New EDC Board elects officers, discusses strategy to grow tax base

Meeting Tuesday for the first time since their appointments to the Economic Development Corp., the Board of Directors elected new officers and strategized about how to move forward to attract new business to Liberty Hill.

After hearing from both candidates for president of the EDC Board, directors chose business owner Frank Spinosa over incumbent Cathy Cantrell.

Before the vote, Chamber of Commerce President Valerie Zapien, who was later elected Board Secretary, asked Spinosa if he would be a team player in light of a public disagreement with the Mayor at a town hall meeting Nov. 7.

“At the town hall meeting, it was uncomfortable for me to witness that. You and the Mayor hit heads on what you could or couldn’t talk about,” she said. “If you’re the president, is that going to work?”

Spinosa responded that the Mayor has no vote, “but it shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

“I’ve put money and time into this town. I have skin in the game,” Spinosa said. “I’m an integral part of this community.

“If you do your homework and the city still rejects it, we either have a rotten plan or they (City Council) can replace us,” he said.

Mrs. Cantrell, who was appointed to the EDC earlier this year and elected president by the previous Board, said the EDC has to be a “team player” with city staff and Council in order to be effective.

“We may disagree at times, but as a board we have to be team players to move forward,” she said.

Spinosa said his background in business includes ownership, as well as serving as an officer and director of some Fortune 500 companies where he had experience managing multi-million-dollar budgets.He also served on planning and zoning commission in Weaver County, Utah, where he said he helped develop the master plan for bringing in the Winter Olympics some years ago. Spinosa has lived in Liberty Hill 11 years, and has started and sold businesses here. Today, he owns the Rio Gabriel Plaza on State Highway 29.

“I have unlimited time (to serve),” Spinosa said. “I’ve sold most of our business and my only concern now is with the plaza. I spend most days reading business reports or keeping up with the economy, which scares the hell out of me.”

Mrs. Cantrell has worked at the Texas Racing Commission for 20 years and has owned a trucking business. She described herself as a  “public servant” and had enrolled in

basic economic development course and a sales tax class at her own expense. She was nominated for the position by returning member John Austin.

While Mrs. Zapien seconded the motion to nominate both Mrs. Cantrell and Spinosa, she cast her vote for Spinosa. Directors Brian Butler and Jimmy Oliver also supported Spinosa and Spinosa cast a vote for himself.

Oliver said he appreciated the work of Mrs. Cantrell, “but I think it’s time to try a new direction.”

When it was clear Spinosa had a majority vote, no vote was taken on Mrs. Cantrell’s nomination. She was later elected Vice President.

Austin was elected Treasurer. Director John Johnston, co-owner of Dahlia Cafe, could not participate as a Board member Tuesday because he had not been sworn in.

“We need to expand the overall tax base and go to people to find out what they need (in Liberty Hill),” he said. “We need a laundromat, a pawn shop, a discount electronics place. We needed a Chinese place and I went to Lakeline Mall to get us one (Happy Wok).”

Spinosa said he had reviewed the corporate bylaws, which he said were “some of the best bylaws I’ve ever read. I’ve also read what transpired in the last year of the EDC. Not to be critical, but it looks like nothing to me.”

Mrs. Cantrell updated the Board about an ad hoc committee formed by the previous appointees. She said the Public Private Partnership Committee (PPPC) was formed to make recommendations to the EDC about an economic development plan.

Chamber Board Chairman David Pope, who led the PPPC, told the newly-seated EDC Board that after holding some meetings, the committee learned that the City needed an updated Comprehensive Plan before an effective economic development plan could be created.

“We didn’t have buy-in from the Council, although we’re still working to get that,” said Pope. “I’ve been reluctant to spend a lot of time in meetings with no end in sight without a commitment from the Council.”

Spinosa said he is opposed to an ad hoc committee of the EDC.

“We need to work on it our way before we get outside help,” he said, adding that he disagreed with a decision to pay economic development experts from the Lower Colorado River Authority $25,000 to help develop a plan for the city.

“I prefer to use the $25,000 to encourage companies to come to town. We could pay for the site plans or permit fees. To me, that’s our job,” he said.

When Mrs. Zapien asked the Mayor her opinion of the PPPC, she agreed with Spinosa.

“I think the ad hoc committee was prematurely formed at that time,” she said. “The timing was too early.”

The Board agreed not to take any action on the PPPC, adding it to a list of topics that would be discussed at a workshop scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 29.

Also to be discussed is an annual report that will summarize the EDC’s activities for the past year and include a plan for the futre.

He said the mission of the EDC is to expand the tax base. He said it needs a website and a brochure.

The Board authorized City manager Manuel De La Rosa to explore website options.

The Board also discussed a grant program to build sidewalks downtown and authorized De La Rosa to meet with school officials to discuss the Safe Route to Schools federal program.

Also Tuesday, the Board voted to add Oliver as a signature on bank accounts.