Published May 15, 2017 in the Liberty Hill Independent
Some officials describe it as a simple house cleaning measure. City Administrator Greg Boatright calls it the mayor’s latest move to assert personal control over city operations.
The Liberty Hill City Council voted late Monday night to amend Police Chief Maverick Campbell’s employment contract to show he will no longer report to the city administrator. Instead, he will report directly to the mayor.
The unanimous decision was announced at the meeting shortly after 10 p.m., following nearly two hours of closed door discussion between the mayor, council members, and legal counsel.
Word of a possible shakeup had spread among city officials beforehand. Before the council left for the closed session, Fire Chief Anthony Lincoln and EDC President Bill Chapman both gave public comments expressing support for Boatright. “For years, Liberty Hill was a difficult sell to retailers,” Chapman said. “But things have really stabilized under the current administration, and now people from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio will take our calls.”
Mayor Connie Fuller said after the meeting that “despite what some of the community seems to think,” the change does not signal any disappointment in the job performance of Boatright or Assistant City Administrator Amber Lewis.
Fuller said city attorneys are combing through local ordinances, handbooks and other documentation to make sure language aligns with each other and with “requirements put forth by state law.”
Tuesday, Boatright told The Independent he was not aware of what state requirements the Mayor was referring to, and that the mayor “has yet to explain to me the reasoning for the decision.”
“There’s been a different mindset of the Mayor, especially recently, of taking control,” he said. “And I think this is part of that.”
As an example, Boatright pointed to the evaluation of department heads recently undertaken by the Mayor and City Council. He said this was the first time this had happened in Liberty Hill.
Speaking for Fuller, legal counsel Laura Mueller wrote in an email to The Independent that the state statutes referred to come from Chapter 22 of the Local Government Code, particularly Section 22.042.
The section reads, “The mayor shall inspect the conduct of each subordinate municipal officer and shall cause any negligence, carelessness, or other violation of duty to be prosecuted and punished.”
Mueller did not elaborate by press time Wednesday on how the City’s legal department interprets this clause.
Liberty Hill’s own municipal ordinances are in conflict on who supervises the police chief.
A 2006 ordinance (Section 9.04.022) concerning the police department states that “The chief of police shall be supervised by the city administrator and shall serve at the pleasure of the city council.”
Meanwhile, an ordinance adopted in 2009 (Section 1.04.001) which outlines the powers of the mayor reads, “The city hereby establishes that the chief of police … shall report directly to the mayor and city council to the extent allowed by law. The mayor shall be the direct supervisor for each position.”
The city administrator is normally tasked with overseeing every department and all employees of the city.
Following Monday, the Police Department will become the first exception.
Boatright said that in discussions with Chief Campbell over personnel and budget items, “He didn’t always like the answers I gave him.”
A main source of disagreement emerged over Campbell’s requests for additional funding mid-way through a budget cycle.
He said Campbell had wanted to convert a patrol officer to code enforcement, and in another instance, to station an officer at the high school as a school resource officer.
Both would have involved new expenses not voted on during yearly budget deliberations last September.
It can be “difficult to find funding mid-way through the year,” he said. “That’s just not the way the budget works. We want all of our departments to live within a budget for the year and address needs at the new budget.”
“Council has been very generous,” Boatright said. “The police department budget has seen a huge increase in their budget.”
Boatright said he supported the creation of the new positions requested by the Chief, but that they needed to be addressed when the entire budget was being drawn alongside the needs of other city departments.
Ultimately, Boatright did not take those proposals to Council.
Since taking office in June 2016, Campbell has overseen an expansion in the police department’s operations.
The police department has grown to eight full-time officers from a previous peak of six. The amount of unpaid, reserve officers has risen from three to six.
The department’s most recent hire in February, which was funded in their budget, allowed the force to move to a complete 24-hour patrol.
Its budget this year for $735,500 marks a nearly 25% increase over last year’s $591,000.
Campbell said that the change in supervision is a clarification of the “chain of command.”
“Nothing really changes as far as what I do,” he said. “Even before all this occurred, as far as anything involved with the safety of the public, I always kept the City Administrator and the Mayor informed.”
On May 1, Campbell deployed two patrol sergeants to Canton in Van Zandt County in response to a statewide request for assistance from emergency responders in the aftermath of tornadoes.
Fuller said that when Gov. Greg Abbott declared the state of emergency there, Campbell was unable to get in contact with Boatright to secure authorization to send the officers. He was also unable to reach Lewis.
Fuller said the Chief then called her. She gave the green light to go ahead.
Fuller said that the episode “was a factor in the decision.”
“We had a discussion about this and we came up with the plan to get the attorney to go ahead and check it out,” she said. “We were going to amend his (Campbell’s) contract when we realized he needed to be under me anyway.”
Campbell has said he will seek funds from state and federal government to reimburse the department’s costs of the deployment.
Fuller said that it is possible that further decisions could be derived from Monday’s executive session discussion, but that no decision has been taken.