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EDC issue going before voters

August 15, 2012

Big Spring voters will decide the future of the Big Spring Economic Development Corporation, the city council assured Tuesday.

The Big Spring City Council gave final approval to a measure calling for an election to be held in November, giving voters the opportunity to nix the existing Type A economic development corporation and replace it with a Type B corporation.

The sales tax for an economic development corporation was adopted by Big Spring voters May 5, 1990, and designated solely for use on Type A projects, which is restricted mainly to attracting employers and businesses to the Crossroads area and retaining jobs with existing employers.

However, a Type B corporation has much looser restrictions placed on its spending, allowing for several other project types, including quality of life improvements such as professional and amateur sports and athletic facilities, related street, water and sewer facilities and affordable housing.

According to Texas law, however, Type A corporations can still approve Type B projects, however, they are required to get the voters approval to do so. With a Type B corporation, no such vote is required.

The council approved first reading of the ordinance calling for the election during its July 24 meeting on a unanimous vote, with District 1 Councilman Marcus Fernandez and District 5 Councilman Craig Olson absent.
Prior to voting on the matter Tuesday, the council heard from local businessman and former Big Spring EDC board president Larry McLellan, who pointed out the push to send the matter to the voters is a double-edged sword and could effectively cut them out of the approval process.

“What I heard was that the council really wants the voters to have a voice in this,” McLellan said. “If we convert from a 4A to a 4B (corporation), you really inhibit the ability of our citizens to vote. Think about it. Once we vote from a 4A to a 4B, the citizens are left out. They're not going to vote. You're no longer required to have a vote. And I heard this time and time again, 'Don't you want to give the citizens a chance to vote?' I really want you to think about this. Once you go to a 4B, the citizens aren't going to vote on a new pool, low-income housing, a new auditorium or whatever is classified as 4B today. So, you are really going against what you've said.

“The other thing I've heard is 4B is so much better than 4A because 4B can do everything 4A does and more. In reality, however, 4A can do everything 4B does, and the good thing about staying with 4A is the voters get a chance to vote on those 4B (projects). You will not have one single items that will be classified as 4B without giving the voters an opportunity to vote. I think that is very important for this council to consider. That's why I'm urging you tonight to postpone this vote.”

Local resident Aubrey Weaver Jr. also spoke, supporting the mayor's push to have the existing EDC dissolved and replaced with a Type B corporation.

Although the measure was approved on a unanimous vote, such harmony certainly wasn't reflected in the discussion between District 4 Councilman Bobby McDonald and Mayor Tommy Duncan, who first brought the measure to the council and has championed it from the beginning.

“Let me ask you something, Mr. Mayor, if this motion and the way it read out — if two little things were changed — would you have voted for it?” McDonald asked. “If Type A and Type B were reversed, would you have voted for it?”

“If it was changing from a Type B to a Type A? Probably not,” Duncan replied.

“I was forced to do that,” McDonald said firmly. “I'm in favor of a Type A EDC, but I want to public to vote. Whoever arranged this arranged it where there was no choice. The way it reads out, to do away with one and accept the other and there's nothing else to it.”

Tensions reached a high during the meeting when McDonald asked the mayor if the proposed switch from 4A to 4B was his idea.

“Did you decide this?” McDonald asked.

“I was highly involved in this, yes,” Duncan replied.

McDonald, whose frustration over the issue was obvious, made a motion to accept the arrangement with two stipulations — first, that no city council members sit on the EDC board, regardless of its type, and second, that the existing members of the Type A board have their terms transferred over to the Type B board, if approved by the voters — only to have it die for a lack of a second.

McDonald said it was obvious what the mayor and council were trying to accomplish with Tuesday night's vote, effectively stacking the deck — in this case, the EDC board of directors — with members who would go along with plans for Type B projects.

“I can see what's coming forth in the good old boy club,” McDonald said. “What will happen after the Type A (EDC corporation) is gone, four members of the city council will be on there (the EDC board of directors) instead of someone who searches everyday and it is his disposition to go out and search for businesses. I can't see council members doing that. We have all we can do now just to make judgments.”

City Attorney Linda Sjogren said although the council would be within its legal rights to place four council members on the EDC board — assuming the November election is approved by voters — she recommend against it, since having four council members on any board would equate to a quorum of the city council, forcing the administration to post meeting notices and other measures called for by the state's Open Meetings Act.

Duncan said he would be open to considering the existing Type A board members to serve on the Type B board if it passes, however, the matter would ultimately be up to the city council.

“I'd like to leave the board members completely open to selection by the council and I think if council members are selected to serve on that (EDC) board, as are those selected to serve on the CVB board (of directors), if they accepted that position would serve honorably ... and I don't think you or any other council member would not do everything in your power to serve honorably,” Duncan said.

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