It is every citizen’s right to make assertions about an organization or individual on social and local media when concerned about appropriate governance. Likewise, it is also the right of elected officials to ensure corresponding facts are made public when necessary.
Even when untrue, damage to reputation is real, and it is, perhaps, the duty of officials and media to ensure the truth is as loud as the rhetoric.
In light of online and printed accusations against and denunciations of Liberty Hill Mayor Rick Hall, currently running for re-election, the Advocate acquired official documentation, witness affidavits, law enforcement reports, and investigative results to provide counterpoint on issues that may be of interest to Liberty Hill voters.
Among his proudest accomplishments, Mayor Hall is pleased that property taxes for Liberty Hill residents have been reduced for the past two years, even while the city has improved and added new infrastructure projects city wide. The city’s growth has brought new property and sales tax revenue, which has allowed local leaders to raise the bar on city improvement projects.
Among the most critical: new parking lots, new water and sewer lines, which the mayor says the city struggled with for years, are in process. There is also a shared public use path in the city for walking, biking, and fitness.
Following that, Mayor Hall estimates 80 percent of downtown roads will be resurfaced within 18 months. He adds, “Even with this volume of work, thanks to careful planning and good stewardship, Council was still able to lower [property] taxes for 2019 and 2020.”
Lowering property taxes is something most municipalities are unable to do, particularly when they are also building up infrastructure. Mayor Hall explains, “It is the county that determines property valuations, and if not for our city council, the bills would be even higher. We should be happy to know that our homes and businesses are increasing in value every year. No one wants to move to a city where property is depreciating.”
Managing city growth is just part of the improvements Mayor Hall has effected. He has also committed and followed through to convert contract employees to salary, and hire only employees with expertise or certifications in their fields to bring the city to the next level.
One example is Events Coordinator Katie Amsler. Mayor Hall says, “We had been contracting with an outside company to manage city events, as-needed. The contractor charged us $30,000-40,000 each year just for management, in addition to the costs of the events. Now our city’s events are no longer someone’s side-gig; they have Katie’s full focus and attention, and in her role, she provides other services to the city including media and communications support. This is a huge improvement and return on our citizens’ investment for what we are able to provide for the city.”
Mayor Hall also brought landscaping services under the city umbrella. Having reviewed the invoices, he determined the city had been paying a contract provider just over $300,000 annually for mowing and maintenance. “We hired three employees and purchased new equipment, which will now belong to the city, for about $160,000. We saved the city more than 40 percent just in the first year, and we will not have to re-purchase equipment moving forward.”
In terms of public safety, and amid inexplicable calls to the contrary around the nation, Liberty Hill is showing confidence in and appreciation for its police officers in the form of pay increases. Police Chief Royce Graeter recently made a presentation to City Council that focused on the need to further fund the police; “We included factors of recruitment and retention in an effort to secure appropriate funding from the city.”
Chief Graeter explained while the funding does not represent an across-the-board raise, the council vote does raise a starting officer’s annual salary by $6,000.
Council’s 2020 pay scale adjustment will enable the police department to recruit top notch employees, and stay on par with salaries in other cities
Recently, local keyboard warriors have produced social media posts regarding the termination of certain employees, insinuating that these actions were somehow personal or wrongful on the part of the Mayor.
In the case of the former director of the Economic Development Corporation, it is important to note that, while the EDC provides services as an entity of the city, they have their own finance officer and are overseen by a seven-member board. “The members of the EDC are not city employees,” Hall says. “The nature of our relationship with them, as an organization, is that they request confirmation from city council to move forward with projects within the city.”
The former EDC director had inquired with the Board regarding his preference to have an employment contract with that organization. The board responded in the negative, choosing instead to maintain the position as at-will employment.
The EDC DIRECTOR submitted a resignation letter, which is on file at the city.
The City Secretary, Barbara Zwernemann was terminated from her position for cause in May 2020 by a unanimous vote of the city council. After noting irregular practices and conducting an audit of city records, according to the city council’s official statement, Zwernemann was terminated “for failure to maintain the city’s records consistently and accurately in the manner required by state law and city code.”
“We turned the situation over to the Williamson County District Attorney to determine if the situation warranted further investigation.” Hall says. “While we do not believe her actions were for personal gain, or fraud, they represent a lack of due diligence in the execution of her duties, as well as compromising the veracity and confidence in our documents of record.”
The March 2020 termination of former Liberty Hill police chief Maverick Campbell has been controversial from the beginning. In light of the information contained in numerous documents obtained through open records requests, it is worth mentioning that, in his hand-written employment application, Campbell indicated he consumes “glass of wine or beer on special occasions” and, more than once, he sued a former employer for wrongful termination and racial discrimination.
In his application, Campbell asserted he was awarded settlements and the records sealed. However, 2011 court records show, in one case, he sued the City of Coronado Police Department in San Diego for wrongful termination and harassment based on ethnicity and intentional emotional distress. In 2012, that court granted a summary judgment for the defendant, which means the plaintiff (Campbell) did not establish a cause of action. Court documents state “to completely resolve the disputes… the City has agreed to waive any right to fees and costs in this matter.”
CITY COUNCIL ACTION
Police reports obtained from the Atlantic City Police Department confirm then-Chief Campbell was evicted from a casino in February 2020 over an incident with his wife, after-hours, at a law enforcement conference. Campbell was representing the city at the conference, and witness affidavits include multiple, separate observations that he was “very inebriated” at the hotel.
Statements from city employees who were at the casino not only confirmed Campbell’s after-hours actions, but also allege many days missed from work, late-night phone calls for non-emergent situations, fear of retaliation if they reported his actions to the Mayor, and other incidences of public intoxication.
In a February 27, 2020 e-mail to the Mayor, Campbell took responsibility for the casino incident and, in fact, apologized for his behavior.
According to official records, Chief Campbell was terminated for a violation of his employment contract, and Liberty Hill Code of Ordinances Section 9.04.002 allows the City Council to remove the Chief of Police at any time. Campbell’s termination was unanimously approved by the City Council; the Mayor did not vote.
After his March 9, 2020 termination, Campbell told a reporter he was “fired without cause,” and retroactively accused the Mayor of racist comments at a city employee retreat that took place in Burnet County in January 2020. According to published news reports, Campbell claimed his children had made an outcry about the Mayor’s behavior, and he felt compelled to report it.
Written witness statements obtained from the City of Liberty Hill make no reference to children being present outside after dinner, but one recounts: “It was very obvious the Chief was highly intoxicated & continued to drink…He stood up from his chair…at which time he fell over his chair and rolled down the little hill and laid on his back unable to get up. The following morning, the chief approached me… I just said okay & did not respond to what felt a bit threatening.”
Another witness statement—a senior city employee—included: “unfit for duty and should be relieved of command for his actions… that have reflected poorly on our City.”
It is incumbent on office holders to rectify inaccuracies where possible. While even these facts do not represent the fullness of the pros and cons of this candidate, it is incumbent upon the media to ensure complete information gets out.
*Court records, witness statements, affidavits, and other documents were obtained through open records requests from the City of Liberty Hill
Texas Representative District 20 Colonel Terry M. Wilson, US Army, Retired represents Williamson, Burnet & Milam Counties in the state legislature.
Rep. Wilson shared his independent investigation regarding Chief Campbell’s allegations with the Advocate, which revealed the following:
The racial complaint was not filed until three months after the incident. The complaint was investigated and rendered inactive due to insufficient evidence. Not a single person made a corroborating statement concerning Campbell’s complaint about events at Canyon of the Eagles. Campbell admitted that he himself did not hear any comments, but, rather, heard it from his children.