Council, School Board hopefuls speak at forum
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Is the City of liberty Hill planning for the future or not?
That was the primary point of contention among City Council candidates at Tuesday’s forum, where six hopefuls took the stage to sell voters on why they are the right choice to fill one of three seats on the May 4 ballot.
Candidates answered questions on a variety of issues, but generally circled back to the issue of how well plans were being made and executed.
Place 1 incumbent Troy Whitehead opened by saying that planning for growth has been the biggest challenge for the Council and City staff in recent years, but praised efforts to address transportation and other issues while protecting taxpayers.
“We’ve been able to keep the tax rate flat as the growth is happening,” he said. “We will have the opportunity to annex more neighborhoods as the City grows and a lot of these neighborhoods come to the City and ask for our help with some of their infrastructure. The plan the staff and the Council has in place now is working very well.”
Challenger Steve McIntosh focused on the need for business growth to fund needed infrastructure.
“In order to have a dependable tax base you’ve got to have businesses that are willing to operate in the City of Liberty Hill,” he said. “Business taxes are the foundation of any community and it’s been explained to me that without business tax revenue residences cannot sustain themselves because we don’t have a method to pay for capital improvements at all. I’m not a fan of raising taxes and I believe annexation is something that should be done, however, I don’t think it should be a method to raise tax revenues.”
In what he called a lack of focus on infrastructure, Place 3 challenger Gram Lankford said there should be much more focus there because needed improvements had not been made.
“I think the challenges we face today have been longstanding and have not necessarily been addressed,” he said. “One of the major challenges I see going forward is the lack of infrastructure. I don’t see that really being addressed to the scale it should be addressed. The City has really fallen behind as far as keeping up with the amount of people moving into the city.”
Incumbent Elizabeth Branigan disagreed, saying plans have been in place and are being implemented, citing a number of projects currently in progress.
“We’ve been working on this for several years,” Branigan said. “Our utilities, our water and wastewater systems are up to date and we have a new wastewater plant in the works. We’ve been working on infrastructure problems for the last couple of years.”
She added that annexation was an important factor in the ability to fund projects and extend services. Lankford also supported the idea of annexation as a way to give more area residents the chance to vote and have a say in the community.
Bill Brannan, who is facing incumbent Liz Rundzieher in the Place 5 race, said there is a lack of understanding in the community of just how much has already been planned and started in planning for the future.
“Many people are unaware of how much our City staff, especially our City Manager Greg Boatright, has been doing to prepare us for the growth that is happening,” Brannan said. “People don’t understand there is a lot of red tape in pulling off the projects that need to be pulled off. There are funds that need to be put together, but our City has an excellent transportation plan to deal with the growth. There are incredible plans already underway to develop the infrastructure.”
Rundzieher, who has been an outspoken opponent of the roundabout project downtown, said she supports many of the City’s current plans, but wants to see focus elsewhere.
“We have a lot of transportation needs and right now I don’t feel the roundabout is of the utmost importance,” she said.
While both candidates said they don’t in principle support tax increases, Brannan said he “unapologetically” supports annexation as a means to help fund these projects. Rundzieher did not address the issue of annexation.
Rundzieher mentioned in response to a pair of questions the need to increase the size of the police department as one part of keeping up with growth.
School Board candidates
Three candidates for the Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees Place 7 fielded questions on drug policies, the role of school board members and the latitude of campus leadership in implementing policy throughout the district.
Challenger Terry Smith, who has campaigned on what he calls a lack of policy implementation, said what is most important on the campus discretion issue is ensuring policy is enforced to begin with.
“They should have discretion at all times to enforce campus policy,” Smith said. “The problem is they haven’t enforced campus policy to begin with. You can’t pick and choose what policies you enforce.”
For Megan Parsons, also a challenger to incumbent Scott Lindquist, responsibility to adhere to the rules also falls on parents.
“There’s a handbook online available to anybody who wants to know the policies at each of our schools,” Parsons said. “It’s up to the parents to support those rules and enforce them at home and respect that authority. The campus has the right to enforce them as they see fit. I teach my children that life’s not always fair and we hold ourselves accountable to the rules and we can’t worry about what is happening with other people.”
Lindquist agreed that the final decision on implementation issues falls on campus administrators based on guidance from the district.
“I think the administrator at their campus is the ultimate say at their campus,” Lindquist said, adding that was based on guidance from the Superintendent. “It would come down to that individual administrator applying their policy. I know each school has their own policy handbook, but it comes down to that administrator making their decision and it should fall in line with what the Superintendent has laid out for them.”
Each candidate encouraged voters to go to the polls and cast their ballot on May 4. Early voting in Liberty Hill is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 26-27 at Over the Hill Gang.
For those who were unable to attend the forum Tuesday, or looking for more on the candidates’ responses to all questions, the video can be viewed in its entirety on The Independent’s Facebook page.