No ‘gotcha’ moment at CBLA candidate forum


City Council candidates from left are Jack Harkrider, Della Hodgson, Carrie Van Meeteren, Wendell McLeod, Liz Branigan, Vicki Brewer, Jamie Williamson, Sammy Pruett and James Wofford. (Photo by Kate Ludlow)

By Kate Ludlow

The Christian Business Leaders Association’s Candidate forum this week offered no real “gotcha” moment, though things did get tense as city council candidates answered questions in the only candidate forum this campaign season.

Organizers said candidates from both the city council and school board races were invited, though no school board candidates attended.

The audience appeared frustrated at times as several questioners used the venue to express their own frustration with city government rather than ask opinions of the candidates.

“Nobody’s listening. We asked certain people (city council members) not to vote for a contract that was iron-clad for a city manager for three years without any cuts to it. Yet it got passed. We asked that they review the alcohol beverage law with the business people here before they voted on it. They voted on it that night, didn’t ask…any other of the restaurants in this area what impact it would have on them,” said Frank Spinosa, a local business owner and President of the City’s Economic Development Corp. “We need people who care about the growth in this town, and will stop giving us lip service.”

Valerie Zapien, also an EDC member, asked mayoral candidates Jamie Williamson and Jack Harkrider, their plans to improve communication with those who serve voluntarily on boards and commissions.

“I personally think that there needs to be a council member on the boards, whether it’s EDC, Planning & Zoning, because of the overlap, so that that council person could say we have discussed this, or at the council meeting they could say, ‘At the EDC meeting, these are some of the things….that we have the capability of talking about,” said Mrs. Williamson.

“I respectfully disagree with Jamie about having a council member on the EDC,” said Harkrider. “I really think the EDC needs to be an independent organization. Frankly, I think one of the problems that we had is that the EDC had had three council members on it that basically ran the council. I don’t think that’s good at all. I think what we need to do is to develop better communication between the council and the EDC, and I think that’s up to us…I think the same thing needs to happen to the P&Z. I think the time has come to bury the hatchets.”

Harkrider said if elected, he would improve communication with the community by giving a “Mayor’s report” at each council meeting.

Harkrider also spoke of his frustrations with the city using the EDC fund as a “slush fund,” but stated later in the meeting that he, “Honestly could not remember if he did (vote to use EDC funds to pay city expenses), but I very probably did.” Though he admitted that he likely had in the past, Harkrider still felt it was best policy not to dip into those funds in the future.

The mayoral candidates also expressed their differences on various “regulations,” with Mrs. Williamson stating that she felt business growth would best be achieved by tearing down rules and regulations in the development code that she viewed as an impediment.

Holding up a thick stack of papers, she said, “this right here is our UDC Code, this is for two square miles, this is the regulations that the city, the burden that has been put on us. This wasn’t just the City Manager, let me tell you, he found a lot of things in here that we’re not going by, and he said, this is a good way to gather revenue. One of the deals that they’ve discussed is cutting a tree down, you gotta replant it. Great. Where’s the water coming from when the Trinity runs dry?

“The $5.5 million water, wastewater treatment plant, it’s a good thing, it’s a good deal. It’s not going to do us any good if we don’t have the water,” she continued.

Sammy Pruett, a candidate for Place 5, offered a suggestion for change, stating that he felt the city manager position should not be a full-time job.

“I think that, I’m not sure our city is big enough for a full-time administrator. I think maybe a part-time would be good, somebody that works 25-30 hours,” he said.

Vicki Brewer, a candidate for Place 2, ended the meeting asking for “grace and mercy to the next council,” noting that it would take newly-elected officials time to figure out where the city was at, and to fix what she felt were past mistakes.

Not present was current Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy, a candidate for Place 2. Liz Rundzieher, a candidate for Place 5, was present at the beginning of the meeting, but was unable to stay for the forum due to work constraints.

The candidates will be available to meet with voters during a Meet & Greet event sponsored by the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce. The event, which is open to the public, is at 7 p.m. Monday, April 30, at Liberty Hill Junior High.