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Herman Williams ANGELA HARDIN Politics and Police Scanners Side-Swipes and Slander in the Slow Lane BY KIM YOUNG Granite Shoals ESTLED IN A CROOK of the Col orado River on Lake LBJ, about 45 miles north of Austin, Granite Shoals appears the perfect retirement community. With a population of only 1,378 and a median age of 53, the city boasts low crime, high recreation and green, rolling hills that provide a sylvan backdrop for a community that has about as many deck beats, jet-skis and screened-in back porches as it does people. To get to the waterfront here, drive down the meandering main thoroughfare, Phillips Ranch Road, past bluebonnets and well-kept cottages. And take your time; there’s no such thing as a fast lane in Granite Shoals. So the one thing you would never expect, in this community where gray is the dominant hair color and the police complain that residents drive too slowly, is that you’re on a political battleground. Yet for the past year, something like a political war has divided Granite Shoals. The fighting, which shows no sign of diminishing, has been conducted at the ballot box and in city council chambers and in the courts, where a voluminous record of litigation reveals the ugly side of this pastoral retirement community. No one seems to know exactly when the feuding began. Employees at the You-All convenience store, located on Phillips Ranch Road at the edge of town, say there has been an ongoing quarrel as long as they can remember. But then, at ages 45 and 37, they represent the younger generation in Granite Shoals. Among the mature population there’s a lot of naming of names and pointing of fingers, always followed by tales and rumors of families squabbling and embroiled in feuds. Names vary, as do the tales, but sooner or later everyone mentions Herman Williams. After four years on the job, Herman Williams was officially terminated as police chief on June 9, 1992, but the decision had been made less than 12 hours earlier, during a tumultuous City Council meeting when much to the dissatisfaction of hundreds of Williams supporters in attendance, the council decided that the 10-year con Kim Young, a former Observer intern, is a freelance writer in Austin. tract Williams had signed with the previous City Council was invalid. No sitting city council, they reasoned, should be bound to a police chief selected by its predecessors; the chief should serve at the will of the council, which is standard practice for police forces. To Williams’ supporters, his firing was a huge injustice and a telling sign of the City Council’s vendetta against him. To Williams’ opponents, it should have happened much, much sooner. “There were so many people out here that contacted me,” said former mayor Maxine Thurman, who cast the deciding vote on what all now refer to as the “termination.” “Not daily, but I had two or three calls a week saying ‘when are you going to terminate the contract?’ So many people were opposed to it. They just didn’t feel like it was right, any more than a lot of us feel like it was. All the legal advice that I got, from our city attorney and two other attorneys, said that, in their opinion, it was an illegal contract. They were binding the next council to that contract and you can’t do that. You go to Austin or some place and they won’t let you get by with that. I didn’t get people elected that were against the contract. The people of Granite Shoals elected. And that was one of the parts they wanted to address.” Williams disagrees. Somewhat intimidating at 6 feet, 3 inches, Williams speaks softly and deliberately. His gestures are punctuated with smooth, large hand motions and his glasses add an intellectual air to his otherwise simple speech. “When Maxine Thurman was elected mayor of Granite Shoals two terms ago, her total sum purpose for running was to terminate my services,” said Williams. “She proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.” After he was fired, Williams promptly filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Thurman and the council members who voted against himthe first in a series of six lawsuits filed against the city. “They screamed and hollered about me filing a civil action against the city of Granite Shoals when I was terminated,” Williams said. “Well, anybody with any sense knows that if you are illegally charged and treated improperly that’s the only legal recourse that you have.” Williams won the first round of his legal battle in January of 1993 in the 33rd District Court in Burnet, where a jury awarded him $116,000 in damages, $2,500 to conduct a job search and $30,000 in attorney’s fees. On March 2 of this year, the decision was overturned by the Third Court of Appeals in Austin. Williams, who insists that 4 JUNE 3, 1994