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What’s Really, Really Happening with CEIDC

Greg’s Corner

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

Editor’s note: Greg’s Corner is an editorial (opinion) section where Messenger Reporter Greg Ritchie shares odds and ends from the job and unusual or interesting facts from across the world and across time.

MESSENGER OFFICE – To be fair, that headline may be a little misleading because we still don’t have all the facts, but it’s so popular online to name groups like that, I thought I might as well join in. 

It’s the scandal that just won’t die, no matter how many months pass and no matter what each side thinks is “best” for the city. 

It’s important because when the state’s attorney general’s office is looking into to our little part of the world, something’s not going right. CEIDC is supposed to be a cheerleader for Crockett, enticing businesses to come here, build here and create jobs here. Being a lightning rod for controversy and scandal was surely never part of the plan. 

CEIDC Executive Director James Gentry’s defenders say it’s become a personal vendetta against the man. If the AG’s office is declining to charge him, isn’t that enough? Reinstate him and let him go about his business. What more do they need to know?

Those looking to see Gentry ride out to pasture say, infractions stemming from the 2023 forensic audit may not be worth the AG’s time, but it doesn’t mean no policies and best practices were violated and he should step aside or be stepped aside. Why spend more time and money to analyze the audit, when the audit was clear that rules were broken. 

In the risk of making both sides angry, the truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in between. With both sides deeply entrenched in their beliefs, the more radical voices on each side overplayed their hands. 

The group saying Gentry did nothing wrong is well…wrong. The audit was clear – there were violations that were committed again and again, even when CEIDC was warned to cut it out – like the signing of blank checks. You can’t do that in a public position and with taxpayer money. 

The group hoping to see Gentry pay a hefty price overplayed their allegations, too. The promised unveiling of his terrible crimes never came, with most of the allegations being serious enough to look into, but never rising to the level of convict-able crimes, at least according to the Texas AG’s office. 

Some postulated online the “corruption” in Crockett influenced the AG’s decision. I seriously doubt any of our local council members were able to sway Ken Paxton, someone who holds strong beliefs and never seems afraid to stand up against corruption. 

At the meeting Monday night, dozens of us waited patiently in the entryway while the council held their private meeting to decide what the next step would be. At one point, we all fell silent. The raised voices back and forth from inside were louder than our chatter. Most of what was said couldn’t be clearly heard, but what was clear was not everyone was in agreement. 

Outside, there was a clash of personalities, too, with CPD Chief Clayton Smith called out of the meeting to call in at least three officers to make sure passions didn’t get out of hand. People yelling at each other on the steps of City Hall. Embarrassing. 

It is a shame that after the $100,000 spent on the forensic audit, the city will spend more money now to conclude their own investigation into the matter. Gentry has spent more than a year collecting his sizable salary while in suspension and there’s no word how long this new investigation will last. 

The problem is, even if all allegations are cleared up and he returns to his post at some point, the damage to the reputation of CEIDC is unquestionable – who will take this organization seriously without some serious changes? Anyone looking to open a business here can just Google “CEIDC” and the whole mess might put most off the idea of even getting involved. 

The truth is, CEIDC has run far better without Gentry since the city council took it over. Several businesses have opened, with no drama and no fuss. Once again, the effectiveness of CEIDC leadership is the biggest issue, and success speaks for itself. 

Even if we disregard the allegations, it was long overdue for CEIDC to get some new blood and a new direction. Some ask why the city needs economic development, anyway?

Any town in this state with more than 2,000 residents has some form of office for economic development. Is there a town out there that would not give tax breaks and incentives to any business coming to create jobs? Those funds have to be organized and categorized somewhere, and in our case, that’s CEIDC. 

And while much of our efforts have been suspended, every other city in the state is still out there attracting businesses, leaving our voices silent. 

That doesn’t mean we need to fly CEIDC staff first class to Paris or buy ads during the Super Bowl. But we do need to stimulate economic growth, and the success over the past year – even without someone to handle the strategy and the details – shows what a well-run economic development office could do. 

Both sides are sick and tired of the whole mess and I agree it’s time to find a solution, one way or the other. While it all gets sorted out, how many businesses will go to Palestine or Lufkin? That’s the real loss. How do you quantify the cost of lost opportunity?

Most rational people would read the writing on the wall and understand, with the lack of public confidence, stepping aside with dignity would be the best route, personally and for the city at large. 

Both sides have made this about one person, but it’s really about making sure our city gets back to being the vibrant place it once was and can be. Car dealerships, manufacturing, retail, wholesale, distribution. If we build it, they will come. 

Show us the jobs and we will show you the workforce. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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