By Greg Ritchie
CROCKETT – Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) was reborn in a sense as it held its first official board meeting since operations were suspended in January of this year. The new board elected officers and began the work of relaunching the effort to promote and attract new businesses to our area.
The meeting was held before the latest Crockett city council meeting Monday, Sept. 4 at city hall. As The Messenger recently reported, city council voted to add current city council members along with Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher to the board.
It was only two weeks ago when the city council voted to remove three board members for violations of the Open Meetings Act, after the three allegedly colluded to produce a signed letter presented to the city. The three responded in a letter sent to city official and The Messenger from an Austin-based attorney representing the three board members: NaTrenia Hicks, Robert Thompson and Elizabeth Guzman.
The letter accuses the city of breaking the CEIDC bylaws, quoting section 3.03 that states the board members should not be persons who are employed by the city or officers or members of a governing body of the city. The attorney claims CEIDC was meant to be independent from city council.
Crockett city officials pointed out to The Messenger this bylaw was amended by city council before the new board appointments were made. City officials responded city council is the controlling body of CEIDC.
“TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE ANN. Sec. 501.401 (2023) permits the authorizing unit of an economic development corporation in its sole discretion to alter the corporation’s structure, programs or activities. The authorizing unit of CEIDC is the City Council. In addition, Article Ten of the Articles of Incorporation of CEIDC permits the City Council in its sole discretion to alter the corporation’s structure, programs or activities,” the statement read.
The former board members’ attorney goes on to accuse the city itself of breaking the open records act, stating there was nothing on the Jan.9, 2023 city council meeting agenda regarding suspending the CEIDC board, only the presentation of the forensic audit. The attorney stated this is a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act since such an item must be on the posted agenda for such a meeting.
The Messenger was able to reference the meeting agenda for that day and confirm the agenda read as follows:
1. PRESENTATION: FORENSIC AUDIT REPORT OF CROCKETT ECONOMIC AND INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION BY WEAVER AND TIDWELL, L.L.P.
2. CONVENE INTO EXECUTIVE SESSION PER GOV. CODE 551.071 – CONSULTATION WITH ATTORNEY.
RECONVENE INTO REGULAR SESSION AND CONSIDER ACTION, IF ANY, ON EXECUTIVE ITEMS.
The city points out the decision to suspend CEIDC activities was not taken during the normal session, but after the executive session, where the council, along with city legal representatives no doubt discussed the audit’s findings and reconvened into open session to make decisions based on their discussions in the executive session.
Executive sessions are used by school and hospital boards, city councils, in order to discuss sensitive matters or matters involving personnel changes or legal matters. In this respect, it would seem the city is correct, the suspension of CEIDC activities did in fact take place after an executive session discussion.
The attorney’s letter asks the city council to not act on any CEIDC business. Although falling short of making any threats, the letter is a clear attempt from the three former board members to intimidate the city council, at attempt which so far, appears not to have worked.
The new CEIDC board set about electing its new officers, with Mayor Fisher elected as President, Vice President Mike Marsh and Secretary/Treasurer Ernest Jackson, with the city administration offering to assist with minutes, agendas and finances in the meantime.
The city has come under attack by both sides of the CEIDC issue, either for being too involved or for not stepping in enough. Most observers agree the city proceeded with great caution, debating even holding a fiscal audit or not – which caused some to accuse the city of dragging its feet. Once the results from the forensic audit were in, the city moved immediately to suspend operations, pending an investigation by Crockett Police Department.
It would seem now the city has taken the matter fully in hand, putting themselves directly on the board and at least for the time being, making themselves responsible for CEIDC’s next phase – whatever that may be – and for the eventual results of attracting new businesses to the Crockett area.
The Messenger has learned one of the reasons for the current aggressive push to give CEIDC new life is the possible news of some new businesses coming to the area. This has not yet been confirmed but the details will be reported as they become known.
The board worked on the fiscal budget for the upcoming year before adjourning.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]