Council tries to define duties, roles of boards

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By Rachel Madison

The underlying theme of the Liberty Hill City Council’s regular meeting on June 23 focused on the best practices, duties and roles of boards and commissions, but not everyone on the council agreed on what those should be.

At Council’s last meeting on June 9, a motion initiated by Council member Kathy Canady was passed to authorize Mundo & Associates to present to the Council on best practices, duties and roles of boards and commissions at a cost of $2,500. Mundo & Associates is a Texas-based consulting firm that helps cities with civil engineering, planning and development processes. The firm has been working with the City of Liberty Hill since March, assisting the planning and development department on planning and zoning issues.

Pam Mundo, president of Mundo & Associates, gave a presentation on what types of boards and commissions cities the same size as Liberty Hill have. She also highlighted the types of boards and commissions that cities surrounding Liberty Hill have, including Bertram, Burnet, Jarrell, Hutto, Leander, Georgetown and Round Rock.

In her presentation, she spoke of the need for councils to set requirements for what each of the various boards’ responsibilities are, and the importance of each board having a yearly plan of action to report to the council. Munro also discussed board membership, which includes the residency of board members. For example, currently in Liberty Hill, the Planning & Zoning Commission must have five members, one of which must live within city limits. Cities surrounding Liberty Hill vary between requiring all of their members to live within city limits and only requiring a majority of members to be city residents.

Mundo added that there are roles on boards for both residents and non-residents, but that most cities favor having most of their members living within city limits because of the decisions they are making. She also said having a broad representation on the boards, through age, gender and occupations, is important.

Council member Chris Pezold said he knows Canady has been campaigning to clean all of Liberty Hill’s boards of anyone who lives outside the city limits, but he doesn’t agree with her.

“I know Kathy campaigned to have [Mundo] come in, and I hate to say it, but I see why,” he said. “Everything about this is a campaign that everybody else on this council made a bad decision in wanting to put on our boards the most qualified people that would come in.”

Pezold added that he believes the growth in Liberty Hill has been slowed in the past, and that decisions being made now to accommodate the growth will also affect people living outside city limits.

“I didn’t anticipate sitting down and having everything show that we made a bad decision about trying to open up our P&Z to people [who] love Liberty Hill and want to volunteer their time,” he said.

Council member Angela Jones added that after combing through every application for the current vacant position on P&Z, there were only three applicants who lived within city limits.

“That’s not even enough to kick everybody off our board and put them on and [have a quorum],” she said. “We are still in a position where we do not have enough applicants to fill our boards. I think when we’re looking at the Parks Board and all these other boards, because we are planning for our city, it’s even more important that we have a broader representation.”

While zoning regulations only apply to properties that are within the city, planning does take place within the city’s ETJ. City Administrator Lacie Hale said as far as percentages go, most of the pre-development meetings occurring in Liberty Hill are in the ETJ and not within city limits.

Canady disagreed and said when the city goes around “promoting that we do not want to use the residents of the city because they’re not the best or brightest,” that looks bad. The other council members and city staff disagreed with this and said this is not promoted.

Canady also said she doesn’t think it’s right to fill board positions until policies and procedures regarding criteria for members have been set.

“We are always talking about this and never quite get it finished,” she said. “This way they’ll have something in writing to know what their expectations are. We need to take the time to figure out what we want and put it in writing. We need to do it or rescind it and not do it and keep it willy-nilly like we have. I don’t care what we do, but something needs to get done.”

Jones agreed and said the vacant board positions need to be filled first, and then a future workshop could be used to discuss parameters like residency and term limits. A workshop schedule will be brought to the next council meeting to determine the best date to discuss these criteria.

Canady said she wants to make sure council members understand what they can and cannot do at meetings other than city council meetings.

“We are not supposed to be interjecting at meetings,” she said. “We don’t lose our right to be citizens. We can come to the meetings and listen, but we can’t go back and forth with the [board members] during the meetings.”

Pezold added that he is against the idea of having council members sit on any of the city’s other boards.

“Our boards should be left to their own thoughts,” he said. “Council members on other boards lessens the amount of free thought that’s out there. Everyone should stay in their lane.”

While some cities do have council representatives on their boards and commissions, they are not considered members, they can just provide input as needed.

“When you sit on city council and attend a meeting for one of our boards and get to vote there, and then also have the opportunity to vote again at city council, I just don’t like that,” Jones said. “I know you sit on a lot of boards, [Kathy], and it’s not you, but in general I just don’t like the idea of that. I do, however, think it’s great when council members attend the meetings [as part of the audience].”

Canady, who serves on the Parks Board and has applied to be on the Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors, said she agreed with Jones to a point.

“We need to make a different decision if that’s where we want to go,” she said. “Every council is different and that’s something we need to address.”

