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2012-03-22

Council awaits attorney's advice

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

their Thursday night, March 15, meeting and allow city attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells review some legal issues and report back to the council.

Following a joint workshop between the council and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held the previous evening, the council voted unanimously to appoint a three-member committee to work with Boulware-Wells on developing an updated version of the EDC's by-laws.

The motion also included a stipulation for the EDC to pay city employees when they do work for the EDC, and asked that EDC projects adhere to state laws governing EDCs.

In a separate, but somewhat related issue, the council voted to have Boulware-Wells determine out how much, if any, money the EDC could award the Sister Cities Partnership.

From the discussion on both of these issues, it became apparent that the workshop had revealed some questions about EDC activities in recent years.

The Bandera EDC was established in 1997 and the by-laws have not been updated since that time. "The law [governing EDCs] has changed significantly since that time," Boulware-Wells explained. "You can't have by-laws that violate state statutes."

Several council members defended allowing county residents to serve on the EDC board. Binky Archer said that the type of EDC Bandera has allows for that possibility. Brandi Morgan said, "It's important to consider bringing in new members, some fresh people who haven't been working on the same thing for 10 years." Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher suggested the use of unpaid consultants as a way to include people from outside the city.

Morgan added, "I think it would be beneficial to have people in the county on the board."

The by-laws committee will consist of one city council member, one EDC board member, city Treasurer Ernie DeWinne and Boulware-Wells. They will have 30 days to present an updated version of the EDC by-laws to city council for approval.

Both Archer and Morgan asked for clarification about the EDC using city employees to do work for the EDC.

City Secretary Linda Boshek, DeWinne and City Manager Mike Cardenas apparently do jobs for the EDC on a regular basis. Boshek, who prepares the minutes and agendas, filing, reports and other administrative duties for the EDC, apparently goes on comp time when her combined city and EDC hours go over 40 per week.

That results in the city office being short-handed on a regular basis.

Boulware-Wells explained to the council that, while the EDC is allowed to use city staff, the city and the EDC need to "keep as separate books as possible."

In the second issue regarding EDC activities, Elenora Dugosh Goodley, a representative of the City-County Sister Partnership, requested the council approve an amendment to the EDC's budget to allow a grant of $3,400 to that nonprofit organization for 2012 and 2013. The partnership is a part of Sister Cities International, which promotes goodwill and peace by a variety of international activities. One of those activities includes traveling to the sister city-county and hosting visitors from the sister city-county.

The council expressed concerns that the expenditure may not be a legal use of EDC funds, which are typically used for economic development and infrastructure.

Schumacher explained to Goodley that "the dilemma is, is this an appropriate EDC expenditure? It's not a reflection on your program. You... have worked very hard on this for a long time."

Council member John Hegemeier added, "This actually seems to fall under HOT (hotel occupancy tax) funds expenditure."

Goodley explained that when a group from Bandera County travels to Europe, "the delegation is a walking advertisement for Bandera." They wear shirts branded with "Bandera" and distribute brochures to Europeans wherever they travel. "Reporters and TV cameras follow us every where we go and we give lots of newspaper interviews."

Donations from local individuals and organizations are primarily used to purchase gifts for the many dignitaries the groups meet with in Europe. "The exchange of gifts is a part of the European protocol," she said. On alternate years, residents of the sister cities-counties visit Bandera, bringing gifts of their own.

The local group hosts several dinners, organizes a very busy itinerary, arranges for private homes for the visitors to stay in, and, most importantly for the local economy, takes them on two days of shopping. "They spend money here," Goodley said.

Goodley also spent some time dispelling some rumors that she said were going around. "We're not just about Poland," she said. "We also include the Ukraine." At the Sister Cities International conventions in Europe, the groups also make contact with people from all over Europe.

Goodley said she also wanted to reassure the council that everyone from Bandera who travels with the group to Europe "pays their own expenses." Some council members said they had heard that some of the visitors stayed in Boerne and other towns. "That is absolutely not true," said Goodley. "They all stay in Bandera County.

"It's $1,700 a year," she said about her request. "That's very inexpensive advertising."

Boulware-Wells indicated that some portions of the City-County Sister Partnership program might fit niches in the EDC funding rules.

Following a long discussion, the council voted unanimously to have Boulware-Wells determine how much money the EDC could legally provide the program.