By MIKE EDDLEMAN
A pair of mayoral candidates – challenger Rick Hall and incumbent Connie Fuller – are hoping to win the job of leading the City of Liberty Hill into the future.
Hall, who is a health insurance agent and chief operating officer of a spa, is currently serving as president of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce. Fuller, who works in real estate and is a former teacher, has served Liberty Hill as mayor or council member for 10 years.
The election is set for May 5 and includes contested races for City Council Place 4, and Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees Places 4 and 5.
Mayor Fuller is focused on one primary thing – finishing what has been started. She said that the city now has the resources to make plans become reality, and she wants to continue to be part of that process.
“For the first time in years, we have been able to have the ability to plan and to do some of these projects that have been on the back burner for years because we didn’t have the funding,” she said. “It is very exciting, I think we have about 15 capital improvement projects going, and I have been in on the planning of each one of them. I want to see them come to fruition.”
Seeing projects such as the wastewater plant and Veterans Park completed give Fuller a special sense of enjoyment.
“It is very rewarding to see,” she said. “It is like it is a part of me. When you work hard on a project and you see it to completion, it is really neat.”
Having been part of the city leadership for this long, Fuller remembers when Liberty Hill was just being noticed by developers and didn’t have the funds to do much.
“(Today) we actually have enough to hire a very capable staff,” she said. “We are able to do these basic plans that a city needs. We didn’t even have the money to update the comprehensive plan or implement the separate parts of it. Now we can look at the different areas, we can prioritize, look where we can get funding to help us work on a project and plan it out over a period of years so it can get done.”
Before, she said the city was just reacting to crisis, spending everything to deal with one issue at a time. She’s proud to say that the growth has allowed that to change without raising taxes in recent years and now long-range planning is helping to address issues differently.
“We haven’t raised the tax rate, we have kept it the same,” Fuller said. “We have issued tax notes the last couple of years to be able to make these improvements. We’re in such need of so many things like road improvements and everything you can think of.”
What makes Fuller most proud, is being part of the leadership as the city expanded its limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction to prevent other cities from encroaching on Liberty Hill.
“We’re going to have a large, well-planned community,” she said. “You have to stay ahead of everything, though. You annex that much property and you have to provide services.”
Having a council that she says works well together and stays focused on the needs of the community is something else she is proud of.
“We don’t have infighting,” Fuller said. “We have a great council now, and before you really couldn’t get anything done without it being difficult. We have worked hard at changing that.”
She hopes her leadership skills can continue to play a part in that effectiveness and willingness to work together.
“It is a leadership position as far as being knowledgable about what is going on,” she said of the mayor’s role. “I have to work to help implement the plans the staff has come up with, explain them, and answer questions. I feel like I can envision where we’re going to be at certain times and what we’re going to need to do things. I see myself as a negotiator and someone who knows how to suggest things.”
With the blending of old and new in Liberty Hill, Fuller said the downtown revitalization – whether it is the Fowler property or parks plans – has been a key to offering something for both long-time residents and newcomers to bring them together. Balancing so many projects and so many needs in the community is the challenge Fuller sees for the future.
“I believe our council really loves Liberty Hill, and they are concerned about the people who have been here forever, and the impact of the new people coming in,” she said. “That’s one reason why I like to focus on having a community spirit and drawing people into groups together so you can have that sense of belonging.
“I want to continue in a positive and peaceful mode to build a city that has the amenities for the people who have lived here forever and the new ones coming in. To make it a place where people want to come and live and enjoy the community,” she said.
For Hall, the key to success if he is elected mayor is to listen.
“Being a candidate, you don’t always have all the answers, but that’s part of the learning process,” he said, adding that hearing from voters, the message has been one of change. “I don’t think I have learned anything I didn’t already know. Most of the people I am talking to are just telling me they are ready for something different, they’re ready for change.”
Wanting to be that change voters are looking for, Hall is not ready to start saying he will push for one specific change or another without learning more.
“My first thing will be to sit down with all of the staff, all of the council members, the heads of different boards and just talk with them,” he said. “Once I get through that, that’s when I will really be able to understand what challenges I will be facing. I can speculate all I want based on what other people tell me, and I listen to them, but until I can determine the issues myself, I can’t really say what the challenges might be.”
As the Chamber of Commerce president, as well as serving a short time on the Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors, Hall says he has had a close look at the coming growth.
“I see so much potential here in Liberty Hill of what the future can hold for us, just from being a part of the Chamber,” he said. “I saw all the growth that is coming this way, and I want to help guide that growth. That was my big first thought when I was on the EDC Board, ‘I want to be able to do more.’”
Hall moved to Liberty Hill nearly seven years ago. Living and working in an Ohio town he said is similar to Liberty Hill in how it grew over the years taught him a lot about how communities grow.
“I saw the economic downturns and upturns that happen as that growth comes,” he said. “Some of the downturns were because people were not prepared for that explosive growth.”
A career working for DHL brought Hall to Central Texas.
“I want to use my extensive experience in management and running a business with DHL to help guide Liberty Hill to the next level. “Whether you are running a city or a business, you have to have that business mindset. I’ve got 22 years experience in that, and those last several years with DHL, I actually ran the North American Logistics Division.”
His campaign slogan is “Embracing our history, building our future”, and Hall said both can be accomplished.
“That’s one of the primary reasons I’m running for mayor is that there is a lot of history here in Liberty Hill and I don’t want to forget that,” he said. “I’d like to have the downtown built up with shops, but our future is really on 29 and that area. I’d like to be able to have the commercial businesses here that can support the city from a tax-base standpoint so we can grow. Without that revenue coming in, we’re going to be very limited on what we can and can’t do as a growing city.”
As far as what challenges he sees for the future, Hall said keeping the community informed and engaged is the focus. For Hall, that is the key leadership role of the mayor.
“I don’t know that there’s any one specific thing, but one thing I’ve made mention of that I think is very important, is to get the buy in of the people,” he said. “We are working for the citizens of the town, and one of the things I want to do if elected mayor, is maybe once a quarter have town hall meetings so I can help keep the public informed and it gives them an opportunity to ask questions about what’s going on in the city.”
He knows meetings are open to the public, but worries that many won’t be included without more outreach.
“All the council meetings are available to the public, but the biggest hurdle with that is we have a lot of people in this area who work outside of the area,” he said. “For them to get here at 6 or 6:30 in the evening is difficult because they might not get off in time. I’m not saying the city council and mayor should do everything the people are wanting, but we should listen to them and try to do as much as we can because it’s the citizens who are the ones that we work for.”