CEIDC Gentry Back on the Job

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT –  With a standing-room only crowd at Crockett City Hall and a stack of public comment requests, Crockett city council prepared to meet Tuesday, May 28. The only item on the agenda of the special meeting was the removal from paid administrative leave of Crockett Economic and Industrial Development (CEIDC) Executive Director James Gentry and his executive assistant. 

The meeting had been delayed due to the city seeking legal advice on the best way to proceed with the request to hold the public meeting, made by Council Members Darrell Jones and NaTrenia Hicks at the last regular council meeting May 20. 

During the public comments section, many local residents voiced their frustrations with the problems and procedures evident over the years at CEIDC, many pointing out the problems went beyond any one person and were systemic and should be fixed before anyone should take the position. 

Residents crowded into Crockett City Hall Tuesday, May 28 to hear the debate regarding the future of CEIDC.

Many of the allegations regarding James Gentry himself were repeated and several residents pointed out the council would be opening the city to possible litigation should they vote to reinstate him before an outside internal affairs review was completed. 

Councilman Dennis Ivey voiced the concerns of many, saying, “I believe we are putting the cart before the horse here. Wisdom would say we should table this until we get a conclusion from our legal counsel. We’re acting in hast for nothing. There’s no injury that’s going to be perpetrated on anyone until we get some conclusion. I don’t see what the rush is.”

Councilman Mike Marsh agreed, telling the council, “We do need some legal advice and procedures in place, so this does not happen again,” holding up a 2018 paid CEIDC advertisement in a publication run by the Houston Astros. Why would we buy an ad in the Astros program for World Series teams? Did you all go to the game? Did anyone on this council go to the game? I didn’t.”

Councilman Mike Marsh (left) shows an advertisement for CEIDC in a professional sports publication, alleging waste of taxpayer funds, as Councilman Elbert Johnson (center) and John Angerstein (right) look on.

Marsh seemed to be addressing Hicks, a former CEIDC board member. Hicks did not respond to Marsh and attempts by The Messenger after the meeting to clear up the issue were received with the comment, “I do not like baseball.”

Hicks read her motion twice, with Jones seconding even before she had finished. At one point, Hicks called a point of order to stop any further discussion, to which Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher explained the council members had a right to discuss the motion. 

Fisher explained she herself had served on the CEIDC board and understood the problems to be systemic, not linked to any one person, and should be addressed before any other decisions were made. Hicks countered, saying why not let Gentry address any recommendations and return him to work. 

Fisher warned Hicks “back to normal” would not be possible until the internal review’s conclusions could be processed and implemented. 

“Can he come back? Yes. Will he be able to conduct business? You won’t have a board – he won’t be able to go about doing the business. There were corrections and even the way to improve would be if there was some recommendation on finances, on record keeping on all these things,” Fisher said. “So all of those elements are there. Will he be able to go back? That would be a possibility. But he wouldn’t be in a position to be able to make decisions or get the corrective action for the problems. If you’ve made major decisions based on how you made them before, you’re going to have the same thing we have now.”

Crockett City Administrator John Angerstein had a letter for the council and in an emotional speech, warned them to consider the consequences of their vote. 

Council members NaTrenia Hicks (left) and Darrell Jones (right) vote to end the administrative paid leave of CEIDC Director James Gentry.

“My duty is to provide you with direct advice to facilitate your decision making regarding the decisions planned for this week, to avoid deflecting my responsibilities to you in the city. My relationship with the elected council has always been one of support, truth and respect and that will continue. However, I’m duty-bound to alert you when the city is increasing responsibilities and exposure to litigation or for prosecution. While I understand these decisions are beyond my control, my role is to advise you properly and then to carry out your wishes, unless those wishes are illegal or unethical. We are only a week or two away from receiving an internal affairs review and corrective action plan by a law firm and outside legal expert in municipal agency law. This plan will provide us with the tools to address documented problems within our agency and to adopt measures that will prevent their reoccurrence. Reinstating members and employees to their previous positions before addressing these root problems can place the city and each council member at personal risk of litigation and prosecution. The director and administrative assistant of CEIDC have been on paid administrative leave since January, 2023. Extending this period for a short period of time will not harm them and will significantly improve our chances of successfully rehabilitating CEIDC,” Angerstein said. 

Once the discussion had ended, a vote was called for, with Hicks, Jones and Councilman Elbert Johnson voting yes. A follow-up meeting with the interim CEIDC board followed, with City Attorney William Pemberton and Gentry present to ratify the matter. 

Outgoing Precinct Three City Councilman Ernest Jackson was thanked and honored for his many years of service on the city council. Jackson spoke passionately during the public comments at the meeting, urging council members to vote for what is best for the city and its people.

Please stay tuned to The Messenger for more in-depth coverage of this important story. 

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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