Third Time's The Charm
By Alton Porter
After failing to receive the blessing of the Crockett City Council on two previous occasions, the fiscal year 2016-2017 proposed budget of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) was approved by the council at a meeting Monday, Aug. 22.
The council voted 4-1 to pass a motion – offered by Precinct 4 Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Muriel Williams and seconded by Precinct 3 Councilmember Ernest Jackson – approving the budget. Precinct 2 Councilmember Ray Bruner casted the lone vote in opposition to the motion.
The motion did not pass before two concessions were made by CEIDC Executive Director Flint Brent and CEIDC Board of Directors President Chris von Doenhoff and the matter received comments – both for and against -- from Mayor Robert Meadows, council members and members in the audience speaking at the meeting.
Brent, who received praise from some for the competent and diligent manner in which he has handled CEIDC business affairs since becoming executive director, agreed to submit all contracts of the corporation not approved in the budget or in a city tax abatement agreement that require expenditures in excess of $15,000 to the city council before payment on the contracts is made, and to report on the affairs of the corporation to the council on a monthly basis.
The proposed budget projects income from sales taxes in the amount of $530,000 and expenses totaling $542,550. In the current (2015-2016) fiscal year budget expenses amount to $548,710.
Meadows, Jackson and Williams were strong proponents speaking for approval of CEIDC's proposed budget during the portion of the meeting set aside for comments from the audience and council and when the motion was made to approve it.
They were joined by Precinct 1 residents Bill Brown, a Crockett High School teacher, and Dave Deming, a State of Texas employee, in making statements in support of CEIDC and passage of the budget during the comments period.
Although Precinct 1 Councilmember Jeannie Julian and Precinct 5 Councilmember Mike Marsh eventually voted to approve the budget, they voiced skepticism about CEIDC during the comments period and when the motion was made to approve the budget.
They were joined by Holiday Inn Express Owner Joby David Hardwick in voicing concerns about CEIDC. Hardwick said he believed CEIDC should not be encouraging other hotels to move here at a time when his hotel is "operating in a trailing 12-month combined occupancy of less than 50 percent."
Meadows noted that much of the discontent with CEIDC came to light during the last mayoral election, before Brent took the reins of the corporation. He said he had the opportunity to spend several hours with Brent almost three weeks ago, and "I don't think anyone would argue that we know he's working very diligently to bring in the business."
"It's my hope that we can pass this budget," Meadows said.
"These are all elected officials just like I am," he said, referring to the council. "They all have their right to say what's on their minds. They represent people just like I do. But, my point being is – I even had a text before the meeting today about, 'I hope you pass this.' It's not a me thing. It's an us thing. And it has to be a majority.
"So, it is my hope that we do give Mr. Brent the opportunity, at least this year going forward. He's done the footwork. He is still in the pipeline. And I trust that some of these things (he is working on, such as bringing a car dealership to Crockett) will come to fruition. And I ... believe they will.
"So, all I'm saying is this. Obviously, some issues have been brought to light in terms of our (CEIDC), and we will have to address those. I do believe that we have a lot going for us to move forward."
Jackson said the city "has failed in the oversight of the corporation. There are things that were put in place from the very inception (of CEIDC) that were not honored – that were not carried out. But, Jackson noted these were things of the past, not the present.
"Now, here we are now," he said. "What do we do now? Well, I have to admit there is a glimmer of hope. There is a light that the leadership of our corporation now is such that they're doing things that hadn't been done in the past that should have been done in the past.
"And I know when you look back in hindsight there are a lot of things that you can point out and pinpoint. 'That this wasn't done right. Money wasn't spent right here. Decisions were made here that were not in the best interest of the city, et cetera. We could all nitpick the corporation, and even this council if we so choose. But, now there is a glimmer of hope with the leadership we have in Flint Brent. And I believe, if given the opportunity, this current board and this current director (will bring about positive change for the city).
"In closing, let me ask this council if we would approve the budget so we can get beyond this stalemate and allow the corporation to do what it was designed to do...."
Repeating Jackson's question, Williams stated "'What do we do, council?' That was the question that Councilman Jackson quoted. I think in good wisdom we forget those things that are behind us, and we have to press forward. We cannot undo things that were done in times past. But, we have now to press forward.
"And, with all due respect, I think we would do a great injustice to Brent by not passing this budget. In all fairness, he has to have the opportunity to show himself. He can't undo things that were done before his time. But, he has now to go forward.
"And I agree with Councilman Jackson, we all failed – the council, (CEIDC). We all failed.... So, there's no need to point a finger on who dropped the ball. We all dropped the ball. But, we have now to press forward. And I would love to see this budget pass. But, there are some other things that council will get together on – some changes that need to be made concerning (CEIDC). We can't hold against him (Brent) what others have done."
Julian stated, "I and I think everybody here on this board has expressed that they are for economic development. It brings jobs into this town, and that's what we're looking for. And it brings businesses which will bring the livelihood and the life back into this place. I want all of that just like everyone else, but I am totally against waste. I feel like there needs to be some changes in the way things are being run. Our money is too limited, so I have a few questions that I haven't really been able to get answers to."
In her questions, Julian asked, how much total debt does CEIDC have ($500,000 or $5 million), what projects are covered in that debt (one or five), how many jobs did each one of those projects create and are those jobs still with us.
"This is a present council that wants to make a change, that wants to see things get better, that wants to help people like Mr. Hardwick, who has brought us lots of things in here," Julian said. "I would never stand in the way of economic development. But, I want to see some things change. And that's what I'm all about. I want more transparency and more accountability as we go into this process.
"'Where are we at this point?' is my biggest question," she said.
Meadows encouraged Julian to get with Brent or von Doenhoff and have them answer the questions she posed and others she might have.