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Will possible Open Meetings Act violation postpone EDC projects?

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Bandera's Economic Development Corporation (EDC) discussed their approved projects for 2012 during a regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18, and attempted to reach some agreement regarding priorities for beginning those projects.

The projects may go ahead despite the fact that the public hearing required to be held prior to proceeding may have been illegal.

Among the projects planned for this year is a concrete road in City Park leading down to the river, work on the City Park road, improvements in City Park, constructing a playground, installing a footbridge on Highway 16 South, erecting the welcome-to-Bandera signs and installing a step adjacent to the sidewalk in the 300 block of Main Street.

Board President Horst Pallaske announced that since a public hearing on the proposed projects had been held in December, the EDC could start working on the projects on Jan. 27.

However, EDC Director Binky Archer noted that only she and Pallaske were present at the hearing, which did not constitute a quorum. Pallaske asserted that he had checked on it and "they said we could go ahead, but in the future we would have to have a quorum because the rules have changed." Pallaske did not specify with whom he checked, just that he had talked to someone at a conference he attended.

According to the Texas Attorney General's Handbook for Economic Development Corporations, "local governments must comply with the requirements of both the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act in their quest to promote economic development.

Economic development corporations, pursuant to a provision in the Development Corporation Act of 1979, are also subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act." The Open Meetings Act requires the presence of a quorum before a government agency can take official action.

That clear statement would indicate that Archer was correct in questioning the legality of the December hearing.

The handbook quote above was taken from the AG's 2008 version. It seems unlikely the state would have rescinded the Open Meetings requirement for a meeting in December of 2011 and then re-instate the requirement on Jan. 1, 2012.

The EDC must conduct a public hearing on a proposed project 60 days before work on the project can begin.

EDC Director Charlie Fellows has been negotiating with a landowner to purchase a small piece of land on Highway 16S for the erection of the Welcome-to-Bandera sign. The welcome sign is a part of the city's master plan. Fellows said the property owner is offering the property for $25 a square foot.

The board of directors also discussed the possibility of a couple of new projects including street improvements and sidewalks on the business portions of 11th Street, sidewalks between Mulberry and Super S, and sidewalks between Pecan and Oak Street from the China Bowl restaurant to Bandera Tire Shop.

EDC Director Joe Hearn presented information on these new projects, urging the board to consider them for the future. "When we did 13th Street, we'd talked about doing the same thing on 11th," said Hearn.

Pallaske added that the 13th Street project was jointly funded by the city and the EDC. "I'm not sure we can afford it," he said.

Hearn said the EDC could develop a plan and then do the project in sections. He said the project could include straightening the street, re-doing the base, improving drainage and adding sidewalks.

Hearn also promoted the installation of sidewalks between Mulberry Street and Super S Foods, and between China Bowl and Bandera Tire Shop. "There's trails there where people walk all the time, ... when it's muddy, they're out on the street," he said.

In other business, the board:

• Re-elected Pallaske as president, Hearn as vice president and Linda James as secretary;

• Approved a grant of $3,400 for the Sister Cities Partnership with Poland and Ukraine;

• Approved the addition of $3,000 to a grant for the Cowboys on Main Project;

• Accepted the financial report from Ernest DeWinne, city treasurer, that indicated sales tax income was down 10 percent in October (reflecting July sales), but stayed steady for November and December.