EDITORIAL: Zero Day comes for Liberty Hill Sept. 9

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Momentum has been building for 16 months as Liberty Hill has picked up steam toward Sept. 9.

When the City Council takes its record vote Monday on the proposed budget and tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year there will be no question who owns the leadership decisions in Liberty Hill.

Mayor Rick Hall, with a supportive Council behind him, has found himself in a position to make essentially every decision for Liberty Hill. We all hope he makes the right decisions for the right reasons.

Hall gives deference to the City Council – as he should – when he talks about making decisions for Liberty Hill. But there is no evidence since the election that this Council intends to challenge Hall on plans or decisions. Again, we can only hope the Council makes the right decisions for the right reasons.

Our elected officials have used the word “change” extensively, and claimed residents of Liberty Hill were looking for something different. They won their elections, so perhaps that nebulous claim that has been treated like a mandate will prove to be true. It will depend on how the “change” turns out.

A number of these Council members campaigned on the idea that the previous Council simply followed the lead of a City Administrator that dictated policy for the City. Today, it appears this Council is taking the same approach they frowned upon on the campaign trail, in favor of the Mayor rather than the City Administrator.

Hall and this Council have won the right to do exactly what they are doing. There’s nothing illegal about that, but let’s be honest about what it is. This is a dramatic shift in how a city is run. It does not come without question marks and risks.

The budget process this summer is a reflection of the efforts Hall has made since he took the Oath in May 2018. Some of those goals have been realized through his first 16 months in office, others were initially rebuffed by the previous Council and former City Administrator Greg Boatright.

Hall’s response during that timespan has often been one of indifference, or deferring to the will of the Council at the time, but when all the votes were counted following the May election this year, Hall no longer had much opposition to his plans.

In May, the Council Hall helped get elected joined him to put an end to – at least for the near future – a number of capital projects already in progress. He also garnered enough support to pull supervisory authority of city staff out of the City Administrator’s hands and assume those duties himself. They abruptly ended a relationship with a consultant responsible for many long-term planning projects, claiming at the time the duties could be handled by staff. But the Council has since hired a new consultant that appears set to handle many of the same duties. All a matter of preference it seems. And all perfectly within the Council’s right, but was Liberty Hill so in need of a complete makeover? There never seemed to be an outcry over how broken the city was before.

After a quiet June and July for the Council, the new budget crafted by Hall was proposed to the Council, including a number of additions that were stark departures from the City’s recent budgetary philosophy.

New staff additions that could not gain enough support among the Council last August were essentially doubled this time around. Training budgets were nearly tripled. The Mayor and Council are now due for a salary beginning in May.

On the revenue side, concerns over how much the City relies on certain revenue streams to make ends meet has been replaced with the philosophy that there are plenty of funds available and nothing to be overly cautious about.

It all becomes official after Monday’s vote. That means this Council and Mayor own the revenue estimates. It means they own the increase of staff by nearly 50 percent. They own the new direction of planned capital projects, or lack of projects.

Liberty Hill is getting the change Hall and others have claimed it wants. The Mayor and Council members have denied there is an agenda behind it all, but an agenda is surely at work. There have been too few public discussions and too little public planning since the election to believe there was not a plan in place.

In the days after the May election, Hall said, “I have nothing on my radar per se right now other than business as normal. I have zero vote in a council meeting unless there is a tie in something, so again, my goal is working with the Council and carrying out the wishes of the Council and helping devise plans to keep us moving forward.”

We all hope Liberty Hill continues to move forward. But for now, it appears as though we will just have to wait and see whether the changes being implemented in dramatic fashion prove to be the right ones.

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