Economic Development Director Matt Powell was on the hot seat once again during the City Council’s meeting on March 23.
Earlier this month, the Council asked Powell to gather multiple bids for graphic design and website maintenance services for the EDC after learning that the EDC Board had voted unanimously in February to retain graphic designer Levi Slayer of Rothko Blue, LLC. Slayer is a former employee of Powell’s company, Powell Strategic. But Powell did not bring any additional bids forward this week as directed.
The Council has been concerned over this relationship since January, when they told Powell he wasn’t operating above the perception of impropriety.
“Is that not some sort of conflict there, if you are going and pressuring for the City of Liberty Hill to use Levi without disclosing that Levi works for Powell Strategic?” asked Council member Crystal Mancilla in January. “That was brought to our attention by someone in another city. Why did you not disclose that?”
Powell’s response was that the City of Liberty Hill employed both him and Slayer through his company on a consulting basis for two years, until he was hired as an official employee.
“When I was hired to be your full-time director, that business was closed,” Powell told the Council in January. “Levi created his own LLC. This company has been defunct since I took this job [as EDC director].”
After learning Rothko Blue was exclusively chosen by the EDC Board, the Council asked Powell to gather at least two more bids, but at the March 23 meeting, he solely presented the benefits of keeping the contract with Rothko Blue.
“I thought we asked you to [get three solid bids] and have it for us,” Council member Kathy Canady told Powell.
Council member Angela Jones added that she went back and watched the last City Council meeting’s video footage when the request was made, and that is what happened.
“The direction from Council was specifically to go back and get more bids,” she said.
Powell apologized and said it was an oversight, and that his understanding was that Council only wanted to know if the contract with Rothko Blue was competitive.
Council member Chris Pezold said he has heard from EDC board members as well as Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce members that the Council isn’t supporting Powell, but that’s not true, because Powell isn’t doing what the Council asks of him. He also mentioned again the perception of impropriety that comes from retaining Slayer and his company, because he was previously an employee of Powell’s.
“We’ve asked over and over again about this, and nothing happens,” Pezold said. “Then we get branded by the EDC like we don’t want to work with them and the business community.”
Powell replied and said he feels the recent spirit of cooperation between the EDC and the Council has been noticeable, and that he could turn around some official bids for the graphic design and website maintenance services very quickly. The Council directed him to bring the official bids to their next meeting on April 6 for review.
Also during the meeting, the Council ratified the ordinance that prevents former officials from being employed in any capacity within the City through a revolving door policy. The Council asked the legal department to draft the ordinance on Feb. 23 and approved it Wednesday night.
“With what we’ve seen with our former mayor [Rick Hall] working around town as a consultant, I think it’s a good idea to have this policy in place,” said Pezold on Feb. 23. “I just don’t like former elected officials being consultants. If you’re going to choose to be in public service, you stay in your lane.”
The ordinance states that “for a period of seven years after leaving office or employment, no former official shall represent a person or receive compensation for services rendered on behalf of any person regarding any particular matter in which they participated while serving the City, even though personal involvement or because the matter was within their official scope of authority or responsibility.”
Also this week, the Council:
– Presented an award to Ocean Garcia, eighth grader at Liberty Hill Middle School, who served as Mayor for the Day on March 23.
– Approved a contract for election services with Williamson County for the May 7 election at the Over the Hill Gang. Canady said she was concerned about the building being large enough and having enough parking for voters, so she will be working with RockPointe Church to have the voting location moved.
– Approved the EDC to sign a contract with The Retail Coach at a cost of $2,000. The organization will complete a variety of local business and demographics reports for the EDC to use when attracting new businesses to Liberty Hill.
– Approved a generator service agreement for routine maintenance on the City’s generators with Fleet Maintenance of Texas. The cost of this annual service for the City’s 25v generators is $28,630.
– Approved the purchase of wastewater and temporary easements needed for a road improvement project at CR 260 and CR 266 in the amount of $125,000 for Margarita’s Restaurant.
– Authorized Finance Director Sidney Smith to oversee financial issues and concerns that come up in the utility billing department to an amount of up to $500 until a new city administrator is hired.
The next meeting of the City Council is April 6 at 6 p.m.