Mayor threatens legal action
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
In a phone call to The Independent Thursday afternoon, Liberty Hill Mayor Rick Hall repeated his aggressive denial of all allegations regarding his personal behavior, specifically regarding an incident where former Police Chief Maverick Campbell said Hall threatened his children.
The angry denial went as far as threatening legal action against the newspaper.
“I read the paper, and I’ve never said anything to y’all about what you’re putting in there about me because of freedom of speech, y’all do what you want to,” Hall said. “But the part that Maverick (Campbell) said to you about me making racially derogatory comments about his kids and ‘I’m gonna hang them from the tree’, that is totally false. You guys don’t want to look into the issues, you want to just believe somebody. I will be getting a lawyer and suing the paper for slander.”
The incident was first detailed to Publisher Shelly Wilkison in late February when one of the two boys shared his story directly in a recorded meeting with the family.
In early April, Campbell filed a report regarding the incident – which allegedly occurred during the City Council retreat in late January at Canyon of the Eagles – with the Burnet County Sheriff’s Department. He also included the incident as part of his statement in his grievance filed with the City over his termination. (Grievance alleges interference, pressure from Hall, LH Independent 7-2-20)
Questions have lingered over Hall’s conduct during the retreat, with at least four people – two of whom have chosen not to speak on the record – have told The Independent that Hall was vulgar, belligerent, intoxicated and carrying a firearm the night of the retreat.
In addition to Campbell’s account, former City Director of Planning Sally McFeron said she witnessed similar behavior during the retreat. She believes her termination earlier this week was due to being a whistle blower regarding the Mayor’s conduct. (City terminates two more key employees, LH Independent 7-2-20)
“I was one of the anonymous contributors to The Liberty Hill Independent related to the article ‘Mayor’s Conduct Comes into Question‘ published on Feb. 28. Subsequently, senior level staff and City Council member Kathy Canady publicly supported the Mayor, defending his reported behavior,” McFeron wrote in a statement to the newspaper this week. “By process of elimination of the small group of senior level staff that attended the retreat and the staff members that came out publicly in support of the Mayor, it is not rocket science to figure out who are the possible anonymous individuals that reported to The Independent.”
McFeron said she was present at the observatory that evening as well as at the fire pit where City staff and elected officials were gathered.
“I was present when he was asked to leave the Observatory by Canyon of the Eagles staff because he was being loud and using vulgar language in front of other adult guests and children,” she said. “The Mayor and other senior level staff members left the observatory with the Mayor complaining loudly all the way to his car. I was so embarrassed for the City of Liberty Hill. It was painful. I stayed behind with another staff member and his wife to hear the rest of the presentation by Canyon of the Eagles Staff. Upon returning to the resort, I joined the other staff, staff spouses and children, consultants, the Mayor, the Mayor Pro Tem, Liz Rundzieher, Councilwoman Kathy Canady at the fire pit. We were playing the game ‘heads up’ and generally having a good time. The Mayor was heavily intoxicated and was extremely loud and cursing loudly. Even his wife kept telling him to take it down a notch.
“I felt very uncomfortable with the Mayor’s behavior, not only was he drunk, loud and cursing, and spouting vulgar responses to the game, he would use every opportunity to let everyone know he was ‘the Mayor’ and ‘he was in charge’ through various comments. For example, when a staff member would say something that the Mayor didn’t like, he would tell Becky Wilkins to ‘hold their check’ or ‘don’t pay them.’ Of course, this could be construed as joking and having fun, but his reputation of intimidation, carrying a gun, and consistently using his power as Mayor to control staff does not make it feel like a joke,” McFeron wrote.
McFeron also confirmed that Canyon of the Eagles staff got involved over the noise.
“At one point, a Canyon of the Eagles staff member came out and specifically addressed the Mayor telling him that she had received complaints from other guests regarding his loud behavior and the language he was using. She politely told the Mayor and the group to behave or she would have to ask him to leave the fire pit. I left the fire pit shortly thereafter,” she said.
In a phone call from The Independent, Canyon of the Eagles staff admitted they knew what the paper was calling about after the incident, but would not comment.
McFeron did not attend the City staff Christmas party where similar allegations were also made about Hall’s behavior.
Hall said he was told by the Burnet County Sheriff’s Department that the complaint filed by Campbell would not be further investigated.
“They said they’re not going to investigate it because it’s not accurate,” Hall said, saying he was told that three weeks ago when he spoke to them, though he referenced the Burnet Police Department. “I was called and told there was a police investigation about this and because it was at Canyon of the Eagles it was turned over to the LCRA. LCRA said ‘I’m not doing nothing about this. There’s no proof this happened. Burnet County police department said they’re not going to investigate it because there’s no proof that it happened.”
Campbell disagreed, telling The Independent that the investigator put it on hold pending the completion of the Child Advocacy Forensic Interviews of the two boys, which Campbell said have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hall has attributed all of the allegations to “disgruntled employees” from the beginning, denying them all.
“This was after Maverick was terminated and it’s just disgruntled employees,” he said. “Y’all need to start checking your facts and I am very disappointed, because I’ve tried to explain to you guys multiple times that he is making up all these lies and y’all just keep printing them and that’s fine. Now when you make a comment that I’m making racially derogatory comments to people in the current state this country is in right now, that is slander and you will be hearing from my lawyer.”
Campbell said he hesitated to file the report when the incident occurred in January due to concerns over his job.
“He threatened me every time I have challenged him or ever disagreed or didn’t do what he wanted,” Campbell said.
But Campbell, McFeron and former City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann have all shared separate, similar incidents they called intimidating. But with no City Administrator in place, they each held concerns fearful of losing their jobs if they made formal complaints through the City or went public with those concerns.
“I always felt intimidated by his carrying of a weapon and his style of management,” McFeron said. “He has a history of angry outbursts, public intoxication at events representing the City of Liberty Hill as Mayor, and basically total control over staff and city operations. Makes it hard to not be intimidated by him.”
In a statement following her termination in May, Zwernemann confirmed the letter previously reported on by The Independent where she raised concerns about Hall’s angry behavior toward her.
“Yes, it is true I had a violent encounter against me on Thursday, Sept 13, 2018,” Zwernemann wrote in a statement to The Independent. “Because I had no intent to destroy people I worked through it but it was a serious mistake because as I was told then by a wise council member ‘he won’t stop this behavior if you don’t stop him.’”
The City Council last considered Campbell’s grievance on May 26, when it decided to take no action. That meant the string of allegations against Hall would not be considered or discussed publicly, choosing again – as the Council had in early March – to not respond to complaints about Hall’s behavior.
None of the Council members were willing to discuss the allegations against Hall, with only Canady acknowledging she had seen the statement. She told the newspaper that she didn’t believe Campbell was a truthful person and that she didn’t know what might or might not happen in the future regarding the allegations against Hall.
“I’m not going to discuss what we talked about in executive session,” Canady said following the May 26 meeting. “We agreed with the investigator on what our grievance was and that’s all we have to worry about. I have no faith in anything Maverick has to say. I focused on the investigation that we did and I focused on things I have seen Maverick do that negates anything he could probably tell me.”
Canady went on to say she didn’t need to look into the allegations about Hall in Campbell’s statement as the discussion was about Campbell, not the Mayor.
“I really haven’t had a chance to go look at every last word,” she said. “I went off the investigator’s report and that’s what interests me. The issue at that meeting was Maverick Campbell, not the Mayor.”
Canady would not say whether she would at any point in the future want to look into the allegations against Hall.
There has been no attempt by a Council member to publicly consider or question any of the allegations about Hall’s behavior.