Council debates residency rule for P&Z appointees

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By SHELLY WILKISON

The Liberty Hill City Council decided Monday that expertise was more important than city residency when it comes to choosing volunteers to serve on the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission.

When considering a change in the ordinance dictating the composition and term of office for P&Z members, the newly-seated members of the Council swayed the vote in favor of expertise with Council Member Kathy Canady opposed.

The change requires only one of the five members of the advisory commission to reside inside the Liberty Hill city limits. Others may be residents of the Liberty Hill ISD or Liberty Hill ETJ. Rather than the place of residency being the predominant qualifier, Council Member Chris Pezold said professional expertise is more important.

The current composition of the panel includes three members who must reside inside the city and two who may resident in the school district, plus one city council member.

“We are probably one of the fastest growing cities in America, and we need the best,” he said.

Pezold said two of the current volunteers live outside the city limits, but that doesn’t lessen their commitment to the community. Their professional experience has been invaluable to the process.

Canady argued that those who live out of town have no stake in the decisions they make.

“We have six people in the city limits now who have asked to be on P&Z. And you’re saying they aren’t the best. But what makes you the best is not that you’re an engineer, it’s that you have common sense and you want to do a job in the community where you have to live by the rules,” she said. “They are the best. They have to live here and have to abide by what we have done. If their intent is to serve, they deserve the opportunity first before anyone else in the ETJ or school district.”

She said city staff are the experts and should be guiding the P&Z Commission. Expertise of appointees is not necessary, she said.

“I have to live by the rules that P&Z and this board establish. You’re telling your voters they aren’t the best. What you’re doing is short-changing your community. One person (appointee)? That’s ridiculous. It’s time the city (residents) started taking care of the responsibility of making the rules for the city,” she said.

Council Member Tony DeYoung, who made the motion to change the composition to require at least one appointee to reside in the city limits, said with only four members currently, it’s becoming more difficult to get a quorum to hold a meeting.

“To require all five members to reside in the city limits would put three of them (current members) out,” he added. “Having some turmoil in that department now would not be beneficial.”

Council Member Angela Jones said after talking with members of the P&Z, she learned that for more than a year, it was common for them to show up to a meeting where there was little discussion. On occasion, members told her that the director of planning didn’t attend.

“They haven’t had a great experience and I’d like to give them a better experience,” she said. “They say there really is no discussion happening. They just approve what is brought before them and they go home.”

Later in the meeting, the Council voted to appoint Diane Williams to the Commission. While the vote was unanimous, Jones expressed concern that she had not had time to review all of the applications and thought more time was needed to properly screen them.

Canady reminded her of the urgency in filling the open seat now so that a quorum could be met to hold a meeting.

According to her application, Williams resides in the city limits and formerly worked for Texas Department of Transportation before spending more than 20 years as an international consultant. Some of her duties included consulting on processes relating to public works, highway planning and design.

Also Monday, the Council asked the City Attorney to draft a new ordinance regarding public comments at council meetings to allow anyone to speak for up to three minutes on any topic they wish, removing the restrictions put in place by the previous council.

The restrictions adopted by the previous council, which were supported by Canady, required speakers seeking to talk about issues not on the meeting agenda to request time in advance of the meeting and consent to being contacted by city staff or an elected official before the meeting. Speakers could continue to address the council without reserving time in advance on issues posted on the meeting agenda.

The restrictions put in place in March became an issue during the campaign for city council as the challengers criticized the incumbents in the race (Gram Lankford and Liz Rundzieher) for taking action to restrict public input.

Pezold said as long as people want to address the council, “I don’t think there is any bureaucracy we should put in place to keep people from speaking. I’m the reason you guys did that ordinance in the first place. Anyone who wants to come in here and chew on us for three minutes, thank you for participating.”

The Council also voted to change its official meeting day from Monday to Wednesday. Currently, the Council meets on the first, second and fourth Monday each month. The change means the Council will meet the first, second and fourth Wednesday each month, with the first meeting date on June 9. In June, there will only be two meetings with the second being June 23.

In other business this week, the Council:
– Elected DeYoung as Mayor Pro-Tem
– Directed Chief Financial Officer Becky Wilkins to provide samples of Revenue and Expense reports that should be included in the council members’ regular meeting agenda packets
– Approved a facility use agreement with Liberty Hill Youth Football & Cheer for use of the football field at City Park, and a maintenance contract for the field
– Allowed a temporary suspension of the City’s Outdoor Burning Ordinance for Cross Tracks Church to burn brush
– Approved a task order not to exceed $233,200 for improvements to Lift Station #12 and Force Main #12 by Steger Bizzell
– Approved a plan for additional signage at the crosswalk between Central Park and Wetzel Park downtown
– Heard a presentation by area residents on a “Dark Skies” initiative, but no action was taken; and
– Heard a presentation by former Mayor Connie Fuller chronicling some important milestones in the history of Liberty Hill city government. She offered encouragement to the newly-seated council to seek advice from experts when it comes to planning and future development, and updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Plan and more.

Prior to the regular meeting this week, the Council held the first in a series of budget workshops. In the coming weeks, department heads will make presentations to elected officials regarding their budgetary needs for the coming fiscal year. The workshops are open to the public.

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