Council steps away from SRO issue



A brief email from Liberty Hill ISD Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle has put an end to five months of speculation on a partnership between the City and school district on a School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

The email said the district decided to “pause on the SRO discussion and revisit starting the district police department.” It concluded by saying that if the district wanted to consider an agreement with the City at a later date it would contact City Administrator Greg Boatright.

“If you read the email, they’re not interested in partnering with us on the SRO,” said Council Member Ron Rhea. “If they decide to, they will contact us. From his email it implied they wanted to do their own district program.”

At the last meeting, the Council decided Rhea and Council Member Liz Rundzieher would meet with school district officials to try and jumpstart the stalled plan.

“I believe this is a dead issue right now,” Rhea said. “It’s my opinion we shouldn’t pursue it anymore since Mr. Pirtle and Dr. Hart decided they don’t want to pursue this any further.”

The potential partnership was first discussed in May, when Mayor Rick Hall and Police Chief Maverick Campbell approached the district and worked out a preliminary agreement that was later presented to the Council.

Since that time, the Council has considered many different issues raised over a potential agreement, and frustration has become public over how it was initially handled outside of the Council’s involvement.

“I think this has been a waste of time because of getting outside the legislative process and I hope this is a lesson for all of us not to allow this to happen,” Rhea said. “It is a waste of taxpayers’ money and time. If this would have been done right, it might have worked and went through smooth sailing. Who knows? But I know one thing, it wasn’t done right.”

Harassment issues?
Two weeks after a closed session discussion of an agenda item that raised questions about Hall’s conduct, the Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to “provide a safe workplace and harassment free workplace environment.”

City Attorney Dottie Palumbo explained the ordinance and said there had been an incident, but did not specify what it was or who was involved.

“The city, as an employer, has the duty to ensure employees have a safe workplace and harassment-free environment,” Palumbo said. “There has been an incident in the workplace, there has been an apology, but this resolution allows the City to go on the record that it doesn’t have a custom, policy or practice of permitting this kind of conduct in the workplace and asks for any offender to apologize and follow these procedures.”

While the resolution reiterates behavior expectations spelled out in the employee handbook, it ends by requesting “any Mayor or council member that has violated the City of Liberty Hill’s policies as stated in the Employee Handbook shall immediately provide a written public apology.”

No specific apology from anyone on the Council was presented or discussed Tuesday.

The mysterious agenda item on the Sept. 24 agenda specifically mentioned Hall, stating “Discuss and consider reports against Mayor Hall for explosive conduct, inappropriate language, intimidating conduct and for threatening behavior toward a City Council member and staff.”

After moving the issue to executive session at that meeting, the Council did not discuss the matter further in open session.

Hall has not returned numerous calls from The Independent, and Boatright said the issue was a council matter, not one with the city staff.

The Independent filed an open records request with the City on Sept. 27 regarding the agenda item from the Sept. 24 meeting, but had not received the requested information by press time Wednesday.

No ethics ordinance, yet
The Council once again tabled final approval of the ethics ordinance presented at the last meeting, pending additions.

Council Member Liz Branigan was hesitant to support moving forward Tuesday, saying she wanted to make sure the definition of legislative process would be addressed in the ordinance.

“We owe it to our citizens to inspect this thoroughly,” Branigan said.

The motion to table the issue was made by Council Member Liz Rundzieher, who said she wanted to consider it when the Council had a complete ordinance. The Council voted unanimously to table the proposal.

The ordinance would apply to city officials, including members of the council and members of boards and commissions.

Before the vote to table, Rhea repeated his support for the ordinance.

“I think this is something very needed for the city,” Rhea said. “I think it will protect our citizens and it will hold us accountable to maintain integrity with our staff and employees, and also to the citizens of Liberty Hill. This is a good ethics ordinance.”

Sorrell resigns
City Finance Director Michel Sorrell has resigned from the City effective Oct. 5.

She joined the city staff early in 2018, but health concerns led her to the decision to leave.

“It was a difficult decision to make, and is one I’ve had to mull over for a couple of months now,” she said.

Boatright said at Tuesday’s Council meeting that the effort to find a replacement had already begun.

“We hate to see her leave, but there were multiple things that led to that decision on her behalf, so we wish her the best and hope things work out for her,” he said. “We’re actively searching. We’ve had good response, so we will be looking at those resumes and bringing forth some recommendations for that position.”

Sorrell said the opportunity in a growing city was a good one for whoever fills the position next.

“The community is growing and there are lots of good people here and lots of good people who work for the city,” she said. “It is an exciting time for everybody here. Back in my younger days I’d have been right on top of it. I think for whoever steps in it is going to be a wonderful process. There’s a good team here.”

More homes
A new development adjacent to Santa Rita is in the planning stages and Boatright said a development agreement could be coming to the council for consideration as soon as the Oct. 22 meeting.

Sunset Ridge, located in the area of CR 260 and SH 29, has about 800 acres where about 1,189 Living Unit Equivalents (LUE) are being planned. The plan is a fee per LUE that is inclusive of wastewater, building permit, tree mitigation and park fee. He said it could mean about $9 million for the City.

“We feel like we’ve reached the point where we can really put some teeth into the agreement and bring that to council for consideration,” Boatright said. “They’re on a fast track. They are straight forward.”

The agreement would also include annexation of the development into the city.

“This can have a lot of impact on our city from the standpoint of capital infusion to help with capital projects,” Boatright said.