This is another topic the Council will discuss in their upcoming workshop. Canady suggested waiting to appoint the vacant board positions until after the workshop, but the rest of the council wanted to get the boards filled, so they moved forward.

Chris Cormack was appointed to fill the vacancy on the P&Z Commission. The Council voted 3-1 to approve his appointment, with Canady voting no because Cormack doesn’t live within city limits. He lives within the Liberty Hill ISD.

Lisa Messana was also appointed to fill a vacancy on the Parks Board. Again, the vote was 3-1 in favor with Canady opposed because Messana does not live within city limits.

In other news, James Prince, owner and developer of Main Street Social, spoke during the public comment period about his frustrations with not being able to acquire incentives from the City. He said that until this last week, not a single council member had visited his property, and that no mayor of the city had come by either. He added that he’s asked the EDC three times for assistance to help offset the $298,000 in land use requirements but has never been granted funds.

“Frankly, I find it appalling and almost criminal,” Prince said. “We are putting almost 200 jobs into the city, and our building valuation is staggering and it’s not even open. It seems like there are no rules on how to get funds.”

Susan Baker, executive director of Operation Liberty Hill, gave a presentation on the need for OLH to find a new location. In 2025, the current location will go up for lease or sale to the public, but she feels OLH may need to move before then because it’s “bursting at the seams.” The food pantry there serves about 300 families monthly, and even more are served through the thrift store. She did not have an answer as to where OHL should move to but wanted to make Council aware of their situation.

“With all the new homes and people coming to our community, our thrift store donations have increased dramatically,” she said. “We need a thrift store and donation area two to three times larger than what we have.”

Mary Lyn Jones, president of the Parks Board, requested $15,000 to plant trees at Liberty Hill City Park. City staff will look into how many trees can be purchased for that amount, and will revisit planting the trees in October, when the new budget year begins, and the weather is cooler. This also spurred a discussion between Council and city staff about where tree mitigation funds paid by developers to the city are going, because this money has not ended up in the parks budget. City staff is going to find out how much money was paid by developers over the last two years and where that money has gone.

Jake Thomas, president of the Liberty Hill Youth League, spoke about the need for more fields for the league, or by 2023, they will have to cap the number of players who can participate. He asked the City for $37,000 to fund fencing for two baseball fields behind the Liberty Hill ISD Administration building and said the league would raise the rest of the approximately $500,000 needed over the next five years to keep up with the growth of the program. Updating the fields with fencing now would allow for more games to occur concurrently and would allow the league to host small tournaments. Jones also recommended the City partner with the youth league to figure out a cost-sharing agreement between the league, City and ISD for the fields.

The Council approved an $8,500 change order for construction administration support to continue through completion of the downtown bike-pedestrian loop project. The Council also approved a $6,228 change order (with 75 percent of that cost to be paid by TXDot) to make drainage improvements at a driveway on Loop 332 as part of the bike and pedestrian loop project.

The Council approved a recommendation from the P&Z to change the zoning on 10.52 acres between CR 277 and Bevers Road from agricultural to multi-family residential. A development of 158 apartments is proposed for that property. The Council also approved a recommendation from P&Z to change the zoning on a 0.6-acre lot between Bevers Road and CR 277 from general commercial to light industrial/warehousing. A custom furniture company is looking to move from Austin to this location.

Branigan brought up the need for the City to modify its comprehensive plan. Council ultimately decided to get the process started through a workshop, which will be scheduled at a July city council meeting. Council also discussed once again the need to direct staff to update portions of the City’s Unified Development Code, including sections on tree mitigation, zoning signage and outdoor lighting. Another workshop will be scheduled to work on these updates for clarification.

Branigan also suggested creating a pocket park across from Foundation Park on Carl Shipp Drive. Council tasked city staff to come up with a plan and costs to complete this project.

Also Wednesday, the Council:
– Authorized Hale to execute an agreement with Liberty Hill ISD to use their property for the Independence Day Spectacular. No money is involved in this agreement.
– Voted unanimously to end their search for an in-house attorney, and decided to keep Bojorquez Law Firm on for the city’s attorney services.
– Approved the purchase of a program called PubWorks for the public works department to use for preventative maintenance and record keeping for a cost of $16,675.
– Approved a summer music series that will be held at the Water Tower Parking Lot downtown on three Thursdays during the summer, as long as sponsorships fully fund the events.
– Natural gas utility Atmos Energy provided a resolution to the Council to adopt a rate review mechanism tariff, which is a way to set rates for developments collaboratively with cities. The Council tabled the resolution until the city attorney is able to review it.

The June 23 council meeting included two executive sessions, an informational packet of more than 120 pages, and did not adjourn until 11:50 p.m. Council member Tony DeYoung was absent. The next city council meeting will take place July 7.

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