EDITORIAL: No responsible reason to hold City election in May
The Liberty Hill City Council chose politics over public health when it voted Monday to go forward with the May 2 municipal election.
It is ironic that in a meeting, which was closed to the public and streamed over the Internet to comply with mass gathering restrictions and promote the social distancing health officials say is critical to curbing the spread of COVID-19, the Council made a unanimous decision to carry on with the schedule that will bring Liberty Hill voters to the polling place in late April.
Mayor Rick Hall said the decision was made to “get things completed and done” and that the Council was worried the local election items would get lost on the ballot in the November General Election.
When asked about public health concerns, he said the situation is being monitored.
The election is five weeks away and the current “Stay Home Stay Safe” order is set to run through April 13 if it is not extended. Not only would an extension of such an order creep into early voting dates (April 20-28), but the current order covers more than two weeks of key campaign time that limits how much the two candidates on the ballot can interact with the public and sell themselves as the next Mayor of Liberty Hill.
The risk to public health is difficult to understand and there was no thoughtful reason given as to why holding this election in five weeks is so important.
But the Mayor and current Council have much to gain by holding the election, both in their support of extending their terms in office and a new salary for some. The Mayor, if reelected, and two Council members stand to begin earning a salary following the May election — money they would not receive until November if the election were postponed. The Mayor will begin receiving the previously approved $40,000 annual salary and Council members Tony DeYoung and Kathy Canady – who did not draw opponents – will receive the new $12,000 annual Council member salary.
If extended terms and compensation are not the reason to move ahead, why is it so important to hold an election now?
The Independent is inviting Mayor Hall or any Council member to elaborate and give a more thorough explanation of the need to do so when no other cities or school districts in the area seem intent on doing the same.
Liberty Hill ISD voted on the issue the same night as the Council, but chose to postpone the election.
The city councils in Cedar Park, Taylor and Georgetown have already postponed their elections, as has Round Rock ISD. The Hutto and Round Rock councils are expected to vote on their elections in the coming weeks, and indications are that both will also postpone until November. Leander did not have any elections scheduled for May.
This decision not only flies in the face of what the state and county strongly encouraged cities and school districts to do to protect voters, but will also cost Liberty Hill more money because it will have to cover all of the election costs on its own. Hall said the estimated cost is about $20,000.
Liberty Hill residents can’t walk into any City building right now due to the safety and health response to COVID-19. If the situation is so critical, surely it is questionable to ask citizens to line up outside of the municipal court building to cast a ballot, putting poll workers and every voter at the same risk we are so determined to eliminate today.
There is nothing that makes a May election more important than a November one, except that voter turnout in November will be higher.
If the Mayor and Council truly want voter participation, the clear decision should be to postpone the election.
Any decision that causes voters to be hesitant or weigh the potential consequences of exercising their right to vote is irresponsible. And limiting opportunities to campaign and engage potential voters shows a further lack of respect for the importance of participation in the local democratic process.
The Council is elected to act in the public interest. Today, the public interest is to make decisions focused on public health and not the personal interest of elected officials.