In Kerrville, a local businessman was ousted from his volunteer position on the town’s economic development operation, and now he’s making some noise.
Jim Wilson, a veteran of community services in the San Antonio region where Kerrville is located, was removed by the city council from the town’s Economic Development Corporation board last week.
In an interview with a local news outlet, Wilson alleges the board had an inside dispute over the state’s Open Meetings Act in September, as one board member tried to establish subcommittees to discuss economic development business.
It’s an old trick used all over the country. The committee makes the heavy decisions, then the board meets as a whole and rubber stamps the committee decision.
Economic development entities in Texas are shielded by state law, providing them cover for spending and allowing them to meet behind closed doors.
Wilson recounted a Sept. 18 EIC meeting in which [fellow economic development board member George] Baroody accused [the board’s chairman] of trying to intentionally violate the Texas Open Meetings act by wanting to set up sub-committees to discuss the future of operations and funding for economic development, specifically with the KEDC.
At the Sept. 18 meeting, Baroody said, “The deal with the Open Meetings Act isn’t that it’s about public meetings. It’s about the Open Meetings Act, which is a law that attaches criminal charges to each of us. When we’re saying that the reason we’re only selecting a certain number is in order so that we don’t have to post meetings, that’s a violation of the Open Meetings Act, because the posting of the meetings is the part of the act that we’re circumventing.”
Board member Baroody clearly feared that using the subcommittee work-around could run afoul of state law.
That this idea was even ventured is what keeps these economic development groups continually spinning into legally and ethically dubious territory. Most municipalities, though, swear by them, providing public money to them in the name of growth.
In 2015, state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, authored a bill that would have made economic development groups more responsible to the public by prohibiting expenditures of $50,000 or more unless notice of the spend is made public and investor and owner interests in the spend is divulged. It died quickly in committee.
The Texas Supreme Court decided in 2015 that economic development groups should enjoy secrecy, ruling that the Greater Houston Partnership could withhold details of an agreement despite the fact that it was funded in part by money from various public entities.
In the case of Kerrville, Wilson may not be done talking.
“I may not be on EIC anymore, but I’m not going away,” Wilson told the local newspaper. “I have always served this community and I will continue to do so.”
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].