Mayor warns EDC of Open Meetings violations

By SHELLY WILKISON

Although city officials allowed the meeting agenda to be posted, the Mayor and the City’s attorney warned the President of the Economic Development Corp. Oct. 16 that the description of items to be discussed was in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The move set the stage for a contentious meeting with Board appointees expressing frustration.

Less than five minutes before the meeting was called to order, Mayor Jamie Williamson presented EDC President Frank Spinosa with an email from the City’s attorney warning that the agenda was “very thin on details. You might be aware of that, but I wanted to point out that no particular projects or initiatives are mentioned,” wrote Alan Bojorquez.

The EDC Board, which has not met since May, was scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday for a workshop to discuss “various items to present to the City Council with the EDC budget.” The agenda was prepared by Spinosa and submitted to City Secretary Tammy Kirk, meeting the legal 72-hour posting rule.

At 6:30 p.m., a special meeting was scheduled to “consider and take action to finalize the budget to be submitted to the City Council.”

Minutes before the workshop was set to begin, Mayor Williamson handed each EDC Board member a printed copy of the email from Bojorquez, which was dated 12:54 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15. Spinosa, who arrived a few minutes late, was the last to receive it. He told The Independent he had not been alerted to a problem with the agenda prior to that time.

“This meeting agenda is too vague and violates the Open Meetings Act. He (Spinosa) sent it to the City Secretary and she posted it,” she told the newspaper prior to the meeting.

“The purpose of the meeting was to review the proposed budget,”  Spinosa told the Board. “I have a warning from the attorney that the agenda is vague, but we can proceed (if no action is taken).”

“The Attorney has said that your budget agenda is too vague,” said the Mayor. “Not enough information to the public for them to have input. Your ‘various items’ should have been listed.”

Board member Brian Butler expressed his frustration with the situation.

“It doesn’t sound like the City wants to give us the information,” he said.  “They want to shut us down.”

The Mayor said Butler’s view was “not correct.”

“We need to try to work as well as we can with the city in the proper way — whatever that is,” said Board member Cathy Cantrell, former EDC President. “We’re getting nowhere like this. We’re not doing the city any good.”

On Sept. 10 — seven days before the City Council was set to adopt a budget and set a tax rate — Spinosa presented to the Council a copy of his proposed budget for the EDC. He explained that he received a phone call from the Mayor at 8 a.m. the Friday before directing him to submit the EDC’s proposed budget by 9 a.m. that day. Spinosa said he went to his office and prepared a document and submitted it as requested.

But at the Council’s meeting Sept. 10, he advised he had not had time to call a Board meeting to vote on the budget. After some discussion on acceptable procedures, the Council agreed to reconsider the plan if the EDC made such a recommendation. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Crane suggested the city budget could be amended to reflect EDC changes even after the final budget was adopted on Sept. 17.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Board members said they had not seen the EDC budget adopted by Council nor were they familiar with the proposal developed by Spinosa.

Although the Mayor was present, she did not involve herself in the discussion unless she was asked a specific question. Councilman Wendell McLeod was also present Tuesday. When the Mayor claimed she had not seen a copy of the proposal presented to Council by Spinosa, McLeod confirmed that all members of the Council had received it.

The Mayor clarified that there were no supporting documents to accompany Spinosa’s meeting agenda for Tuesday, so she was not aware of the one-page proposal.

The difference in costs between the budget proposed for EDC by the Mayor and approved by the Council and the document presented by Spinosa is about $13,000 with Spinosa’s version having the higher bottom line.

“Honestly, Mr. Spinosa never got numbers from the city in the proper fashion. I don’t know where his numbers came from,” said Mayor Williamson. “He can request the numbers from City Hall in the proper manner (an Open Records Request).”

While the Board did not take any action Tuesday, the consensus after some discussion was to subtract $13,000 from the EDC proposal in the area of business development. By evening the bottom lines on both the city-adopted budget and the one proposed by the EDC, members believed the Council would be more inclined to accept their changes.

The EDC proposal contains funding for a staff position that would facilitate the activities of the EDC as it works to attract business to Liberty Hill.

The Mayor said the city-adopted budget does not fund a new employee.

Spinosa’s proposal also included funds to pay for development of a website and supporting materials to promote the city.

And although the Council approved a budget that takes $60,000 from EDC funds to pay for a sewer connection at City Park, Spinosa has argued that the city could save that money by installing a large septic system at the site.

The EDC Board only has the authority to make recommendations  to the City Council.

The Board agreed to meet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 30 to discuss the budget further and possibly take action on a recommendation to Council.