EDC Board puts hold on executive director search

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By Lauren Jette

After a two-hour workshop last week, the Economic Development Corp. Board identified three areas to focus on and decided to put a hold on the search for an executive director.

During the regular meeting following the workshop last Thursday, the only action taken was to approve the minutes from the April board meeting.

Discussion during the workshop last week centered on the search for an EDC Director.

President Lance Dean updated the Board on the progress in the search, from coming up with the job description and posting it online, to receiving about a dozen applications and having phone interviews with a few applicants.

Dean expressed concern that there were two different views on what kind of person needed to be hired for the position. One view was that the director needed to be a salesperson for the EDC, while the other view was that the director should be in charge of putting policies and programs in place.

“I want us to do big things, but I also think we need to get our policies in place,” Dean said.

The EDC Executive Director position has been vacant since the termination of Kirk Clennan in January. Since that time, City Administrator Greg Boatright has been helping to facilitate discussions and items for action.

“What they’re trying to do is find out what do we do, where do we fit in? What can we get in involved with to actually make a difference for our community,” he told The Independent after the meeting. “That’s the ideas that are being tossed around and trying to find where is it that we fit in to the overall development of Liberty Hill.”

The Board has been holding workshops prior to regular meeting times for the last few months. While no action is taken on the agenda items for these workshops, Boatright sees the workshops as an opportunity for discussion and brainstorming.

“They’ve been very helpful. I think it’s allowed for the members to educate themselves about the parameters of the EDC board, get a handle on what is going on in our community,” Boatright said.

He added that many of the members currently on the EDC board have been there for less than a year, so everything is fairly new to a majority of the board.

While there was only one agenda item for the workshop last week, discussion drifted from the EDC director search to city improvements to city government involvement with the downtown revitalization.

“I think on the workshops, it can be pretty broad because there’s no action, it’s all discussion,” Boatright said.

“As far as actually being very definitive on that agenda for the EDC, I think probably we do need to be a little more cautious when we put those agendas out there and not be so broad where they can go off on any tangent. But at the same time, it is kind of a ‘think tank’ if you will, when they get together. They are trying to find their way, but now I think we have found our way and have a course of action with specific things on the agenda,” Boatright told the newspaper.

“As the discussion went, I think we established really, three areas where they can put down roots and work on this—the downtown, the transportation and the parks,” he added. “Moving forward it’s going to be up to them. I think the seed is planted, now what projects?”

Board members expressed a desire to learn more about what projects the city or parks and recreation board has in mind that the EDC could possibly assist with.

“Getting everyone in agreement, that’s the hard part is really settling on one thing,” Boatright said. “That’s the hard part is to get everybody on the same page moving forward and agreeing, but that’s just part of staff playing a major role in identifying those and taking it to the prospective boards and selling them on it.

“I think that’s kind of what’s frustrating to the EDC board is they’re meeting, they’re talking, but nothing has risen to the top. I think the last meeting we had really established something for us to sink our teeth into.”

Now that three project areas have been identified and board members are getting more familiar and comfortable with what they can and can’t do, Boatright thinks the workshops will come to an end and more will be discussed and acted on during regular meetings in the future.

“I see us coming to an end of having those workshops. It carves four hours out of their day, out of our day, so I see those starting to come to an end because we won’t have to spend our time trying to figure out which direction to go, we’ll have a direction,” he said.

As for putting the search for a director on hold for the time being, Boatright said that was the right thing for the board to do right now.

“I think the feeling is we’re just not there because when you start talking about resources, when you have a full-time director, about a third of their budget would be dedicated to that position,” Boatright explained. “When you have a third of your resources tied up in personnel, it’s going to limit you somewhat in what you can do. I think they are still open to the idea, they just have to figure out what is the best fit for their board and for Liberty Hill.”

While the board has been in existence for at least 10 years, there hasn’t always been a director, Boatright added. When he was hired, Boatright was both a city manager and EDC director, a position he held for three years. But before that, there was no director position.

“Now they have a resource in the city with staff. Staff can help them establish and identify problems, that’s something that hasn’t been there in the past,” Boatright said. “I think there are certain things that they can do that will be a benefit to both the board and the city and be a positive for them without having a director.”

During the meeting, the board approved the minutes from the previous meeting. Boatright had hoped to give the board an update on the Freeport tax exemption study being prepared by Moak Casey & Associates now that the school bond had passed, but he said he didn’t hear back from the consultants before the meeting. He said he would have all the information for next month’s meeting on June 16.

City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann updated the board on the letters that were sent to property and business owners within the expanded boundaries for the façade and sign grant program. The letters give brief information about the funds available through the program for “eligible non-residential property owners”, where to find the application and where to get more information about the program.

A motion and second was made to adjourn the meeting, but before a final vote could be taken, board member Debby Norman asked if Clyde and Janette Davis were at the meeting for something specific. Davis replied that they were there for action on their application for a façade and sign grant, which wasn’t on the agenda.

Dean told them their application wasn’t on the agenda because their property was currently residential, as there is a tenant living in the house and that their application was incomplete. A brief back-and-forth commenced between Dean and the Davises before Dean called for a final vote about adjourning the meeting, which was unanimously approved.

However, all members remained while Dean and Davis continued to discuss the application and why it wasn’t on the agenda.

“Lance took it on himself because of the way he saw it and the way he wanted to approach that particular situation was to allow for the grant to be submitted and don’t take action on it until the particular use of that building changes, because he’s right, the façade grant specifically states non-residential,” Boatright said of the situation. “As long as the board doesn’t take any action on that grant, as was stated, it can stay in play for a full year. If they take action on it and turn it down, they can’t resubmit it for six months.

“I think Lance had thought through the process and thought it was best not to put it on the agenda and not let the board take an action on it, because if it is turned down, it’s a negative for the perception of the board and disqualifies the property for the next six months.”

Boatright said Dean realized later that he should have allowed the board to act on the matter, and not taken the decision upon himself. Boatright said he advised Dean, “when in doubt, throw it on the agenda and let your board figure it out.”

When asked about the incident this week, Dean told The Independent that he talked to Davis the day after the meeting and asked if he wanted to move forward with the application and Davis said yes. Dean said Davis’ application will be on the agenda for next month’s meeting.

“Let’s let it play itself out,” Dean said, declining to comment further.

“I think the situation with Clyde could have been handled differently, but I can promise you the type of person that Lance is, there was no intent to do anything that harmed Clyde or Janette,” Boatright said. “It was something that he thought in his mind was the best approach.”

The next EDC meeting is scheduled for June 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the municipal court building, located at 2801 RR 1869.

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