‘Liberty Hill Leader’ ends 12-year run
By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
It was the headline on the front page of The Liberty Hill Leader last week. Since it first hit the ground running in 2004, the paper has almost never paused in its 13-year production. Its future is now uncertain under a new owner, who has not yet been revealed.
The Leader was known for its incendiary op-eds, sports, crime write-ups, crash reports, and other hallmarks of a hard newspaper.
Jamie Williamson started the paper in 2004 after acquiring The Liberty Hill Bullet from Kathy Canady. The Bullet had been started as a shot back out of the disarray of the early city council days, and in some ways The Leader continued its politicized approach. Canady was married to one of the most influential council members of the day, Charles Canady, and Williamson herself was Liberty Hill’s mayor from 2012-2014.
Although Williamson sold the paper in 2014 to Chuck Licata, its last owner and editor, it only took a year and a half before she was brought back on to take an intimate role in its continued production.
“I was excited to have the opportunity to inform the community of Liberty Hill […] It gave me the time to work from home while still being able to be hands free with my children every day. […] The community grew at an enormous rate over those years and continues to grow. The next owner will have a great community to represent,” Williamson was quoted as saying in the newspaper’s final edition last week.
“The Leader was […] strong in news coverage and sports coverage,” wrote Licata in an email to The Independent. “I’d like to think the true winners of our coverage was the Liberty Hill community, in general, and – from the sports side – the incredible LHHS student-athletes we covered; they had our staff and the LHHS coaches working together to publicize their efforts, both on and off the courts and fields.”
Licata, who co-owns the K-MAC Sports website broadcasts, was originally brought in by Williamson to shore up the paper’s sports coverage.
“Jamie gave it her all to make it a real, hard news newspaper,” said Linda Lattanzio, who served as an editor between 2013 and 2015.
Former editor James Wear, a columnist for The Independent who worked for The Leader until Williamson sold the paper to Licata, said that when he first began at the paper, around 2004, Liberty Hill suffered from a serious meth problem.
Lattanzio added, “If you were using meth in Austin, you came to Liberty Hill to buy it.”
“It was a really big deal at the time,” Wear said. “Everyone knew who was doing it , but no one was saying it out in print. And so we took a stance, let’s expose these people selling the meth.”
The Leader began working with the police department to publish the week’s arrest mugshots on the front page.
“Most were for the drugs, but a few were for DUIs,” Lattanzio recalled. “That didn’t always go over well in a small community, but it was valuable information.”
“It was tough to do, but some people were in denial that this was a real problem,” Wear said. “The mugshots helped change that.”
The paper accompanied the mugshots with heavy coverage on the police crackdowns on meth houses.
Wear said at one point The Leader brought together the sheriff’s department, the fire department, EMS services and other local experts in a public seminar to talk about the meth epidemic. Liberty Hill residents who had been former users and sellers shared their experiences, “how they lost their families,” Wear said.
Wear, who also did much of the layout for a majority of The Leader’s time, also praised the sports photography.
“Early on, we had the fortune of freelance sports photographers. Every Friday, we were getting some dang good action shots from the football games,” he said. “Anyone can rehash a game all day, but if you’ve got a photo no one else has, that’s gold.
“I’d run those photos three columns wide, no problem,” he said.
Though The Leader sometimes took aggressive stands against local officials, it also often reprinted the columns of federal politicians. Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, who represents Liberty Hill, was a consistent contributor to The Leader, as was former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
“Politicians are sometimes full of B.S.,” Wear said, “But [The Leader] gave the public here a way for them to learn what their elected officials were supporting at the time.”
Since last Thursday’s issue announcing the paper’s purchase, the front page of the Leader’s website has been taken down, and its Facebook page has been deleted.
Also deleted was the website owned by Licata, www.LibertyHillSports.com, which was affiliated with The Leader.
In its last edition, the newspaper wrote, “An announcement from the local buyer is expected soon. We wish the new owners all the blessings of God on their adventure.”