EDITORIAL: Getting personal?

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Regardless of the image the public harbors of the news media, decisions on what to cover and, more importantly, how to cover it, are not made with spite or sensationalism in mind.

When The Independent learned early this week about some questionable information regarding Liberty Hill Mayor Rick Hall’s personal financial situation, we weighed the issue carefully before deciding to make that phone call, conduct that interview and publish that story.

What makes a public official’s personal information public? Historically, once someone enters the public arena – as an elected official, athlete or entertainer – everything is fair game. But that’s not really fair and not how community newspaper reporters – who focus their attention every day on neighbors and people they know – operate. There is a higher standard in determining what should and shouldn’t be shared publicly.

Hall’s personal financial information, specifically regarding a federal tax lien, is pertinent and worthy of coverage because Hall is the person chiefly responsible for budgeting and spending your tax dollars in Liberty Hill. Hall is the business leader for the City.

That would be the case with any mayor or administrator, but is especially so with Hall. In his 18 months as Mayor, and throughout his campaign prior to that, Hall has put a lot of time and effort into promoting his qualifications to manage City staff and the City budget.

In his campaign he touted his business experience as a key qualification. When he sought an increased supervisory role over City staff members in May 2019 he cited his business management experience as making him better suited for that role than then-City Administrator Greg Boatright. When the City and Boatright parted ways three months later, Hall again mentioned his business experience.

Hall takes credit for having turned around a City budgeting process he claimed was a mess. He increased the budgets in many departments and projected higher revenues in a much less transparent method than usual during last summer’s budget process.

If the person making these claims and holding this authority has questions that come out publicly regarding his management of past financial endeavors and taxes not paid, it is immediately relevant to how he has positioned himself in the City’s decision-making process.

If Hall is the right person to lead the budgeting and spending of local tax dollars, he should be accountable to the citizens he serves for his past business dealings.

In the last budget process, Hall and the City Council decided elected officials in Liberty Hill should receive a salary. The Mayor’s salary will be $40,000 if re-elected. Once you are paid for work being done, you should definitely be considered an employee, thus bearing the burden of showing you deserve that position the same way anyone else would create a resume and submit an application.

With the advent of social media there is also the issue of adding context and clarification to limited information and eventually the likely rumors that follow a story as it spreads across social media. When reporters see such information on social media it is assumed that information is at that point an issue of public consequence, if for no other reason than to ensure the right information is available to the curious public.

Yes, The Independent staff determined that this information regarding Hall’s personal finances is relevant public information. It was not a decision made haphazardly or casually. The newspaper takes its responsibility to the public very seriously.

Hall is a public figure – really, the public figure – responsible for managing the business of Liberty Hill. We should know how he managed business before he began working so hard to have the right to manage ours.

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