request was made to determine whether the incident took place as described, and show whether there was reason to believe there is any truth to other similar stories reported to the newspaper.

The City – and Hall – have had 86 days since that request to provide the footage in question and prove the allegations aren’t true. Instead, the City – and Hall – have chosen a path of stonewalling and dodging, deciding not to prove the allegations false, but instead to keep it all a mystery.

Why?

Hall has admitted the video footage exists.

But he reportedly told the former City Secretary, who was fired Tuesday, not to release the footage when the request was received. Then on March 16, the City exhausted its 10-day window to respond to our request and appealed it to the Attorney General’s (AG) office.

Hall told us he expected a response from the AG around May 25. So as May 25 approached, there was little surprise that another method to avoid releasing the video had been discovered. According to the City, the date range for which the video was requested was inaccurate. So the date was wrong, but still no one denied the footage existed, and no one ever seemed confused about exactly which video was being requested.

In a discussion of outstanding unanswered requests for information, Hall told The Independent that the City’s public information policy needed work.

“The process was broke, and we are fixing that process,” Hall said on May 5. “There’s no consistency in what was done and with this public information policy we’re bringing to Council on (May 11) this will solidify the process and everything going forward should be black and white. There should be no gray area.”

But ironically, three weeks later, the same man looking for ways to improve the process had this to say about our request.

“You can appeal that to the AG,” Hall said May 22 regarding the City’s latest response. “We will have to turn over the body cam footage to the AG in the right date range, then they would have to make a ruling on it at that point. I can’t tell you what day it {the requested video recording} is, that’s not right for me to tell you what day it is.

“The time frame you asked for, it did not exist in that time frame. I know it sounds like we’re being difficult, but this is part of the process that the City has failed in a long time of not providing public information by the law,” Hall said.

The City has failed. The City is failing.

It could be argued that looking for loopholes to providing public information that could be incriminating to the person choosing not to share it is much worse. The strategy now appears to go a step beyond failing to act, and instead choosing to act to hide information from the public.

If there’s nothing to hide, then there’s no reason to look for excuses not to share the footage.

If there is something to hide, then the failure is on the part of Hall in his actions, and on the Council and city staff members that make it possible to hide those actions.

Is there nothing – or something – to hide?

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