EDITORIAL: Some traditions are made to be broken

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Some traditions are worth preserving, others just need to go.

The Liberty Hill City Council has a ridiculous tradition, which has been weaponized following the last two elections, that has contributed to a big mess for city employees and the City at large.

The Council has a habit of addressing the duties of the incoming Mayor each time someone new steps into that role. The tradition seems to date back to the beginning 20 years ago, and it is alive and well and more harmful than ever today.

In 2018, the Council and then-new Mayor Rick Hall went round and round about his role.

Hall resisted efforts to limit his authority early in his administration and fought aggressively behind closed doors to gain more control of city operations, while publicly saying nothing was changing.

But everything changed.

Despite a general list of duties outlined in City Ordinance, new ordinances sprung up, staff was eliminated and the City Council handed Hall the keys to the City, allowing him to essentially run everything.

Council members claim they were five independent actors throughout Hall’s tenure, but it was a time where Hall appeared to get his way at every turn. He wanted to supervise the city staff and he got it. He wanted a salary, he almost got it. He found staff members he didn’t approve of and terminations were made. He managed to temporarily eliminate the City Administrator position and the Council supported it. He wanted to spend reserve funds and dramatically increase the budget and the Council gave its stamp of approval.

So much for curtailing the powers of the Mayor – until Nov. 23.

Fast forward to the aftermath of a losing effort by Hall in his bid for reelection on Nov. 3 and the Council is suddenly keenly aware that the Mayor’s position in Liberty Hill has too much power.

It makes you scratch your head wondering where this concern was when five staff members were fired and the wastewater plant expansion reversed course and added nearly a third to its budget.

While the Council enabled Hall, it seems determined to react in fear of what new Mayor Liz Branigan might do if they let her have the same amount of authority.

Council member Kathy Canady, who spent her first 18 months in office defending Hall’s leadership, said this change is important immediately to “get this mess cleaned up.”

What exactly is the mess?

Council member Liz Rundzieher called this change today “housekeeping” and nothing more. Is this housekeeping to go back to what was once in place?

Council member Steve McIntosh didn’t see the need to put off an immediate decision on the Mayor’s powers because “I think we’ve been hearing about those two ordinances since they were enacted, so this isn’t a new subject for us.”

But why is it new that it’s suddenly so important to act now?

He said this change “allows them to start from scratch”, but it certainly appears starting from scratch really means undoing what has been done the last two years regarding how the City is managed.

Many have argued since May 2018 that having a City led at the management level by a City Administrator rather than a Mayor who may not have any of the background, experience or skills needed for such a task, is important.

It’s ironic that the emergency action the Council feels is so necessary today is exactly what Branigan campaigned on putting back in place. But even if it achieves the commonly-sought outcome, the Council should explain to the voters in Liberty Hill why what was so acceptable from the Mayor only weeks ago is so dangerous today.

It’s time the Council recognize the best way to create stability and good management in our growing city and settle on that once and for all, without the small-town power struggle that comes with conflicting personalities and new faces on the dais every couple of years.

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