Lankford says people not being heard

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

There are decisions and directions within the Liberty Hill elected leadership that Gram Lankford disagrees with, but the primary reason he has chosen to challenge Elizabeth Branigan for Place 3 on the City Council is he doesn’t believe everyone has a voice.

He said it is up to the voters in Liberty Hill to decide if he is the right person for the job, but he wants to make sure everyone is heard.

“What I see and what I hear is there is a bit of discontent with the people in the town and going to the City Council meetings and open forums being held recently, it just seems like – not that the right decisions are not being made – the voices of people and their ideas aren’t being heard.”

The recent controversy over the one-way streets downtown is a good example, he said.

“One big one I have seen recently is the four-way stop in downtown,” Lankford said. “A lot of people are asking what’s being done in order to control the traffic flow through that area during certain times and really the only response I’ve heard as far as the City Council goes is we need to work more with the school district in order to see how we can change the dynamics of that road. I don’t really see how that’s applicable to that situation. I feel like there’s some pretty simple ways to fix that problem, at least for the time being, at least until something more permanent can be established.”

Transportation issues in general are something Lankford said don’t get enough attention.

“Traffic is one of the biggest things I hear about as far as people being disgruntled,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily seem like a huge focal point.”

He does not have an answer to those issues, citing the roundabout and one-way streets, saying only that they needed more attention and public debate.

“As far as the answer, I couldn’t really say that there is a permanent solution because it hasn’t necessarily even been brought up,” he said. “There has been talk about the roundabout going in by Bagdad on the Loop, I’m not really sure that is the right way to go, but I just feel like it needs to be discussed a lot more.”

Conversations with business owners downtown, as well as the traffic congestion, have convinced him the one-way streets plan is flawed.

“The one-way streets downtown are a big controversy,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of business owners in that area and all I really get as far as that’s concerned is they don’t really like them. They have some issues with not being able to get mail to their establishment because the trucks that come to drop off mail will not go down those streets. Instead these business owners have to travel to the Post Office every day to get their mail.”

Lankford knows public meetings were held in the early stages of planning for the one-way streets project, but it wasn’t enough.

“There were two or three open discussion events that were held,” he said. “It is an issue getting people to come in. I feel like there’s ways around that. We have so much technology at our fingertips now, and if we could utilize that it would help.

“There are a lot of people who live in the 78642 area{sic} code and just because they don’t live within the city limits and can’t vote doesn’t mean they are not a member of the town. They may not necessarily know the town as well as other people, or they may not be paying as much attention to what’s going on, but there are ways to get the information out there.”

Live streaming of events to help publicize meetings and provide greater access would help as well.

“If people can’t be there, then they can watch it from their phone or computer and they can comment,” he said. “I feel like transparency is an issue. Part of that is people are not coming to events, but there are ways to allow people more access when they can’t be there.”

On the issue of city property taxes, he said he had no opinion on the rate as it stands, but indicated that a solution is needed to reduce the tax burden on homeowners.

“My opinion on that is there is a way to generate more revenue for the town and try to take the burden off the actual homeowners,” he said. “Our property taxes are skyrocketing. They go up and up and up and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to stop anytime soon. My solution would be to find a way to generate revenue for the city outside of increasing property taxes.”

Facilitating growth through annexation would not only help economic development, but increase the opportunity to participate among area residents.

“Certain businesses have certain stipulations whenever they’re looking in certain areas,” he said. “HEB for instance, you have to have a certain population size within your city limits and you have to have an expected gross income they would receive if they were to put an HEB in your town at a certain location. We would meet that criteria if our city limits were expanded.

“It gives people the opportunity to vote, it gives people the opportunity to run for a certain office. It needs to be discussed more at length.”

The City Council and staff are not currently focusing efforts in the right areas, according to Lankford, citing projects like the roundabout.

“I feel like the City is focused on things of lesser importance and they’re not addressing the bigger issues,” he said. “There is so much that needs to be done and it is going to be a process going forward. We make decisions at City Council meeting every couple of weeks and it seems to me that some of the things we’re focused on, I don’t understand why we’re so focused on some of these ideas.”

Heavy traffic on SH 29 is an issue Lankford said needs much more persistence and dedication from the City, even though decisions on the roadway are up to the Texas Department of Transportation.

“The amount of fatalities we’ve had lately on SH 29, I think that’s just appalling,” he said. “There’s been talk of decreasing the speed limits in town, and I know it was brought up previously and ended up not happening. I don’t necessarily know that that would be a solution, but it’s definitely an idea that we need to discuss more to determine whether or not it would be the best thing going forward.”

The Williamson County planned SH 29 Bypass also drew skepticism.

“The SH 29 Bypass being built, I don’t if that’s necessarily going to benefit anyone,” Lankford said. “I know it’s not going to benefit business owners inside of our town.”

No numbers were cited, but Lankford said there is a focus he shares with Place 1 Candidate Steven McIntosh to increase police department staffing.

“I think if I were to be elected to City Council, I think if Steve McIntosh were to be elected to City Council, that we would increase that number or want to,” he said. “Some of the ideas that we share, as far as the infrastructure of the town, we would need more police officers in oder to accomplish those goals.”

His campaign is about making a change, and Lankford hopes everyone in Liberty Hill steps up to participate if they see something they would like to change.

“Be the change you want to see,” he said. “If you don’t like the way things are going, if you think that new ideas need to be implemented, then get out and vote. People have an obligation to share their ideas.

“I love this town. I’ve lived here my entire life. I left for a little bit when I was in the Marine Corps, and then I came back. I am deeply rooted in this town.”

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