Three places to determine future look of City Council
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Three spots – places one, three, and five – are up for grabs May 4 in the Liberty Hill City Council election.
Each incumbent has filed for reelection, and each has drawn an opponent.
In Place 1, Steven McIntosh is challenging incumbent Troy Whitehead. Gram Lankford is running against incumbent Elizabeth Branigan in Place 3, and Bill Brannan is taking on incumbent Liz Rundzieher in Place 5.
The race for Place 1 has a two-term Council member in Troy Whitehead facing an opponent new to the area in Steve McIntosh.
McIntosh has lived in Liberty Hill just over two years, moving to the area from Arapaho County, Colorado, where he retired as a sergeant in the sheriff’s department.
“I have been attending city council meetings now since I moved here, and I have a lot of concerns about what is going on with the City Council in regard to interactions between the development communities and the projects they were doing,” McIntosh said. “I felt like the best way to make an impact was to run and try to influence it that way.”
The way projects are managed has raised questions for McIntosh, especially transportation projects.
“I’ve noticed there are some projects that I believe to be redundant in the way of road building,” McIntosh said. “I’m concerned about the lack of input from a traffic engineering standpoint. I know the City has gotten into some agreements with some traffic engineering resources, but not enough to revamp the entire plan.”
Mentioning the downtown one-way streets change and the Stubblefield project, McIntosh said he feels there needs to be better representation for taxpayers.
“The development aspect is a big thing to me because I feel like there is a perception in the area that there are some unethical things going on, and I’ve heard that from the community,” he said. “I’ve been to meetings where it is a concern of mine and I hope to get to a little bit of the bottom of that. I feel like the citizens are under-represented and the developers are over-represented. I think the citizens deserve to have someone that’s looking out for them.”
Whitehead, who is a Director at Pedernales Electric Cooperative and has been in the area 47 years, is seeking his third term on the Council after first being elected in 2014. He is proud of the work that has been done in recent years.
“I think the Council we have right now is doing a really good job of managing the growth and most of that goes back to the talent we have on the city staff,” Whitehead said. “I think we’re working well together right now. I find it interesting and fun to help out with it and I enjoy being a part of it. It is rewarding to make a difference in the future of Liberty Hill.”
When Whitehead looks back over his time so far on the Council, the growth he sees all around is what he hopes the voters take note of.
“It’s the changes you see and difference you see when you drive through downtown and seeing how much has changed in the last four years,” he said.
Moving forward, working to continue on that path is his focus as he campaigns for a third term.
“Part of the focus is going to be the track record we’ve had as a Council and working together and being able to manage the growth and place Liberty Hill in a position to be successful in that growth,” he said. “I want to be able to assist the staff because they are doing an incredible job of managing the growth for the benefit of the City. We’ve been able to make a lot of progress setting the City up financially to come out of that growth in a strong position.”
Another political newcomer, but long-time resident of the Liberty Hill area is taking on an incumbent for Place 3 as Gram Lankford takes on incumbent Elizabeth Branigan.
Branigan, a registered nurse, is finishing a term after being appointed unanimously by the Council in March 2018. Branigan had served previously on the Council, but chose not to seek reelection in 2017. She was first elected in 2013.
Her desire for another term is based on her belief that continuity with the current Council is important.
“This is a crucial time for the city because it is growing so fast,” she said. “We need to be pointed in the right direction and at this point we could very easily go off track.”
Citing what she said is growing business interests in the city, Branigan is focused on keeping those interests second to the people.
“What I’m seeing the city start to do is head toward commercial interests rather than community. I want to keep it focused on community,” she said. “I want to focus on quality of life issues like art, like swimming pools, children in sports, God, family and all those things. People are coming from all over the world to be here and I think they should experience real Texas culture and all the best that goes with it.”
Lankford, a 2010 graduate of Liberty Hill High School, has returned following service in the United States Marine Corps, to raise his family.
“I’ve been living in Liberty Hill a majority of my life,” Lankford said. “I grew up in the town. The reason for running for City Council is just because I want to continue to be part of my community and be a part of the influence in the town.”
As he digs into issues in front of the Council today, Lankford said dealing with growth and understanding what it is voters want will be his focus.
“I’m still delving into things and there is a lot going on,” Lankford said. “It is hard for me to pinpoint one particular thing. There is so much growth up and coming and happening right now. For me, it is trying to just get everyone’s opinions and views and base my focal point on how people feel and then choose the right direction to go forward.”
Place 5 Council Member Liz Rundzieher counts 16 years on the Council as she seeks a ninth term against Bill Brannan.
Brannan, who is the Head of School for Fortis Academy in Liberty Hill and has lived in the area just over four years, was encouraged to run again for Council one year after losing by four votes to longtime Council Member Wendell McLeod.
“It was kind of a grass roots thing this year, with people asking me if I was willing to run,” Brannan said. “The big difference this time is I am going to really actively hit the campaign trail.”
Brannan admitted that when he filed last year it was an effort to step in and serve when it appeared McLeod was not going to seek reelection.
“When I got so close, and was asked to run again, I thought if we really put in the work I think I have a decent chance to make a run for it,” he said. “My heart is to serve, but it’s not like I have huge political ambitions beyond serving the community. The more I thought about it the more I pondered it, I realized I really would like to run.”
Like last year, he plans to focus on the idea of intelligent growth for Liberty Hill.
“It is really about intelligent growth while maintaining a small-town feel,” he said. “I really think that’s at the heart of what Liberty Hill both needs and what people are looking for. People don’t want to lose the culture and values and a lot of the things that make Liberty Hill special.”
Rundzieher is retired and a 27-year resident of Liberty Hill who loves serving on the Council.
“I enjoy the Council,” she said. “It is just engrained in me because I’ve been doing it so long. I like helping set the direction and agenda in Liberty Hill. I have a lot of experience and I call on that a lot.”
Transportation is her focal point as the City makes many changes on Loop 332 and throughout downtown.
“I really haven’t started my campaign,” she said. “The main thing I’m concerned with right now is the different road projects we have going on. I want to see those through to the end, especially the one at the four-way stop. We just started it, but it was my suggestion to start it so I’d like to see that one through.”
Looking back over her 16 years, Rundzieher knows there are many examples of changes made over the years she has been proud to be a part of.
“I know there are a lot of things we have voted on that have made a big difference,” she said. “The sewer plant is a project I’ve been with since the very beginning since we took it over from LCRA. I’m proud to see that we have accomplished what we set out to do.”
Election Day is May 4, with early voting running from April 22-30. Anyone who has not registered to vote will have until April 4 to do so.
In addition to coverage in The Independent throughout the campaign, the newspaper will host its annual Candidate Forum April 16 for candidates in both the City Council and Liberty Hill School Board elections.
Each Council candidate has filed the modified campaign finance declaration, declaring their intent to not spend more than $500.