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2012-03-29

Council-EDC workshop identifies problems

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

During a recent joint workshop of Bandera City Council and the city's Economic Development Corporation, most of the time was spent addressing problems - perceived or otherwise - with the way EDC conducts business. And, at times, the discussion got up close and personal.

What by-laws?

On Wednesday, March 14, Councilman Brandi Morgan suggested it would "be appropriate to go through the EDC by-laws to determine if discrepancies exist."

EDC member Linda James pointed out that when the by-laws were adopted in 1997, only three people signed the document. "How is this even legal?

Where were the other four EDC members when this was signed?" she asked.

James continued, "I've never received a copy of the by-laws. The officers were supposed to give them to new members."

Longtime EDC member Joe Hearn, who also serves as vice president, explained that in 1997, EDC members were actually onboard before the by-laws were completed. "The first time I saw the by-laws was three months ago," he said.

City resident Rilla Stephens observed, "Maybe that's part of the problem."

Calling a timeframe "curious," Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher noted that city council had adopted the EDC by-laws in June 1997 with the corporation adopting them a month later.

"In those days, things were done that were not appropriate," Montgomery said.

"This is a perfect reason for a combined workshop," Schumacher said.
Binky Archer, who serves both on the EDC and city council, asked, "How would you know what policies to operate under if you didn't have by-laws?" Apparently, she had not received a copy of the by-laws either.

"Basic commonsense," replied Hearn.

City Treasurer Ernie DeWinne suggested establishing a committee to review the by-laws and correct errors in the current document.

"The local EDC by-laws must follow those of the state code," Archer added.

What term limits?

Another item coming under scrutiny included an inappropriate length of time for people to serve as EDC officers. Archer said, "The length of time should be reviewed to keep the corporation from becoming stagnant."

ECD member Clark said, "This is a
great EDC board. We're very functional and get projects done for the city like water towers, water lines, streets, parks and equipment of the city. I always say, 'If it's not broke, don't fix it'."

Then, lobbing a shot at his EDC colleague, Clark said, "Binky was upset because she wasn't made president," a notion supported by EDC member Vonia Dyer. He continued, "Changing officers is not necessary if it's working."

However, according to state statutes governing economic development corporations, officers are limited to three-year terms.

When EDC members were polled as to how long they had actually served on the board, answers were, at best, fuzzy. EDC President and Bandera Mayor Horst Pallaske reckoned he had served from 10 to 14 years; Clark, 10 years; Hearn, since 1999; Archer and Charlie Fellows, about a year; James, two to three years; and Dyer, "five, I think."

Neither pet projects nor oversight
Clark added, "A lot of people want to get on the board because of pet projects. We don't have pet projects."

"Well, that's what the perception is," Archer rejoined. "I'm hearing a lot about this." She advocated that the EDC concentrate on the creation of primary jobs. "You could be doing lots more."

Questioning the efficacy of constructing two pavilions in City Park, Morgan asked, "Why was so much money invested in the pavilions. Why was it so important?"

Rather than answer the question directly, Clark said, "Brandi's upset because of her little play park."

Morgan took over the playground project from former EDC member Monica Halsey. Subsequently, it was determined that EDC funds could not be used for that project.

Lack of council oversight on EDC projects also came under fire.
"We need to review projects and expenditures and have more frequent updates on those being worked on," Morgan said. "Since I've been on city council, we haven't had any EDC updates. You have to attend EDC meetings to learn about the projects.

The EDC decides on a project and council approves the budget for it,
but no other details emerge."

"There is a difference between approving a budget and approving a project," Archer said.

"Our budget consists of projects," Pallaske countered.

"That's not what it says in the by-laws," Archer said. "For the sake of transparency, reports must be given to city council for review and approval within a six-month period."

As an EDC member, Archer had requested more detailed information about the projects, including any submitted bids. "I was told that could not be done because it would slow up the projects," she said.

EDC projects have now ground to a halt due to a previous illegal public hearing, failure to bond officers as required by law and city council's inability to approve the EDC budget until the corporation's officers were bonded.

What quorum?

Conducting EDC meetings without a quorum was another a bone of contention. "The newspaper said that a quorum has to be present at every meeting," Morgan said.

For the record, in an article published Jan. 26 in the Bandera County Courier, staff writer Carolyn Edwards wrote that the EDC had violated the Texas Open Meetings Act on Nov. 23 when it held a public hearing with only two members present.

Edwards' position was proved correct when, in a special called EDC meeting after the workshop on March 14, members voted unanimously to review the activities and quorum for that session and to reconsider the minutes. According to Schumacher, another public hearing has been scheduled for 6 pm, Wednesday, April 11, to review EDC projects.

Tunnel vision?

Discussing attracting new people to the EDC, Councilman Nancy Montgomery said, "There're not enough (interested) citizens to fill up a new board every two years." However, state law governing EDCs does not limit terms of members, just those of officers.

Archer pointed out, "Our by-laws limit EDC members to city residents while state laws allow county residents to serve on municipal EDCs.

"Why would you want someone living outside the city to tell us how to spend our money?" Hearn asked.

"Because what happens in the city also impacts the county," Archer explained. "This community does not exist just within the city limits.

All businesses are stakeholders.

Provisions allow us to work with other entities and not just limit participation to the city. We can't have tunnel vision. We need to look broader."

When talk turned expanding the EDC vision, Pallaske said complaints are routinely fielded about every project. According to Pallaske, contributing factors to the failure of expanding EDC goals include:

• a lack of space for industry in an essentially landlocked municipality

• the proclivity of landlords to
raise building prices and rents for prospective businesses

• an inability to construct a business park in the city's half-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction

"Believe me. I have spent overtime on these projects. You can't say we didn't try," Pallaske said.

Hearn lamented the lack of a motivated workforce in the city and county. Montgomery, a former business owner, concurred, saying, "You can't get these people to work."

Fellows said that businesses outside the city limits demand sewer and water utilities. Hearn added that consultants with the Small Business Authority had advised him to relocate his manufacturing business from Bandera.

'We'd like to help'

Almost as one, council noted, "All we're hearing are reasons why nothing can be done. If the EDC is so discouraged, maybe we need new board members." City council has the authority to appoint and terminate EDC members.

County resident Bob Grimes offered, "Economic development consists of creating revenue sources, jobs and opportunities. With 857 citizens, it's difficult to attract meaningful new businesses to a community that is geographically landlocked. My wife and I have a B&B and we spend marketing dollars to bring tourists to Bandera and the city gets the sales revenue."

Grimes continued, "As Bandera goes, so goes the county of 20,000-plus residents. One person alone isn't going to get economic development done. It needs to be a community-wide effort - and a true cooperative effort. What the EDC does impacts the people in the county. We care and we'd like to help."

While no action could be taken in the workshop, DeWinne's suggestion that a subcommittee be formed to review the EDC by-laws was favorably received.

Also, in the special EDC meeting following the workshop, bonds for all EDC officers were belatedly reviewed and approved as mandated by state law.