Missing a friend
The one thing I could always count on when I saw Wendell McLeod’s little red pickup pull into the parking lot of The Independent was that I was about to hear a story about the old days, the latest happenings with his family, and a favorite scene from a TV Western or a John Wayne movie — almost in that order.

Wendell and I shared a love for the Westerns and TV reruns from a much simpler time. Believe it or not, one can learn a lot from the truths as told by Festus.

Intermixed with the more light-hearted topics was generally a discussion about the latest city council decision, a looming controversy, a clarification of his view on a particular issue, and his heartfelt concern about the future of Liberty Hill.

On Friday, Liberty Hill lost a true public servant. He lived his life thinking of others first. There was never a question that his wife, Mary Ann, and their family came first. But during the 40 years he served the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp., and the multiple terms on the city council, his commitment to his constituents was the driving force behind every decision.

He had a heart as big as his beloved Texas, and cared deeply about the people in his hometown.

We have covered lots of politicians through the years. While many fit into a cookie-cutter mold and their actions are predictable, Wendell was not one of those.

Before making hard decisions, he listened to lots of folks. But in the end, it was his own conscious driven by what he thought was fair, right and affordable for the citizens of Liberty Hill that influenced his votes.

Sometimes those votes weren’t so popular with business owners, city staff or other elected officials. But that didn’t matter to Wendell. It didn’t bother him for a second to be the only dissenting vote, or to be the one who wasn’t always in step with the others. It was his concern for those struggling to make ends meet that frequently caused decision-makers to slow down and take a closer look at things.

Through the years, Wendell was quick to let me know when he didn’t agree with something that he read in the paper. I listened patiently as he would talk through his objections, but more times than not, he would get to the door and tell me what a good job we were doing, and how much he appreciated the fact that we were fair in our reporting.

Every time, I told him how much that meant to me. And when he finally made the move several years ago to write that $25 check and subscribe, I knew I’d gained his confidence. We wouldn’t always report things like he wanted to read them, but that was okay.

I lost a friend who lit up every room just by walking into it, including the newspaper office. Even when he had troubling things on his mind, he was always armed with an infectious smile and contagious laughter. Those on our staff who didn’t know Wendell looked forward to his visits.

The truth is that Wendell treated all of Liberty Hill like they were part of his family. And that extended to the staff at City Hall, his fellow council members, and even to us here at the newspaper.

At his funeral Tuesday, it was the words of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren that painted a lasting picture of our friend, who was deeply devoted to his family. While each one claimed jokingly to be their grandpa’s favorite, I can attest that he bragged on each of you equally through the years.

I’ll always consider my friendship with Wendell McLeod to be one of the great blessings of newspapering in Liberty Hill.

See ya later, Alligator.
~ Shelly Wilkison, Publisher

Where the numbers meet the spreadsheet
Have you ever listened to a Liberty Hill ISD demographics report?

If the Superintendent is presenting it you can watch sweat beading on his brow as he silently does the math on campuses, classrooms, teachers and school buses on the horizon. If it’s a demographer, you see him working into an excited frenzy over the more ridiculous numbers exposed with each new slide.

This is where the numbers meet the spreadsheets, and while the eye-popping data is put together to help the school district plan, it is an important story for all of us to follow and understand as it touches every part of our lives locally.

Each number is impressive on its own, and when you begin to mash them together you begin to feel like a mathematician that never finished algebra. But in context, together, the numbers tell a staggering tale everyone should understand.

To keep us all on the same page and understanding just what all these numbers mean in our lives, a 20-minute briefing should be required for all residents in the Liberty Hill area once every year. It would certainly improve the social media debates.

Within the school district boundaries, 1,041 homes were started in 2018 and buyers closed on 762.

The median price for a home in the school district dropped more than $70,000 because some neighborhoods are building less expensive homes now than have been the norm in recent years.

There are 1,475 new lots under development within the school district, a record number and the second highest total among any school district in Central Texas.

At an average of .63 students per household, that means those lots represent 929 new students.

But things could always slow down, right?

Sure, but developers have plans for more than 10,000 more lots yet to be developed. That’s only 6,300 potential students.

We all hear the numbers, but until you see them and hear the presentation in person it is difficult to wrap your head around what it all means.

It means new school campuses every few years. It means a new wastewater plant every few years. It means massive infrastructure projects to provide roads and intersections that can handle the volume of cars (see SH 29 and CR 200), and miles of water and wastewater lines.

It means talk of a third fire station within WCESD #4 – even as the second is not quite finished – is not some kind of dream to expand a firefighting kingdom, but a necessity for fire safety.

Every foundation poured means another family enjoying local parks and the public library.

When we discuss growth we automatically think Santa Rita, Rancho Sienna, Orchard Ridge and MorningStar. But Liberty Parke is hard at work and Stonewall has 750 homes left to build.

We have barely talked about what the future looks like if you drive into the sunset around 6 p.m., but there’s a plan for 1,200 homes in Butler Farms and that’s the first of what many believe will be a similar boom out west.

Maybe the growth is too fast. Maybe we wish it were half of what it is. But if you compare our growth problems to places people are abandoning around the country we are clearly in the better position.

These are numbers we should all chew on when discussions of bond elections, water rates and traffic congestion come up, fueling anxieties and frustrations. It’s much easier to swallow what is happening around us when we all understand the numbers behind the headaches.
~ Mike Eddleman, Managing Editor