Mayoral candidate/newspaper owner files charges against Mayor Murphy


A candidate for Liberty Hill City Council who was ejected from a public meeting last week has filed a criminal complaint against Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy.

Jamie Williamson, a candidate for Mayor and owner of The Leader newspaper, is accusing Mayor Murphy of official oppression — a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 or 90 days to one year in jail.

During the public comments portion of the regular City Council meeting April 9, Mayor Murphy interrupted Mrs.Williamson and asked her to return to her seat claiming her testimony was “political” in nature. Mrs. Williamson was asking the Council to table three items on that evening’s agenda pertaining to the issuance of bonds to purchase a wastewater treatment plant from the Lower Colorado River Authority. Mrs. Williamson claimed some members of the Council had not received the supporting documents in their meeting packets.

“Mayor, I’d like to use your own words and ask you to show some honor and integrity and wisdom,” Mrs. Williamson said. “Your council did not receive the ordinances and the resolution with their Thursday packet and had no time to review it. $3.75 million is a lot of money to commit…” at which time Mayor Murphy interjected that this “is not a political foum for you to bash the city. Please sit down. Now.”

“This has nothing to do with political{sic}, Mayor,” Mrs. Williamson responded. “This has items that y’all are gonna{sic} discuss tonight.”

At that time, Mayor Murphy asked Police Chief Randy Williams to remove the speaker from the meeting. On her way to her seat, Mrs. Williamson handed a document to Councilman Mike Crane and announced that it was the City Manager’s contract. As the Council moved on to the next item on the agenda, the Mayor again requested that Chief Williams remove Mrs. Williamson from the meeting and he complied.

Mrs. Williamson filed the complaint April 12 with the Liberty Hill Police Department. Chief Williams told The Independent that he had forwarded the complaint and supporting evidence to the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office for investigation.

A video of the incident, which was recorded by Mrs. Williamson’s camera, was included as evidence. Acting as a reporter for her newspaper, Mrs. Williamson regularly records all city council meetings on video, but those recordings are not available for public viewing on that newspaper’s website.

According to Sec. 39.03 of the Texas Penal Code, a public servant commits the offense of official oppression when he or she “intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful.”

Because she was forced to leave a public meeting, Chief Williams said Mrs. Williamson claimed “her rights as a citizen had been denied by a public official.”

Mrs. Williamson did not respond to The Independent‘s request for an interview.

City Attorney Art Rodriguez, who was not present at the Council meeting April 9, said he could not speak to the actual complaint filed by Mrs. Williamson, but said the Texas Open Meetings Act provides for members of the general public to be able to attend public meetings. However, one’s right to attend is modified if the individual disrupts a meeting as defined by the offense of Disorderly Conduct in the Texas Penal Code.

Disorderly conduct is a Class B misdemeanor.

Sec. 42.05 of the Texas Penal Code states that a person who disrupts a meeting commits the offense of disorderly conduct “if, with intent to prevent or disrupt a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering, he obstructs or interferes with the meeting, procession, or gathering by physical action or verbal utterance.”

Rodriguez said the Mayor has the authority to keep order in the meeting.

“The Mayor does have the authority to interrupt public comments and ask someone to be seated,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone has three minutes to speak, but the Mayor is the chair of the meeting and can recognize individuals to speak or declare if someone is out of order.”

He added that the public comments portion of public meetings is not a requirement under the Texas Open Meetings Act and  the Mayor has the authority to discontinue public comments from Council meetings.

Rodriguez said the City would allow the District Attorney’s office to proceed with any investigation on the allegations. However, when the time comes to provide legal defense for Mayor Murhpy, counsel will likely be provided by the Texas Municipal League rather than his law firm.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but as the City Attorney, I defend the City as an entity. If there is a criminal complaint, TML would have to determine if it is covered and there might be other counsel provided,” he said.

TML is already defending Mayor Murphy in a civil lawsuit filed in 2011 by Council member Charles Canady and his wife, Kathy Canady, who alleged the Mayor committed slander when she falsely accused him of accepting a bribe in a column published in Mrs. Williamson’s newspaper in 2010. Mrs. Williamson is a defendant in the same lawsuit and is being sued for libel for printing the article.

Local realtor Randy O’Dell was ejected from the same Council meeting by the Mayor, but he is not a party to the criminal complaint filed last week.

O’Dell made comments about being unable to hear the Council during discussion of items on the consent agenda.