Canady questions newspaper’s intent
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Four weeks into an effort by The Independent to gain access to certain Liberty Hill Police Department records, Council member Kathy Canady took issue with an editorial in the Oct. 10 edition of the paper and used the public comments portion of the meeting to voice her concerns.
“It saddens me to see editorials instead of articles that have a higher burden of being factual,” Canady said. “In my opinion editorials are a very slippery slope, especially un-authored ones. Most people, unfortunately, believe if it is a newspaper or on the six o’clock news on Facebook or Twitter it must be factual, not just an opinion.”
The editorial, which was published without a byline because it represents the view of the newspaper as is customary in the profession, addressed concerns over what appeared to be a lack of cooperation from the City in providing the public records requested.
The newspaper’s approach to the issue was there was no story to write without the data, and the response to the lack of data was to raise the question in an editorial.
Canady did not identify what might have not been true in the editorial.
The initial request was for “A list of unsolved criminal cases by crime type and date opened”, “The annual activity reports for the police department (broken down by activity) for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018” and “The total police department staffing by title for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.”
The letter back from the City Attorney’s office was provided at the deadline to respond and asked for clarifications. Two weeks after the clarifications were provided The Independent received notice – again at the response deadline – that the information was being gathered and would be available if The Independent was willing to pay the $73 fee calculated as the cost of gathering the information.
The question at the root of the issue is what data and evidence the Council used to make the decision to add six new positions to the police department in the budget.
Canady went on to say she made her decision to support the addition of the new positions after having her own discussions with Chief Maverick Campbell, but she did not cite any statistics.
“After this editorial I did ask the Chief of Police (Campbell) about utilizing other communities to help in his budget and about the personnel process, and I was informed he has done this very process in using two neighboring communities for help,” Canady said. “Maybe we need to look at why we can’t get the answer to our questions as quickly as we would like from the City. I don’t know if there is a breakdown in the understanding of the questions or the fear of the wrong answer. I think we can all work on that.”
Mayor Rick Hall said in a meeting with The Independent Wednesday morning that it would have been much clearer if he had understood what the request was.
“From my understanding that’s not the information you asked and I never saw the actual open records request,” he said. “I’ve requested that every open records request is sent to me so that I can view it.”
When asked about whether any of the data in question was used in the process of deciding on approving the new positions he said it was, and said the hesitation to provide some of the information was to protect current open investigations.
“When I was brought into the loop my understanding was you were asking what specific open cases were still open,” Hall said. “We said no, that’s not coming out because we didn’t want to provide information on an open case. That’s different than a number. If it was a number I would have told Maverick to turn over all of his reports for the last three years he’s been here.”
Once the information is obtained by The Independent, additional research will be done to compare Liberty Hill to similar jurisdictions and both Hall and Campbell will have an opportunity to weigh in on the comparison.
The City Council decided unanimously to include Council members and the Mayor in the policy set for City vehicle use, specifically authorizing them for the first time to use the vehicles.
“What this resolution does is authorize city vehicle use by Council members and the Mayor,” said City Attorney Tad Cleaves. “And then it amends the City employee handbook to include Council members and the Mayor under the rules of use for City vehicles.”
Hall said it was an important change that had not been previously addressed.
“We haven’t had any policy at all that actually covers the use of City vehicles excluding the police department so this is an all-encompassing policy that handles the City vehicles,” Hall said.
Hall mentioned times Council members have used vehicles for out of town meetings in the area as examples of why the change was needed.
“Because (Council members and the Mayor) are not employees we did this ordinance just to make sure that from an insurance and legal standpoint that if myself or a Council member are driving a vehicle that we’re covered.”
Hall said he uses a City vehicle daily.
“That was a decision by the Council because I am full-time here, working full-time hours I should say, and I do a lot of meetings, so that if I need to go to a meeting in Cedar Park, Georgetown or Round Rock, having a vehicle assigned to me or to the position of Mayor makes it easier so I don’t have to worry about if someone is using a vehicle that day or something.”
Hall was temporarily given duties of the City Administrator in what was explained as an administrative fix during the time the City is without a City Administrator.
“There are a few items that sometimes require the Mayor and or City Administrator and until we get that position filled our legal counsel wanted to make sure that we have an ordinance that authorizes me to sign documents that require City Administrator signature until we get that position filled,” Hall said. “This is a temporary document just to cover us until it is filled.”
The City has been without an administrator since Greg Boatright left the position in August.
Hall said Matt Powell, who was hired in September to consult with the City, has been working through the vetting process for City Administrator candidates. The position has been posted for about a month according to Hall, and the City received about 40 applications.
“They are going through the resumes right now, trying to get them narrowed down,” Hall said of the search. “It’s a pretty cumbersome process and there’s a lot of criteria we are going through to make sure we get the best fit for this. I’m hoping to have someone hired around the first of the year if all goes well.”
The Council decided Monday to accept a bid on $7.17 million in revenue bonds to fund the construction of the new wastewater plant already in progress.
The best bid on a 15-year term was 2.45 percent, but the 20-year bid from BB&T Bank was at 2.75 percent and the Council felt the slightly higher rate was more advantageous due to the ability to pay it off early and the lower annual cost.
“It’s callable, so you have the option to pay off this debt after five years,” said Dan Wegmiller of Specialized Public Finance. “The benefit of going longer term is your annual payment drops $100,000 so that gives you additional capacity as you may need future capacity in this facility so you can go out and take on additional debt to build or expand your facilities there.”
The design of the Swim Center planned for City Park was brought into question Monday when Hall presented a pair of alternate options to the Council for consideration that removed the splash pad and another that replaced the splash pad with a small children’s pool.
Ultimately, the Council voted to keep the previously approved design and to add a low fence and gate to divide the large pool from the splash pad area.
But before the item came up on the agenda, Parks Board Chair Mary Lyn Jones expressed her concern over any potential change to the plan.
“We have been planning the Swim Center for years, the residents of Liberty Hill have been looking forward to this for many more years,” Jones said. “It is frustrating to us as we see other projects going forward or positions and salaries put in front of our swim center. I’d just like for you to consider what we put into it and what we planned.”
Hall thanked Jones for her passionate defense of the project, but said he wanted to discuss the issue once more before it was finalized.
“Excluding myself and Liz (Rundzieher), from a Council standpoint, none of us have actually seen the design of the Swim Center we have right now,” Hall said. “Before we submit all the paperwork I want to have the Council look at this and review it. This is one of the last times we can make changes to it.”
Hall voiced his concern over the impact of older kids in the splash pad area on the safety of younger children.
In support of the Parks Board preference, Council members voiced their support in keeping the splash pad for a variety of reasons, and discussed the idea first mentioned by Canady that a fence could be used to divide the two areas.
Planning and Zoning Commission members Josh McGinty and Steve Messana were reappointed to a new term, and in a separate action, Messana was reappointed Vice Chair and Wes Griffin was reappointed Chair of the Commission.