The endorsement of SB 646 and its companion bill HB 1803 came as part of a resolution unanimously approved by Lakeway city council members that included a slate of other bills currently before state lawmakers.
City staff recommended the council's endorsement of the bills because no one government agency should act unilaterally on the homeless issue, said assistant city manager Joseph Molis.
“We want to ensure all involved parties are able to come to the table and discuss these things,” he said. “Especially in this case, we want to ensure that there is enough infrastructure to address the situation.”
Among the other proposed legislation that received endorsement from council through the adopted resolution are HB 1024 and SB 298 that would permanently allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premise consumption, a service put in place in March 2020 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and since known as “alcohol to-go.”
Lakeway Mayor Sandy Cox said it was important that restaurants, at the time in 2020 under operating restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had the ability to sell alcohol along with food orders for to-go and home delivery.
“This is one of the key items that saved a lot of our restaurants during the pandemic,” Cox said.
The resolution also outlined bills the council now formally opposes, including a set of eight bills relating to cities that defund municipal police departments, according to the adopted ordinance.
The set of bills are opposed by council not because the city staff and council do not support the police, but because the bills potentially would limit or interfere with the ability to make good government decisions about the police budget, Cox told Community Impact Newspaper after the meeting.
“The City of Lakeway has had a history of supporting our local law enforcement,” Cox said. “We think a lot of these bills are aimed at others...in our city we’ve never defunded the police. My goodness, we just built a brand new police station. We oppose it because it’s an overreach from the state in trying to run local government.”
In other business, after exiting executive session, the city council unanimously adopted an ordinance that updated city code to name the city manager the only city employee eligible to have a contract for employment and that all other city employees serve at-will. The ordinance also removed language from city code that states the chief of police's and municipal judge’s terms of office corresponds to that of the mayor. The code now states that a municipal judge is appointed by the mayor to a two-year term and that the police chief discuss the hiring of police officers with the city manager and not the city council or mayor.
Cox said that the updates to the city code follow what the city has been effectively practicing–that the chief of police reports to the city manager and not the city council.
“The chief of police does not report to the council; so it’s being really clear about unwinding that structure,” Cox said. “Some of these ordinances that we are fixing are old, and they just have not been updated.”
Before the council adjourned to executive session, a public hearing was held on the ordinance updating the city code.
The only speaker, Brad Heilman, told council he is a Lakeway resident and attorney who represents members of law enforcement. He spoke in favor of the police chief having a negotiated employment agreement similar to that of the city manager to retain independence from political pressure.
“They should be able to make the decisions that are best for their department and their employees, and not to have to worry about a city council or a city manager, depending on which way the political winds blow, get upset about a decision the police chief makes, and they get rid of him. And that’s what at-will employment does," Heilman told Community Impact Newspaper.