Big Spring's City Council met in open session for more than three and a half hours Tuesday evening, discussing topics such as an amendment to the city's property maintenance code defining standards for safe, sanitary, and fit for occupancy of the city's homes; the final reading of a resolution amending the number of directors and manner of appointing directors to the Big Spring Economic Development Corporation's board; and a proposed amendment authorizing liens on rental property for unpaid city utility bills.

Following the invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, and opportunity for public comment at which no one chose to address the council, City Manager Todd Darden reported on the Sept. 15 Large Item Pickup held in the city's District 3. Darden reported that 4.7 tons of items were collected.

The council next unanimously approved the meeting's consent agenda, holding out and approving separately items approving on final reading the city's budget and property tax rate for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

The council also chose to hold out of the consent agenda approval the item, previously mentioned, regarding the number of directors and manner of their appointment to the Big Spring EDC.

The item adjusts the number of directors on the board from five to seven — one per Big Spring district plus one nominated by the mayor — and the mayor and city manager, or members designated by them, as ex officio board members. The item would also require all expenditures by the EDC greater than $15,000 to be approved by the city council.

The initial motion on the item, offered by Councilman Maury Smith (District 6) was to table the item indefinitely, which was seconded by Councilman Troy Tompkins (District 5).

“I wanted to table it indefinitely, because it's going to be five on the EDC, to two making decisions and also qualifications for the EDC,” Smith said. “It's what I feel is necessary to be done at this time.”

After discussion, Smith withdrew his motion, and Councilman Cody Hughes (District 3) moved to approve the proposal.

EDC board member Jeff Ward addressed the council, requesting that they not approve the motion.

“I come today to say that this resolution, in my opinion, from my experience, makes the Economic Development Corporation a political subdivision of the City Council,” Ward said. “By state statute, Sec. 501.055 of the Texas Constitution, we are not a political corporation. We are not a political subdivision. By council appointment of individuals, or selection of individuals, to me it screams political impropriety. The largest donor to your campaign could be your nominee.”

Mayor Shannon Thomason argued in favor of the measure, saying the EDC receives ¼ of the 2 percent sales tax revenue collected by Big Spring. Of the 8.25 percent sales tax locally, 6.25 percent is kept by the State of Texas, while the remainder — 2 percent — is rebated to the city. Of the city's portion, one-fourth (or half a percent) goes to fund the EDC.

“The EDC is not a political subdivision by the laws of the U.S. government and the laws of Texas. They are a component sub-unit of the City of Big Spring,” Thomason said. “The reason they are a component sub-unit of the City of Big Spring is, they get ½ cent of the sales tax collected by the city of Big Spring.”

After consultation with Assistant City Manager John Medina, the mayor said the EDC's portion annually was more than $1 million.

“More than a $1 million a year of the taxpayers' money,” he said. “The half-cent sales tax was authorized by the citizens and the formation of the corporation authorized by the council. What we deal with here is oversight. We answer to the citizens of Big Spring, and we have a duty to those citizens that their money is spent wisely and properly. We also have a duty to those citizens to make sure that they are equally represented on our boards and committees, and that is the whole idea behind expanding these boards to seven members, and having them all be appointees. They're not being solo appointees; every member that is appointed to one of these boards is still ratified by the council.”

The council approved the measure five votes to two, with Councilmen Nick Ornelas (District 1) and Hughes dissenting.

The council approved vouchers totaling $327,060.58 for Sept. 16, and $981,910.97 for Sept. 23.

The council acknowledged receipt of the Big Spring EDC Board of Directors' minutes for the regular meeting of Aug. 17, and of the EDC's Annual Report for 2021.

The council designated Jordan Partee as its nominee for the Howard County Joint Tax Appraisal District Board of Directors for 2022-23.

A measure attempting to move the rules governing the Convention and Visitors Bureau Board to a new section of the city code, as part of the council's campaign to consolidate rules for city boards and commissions in a single chapter of the city code failed to pass due to lack of a motion.

The reason for the lack of motion appeared to be confusion over the number of board members the CVB Board would have under the wording of the measure.

Hughes questioned the numbers.

“We're trying to get all the districts represented, that's six of us, plus the mayor has one at-large, plus one from the Chamber of Commerce, plus one from the hotel group,” he said.

While City Attorney Andrew Hagen was not present at the meeting to answer the question, Community Services Director Hayley Herrera replied that she thought the idea was for the members representing the Chamber of Commerce and the hotel owner's group be included among the seven members appointed by the council.

Both Hughes and Mayor Thomason disagreed that that idea was reflected in the wording of the proposal.

A similar ordinance moving the rules for the Citizens Advisory Board — a group that advises the Big Spring Police Department on matters related to complaints against law enforcement in Big Spring — passed 7-0.

Next, the item mentioned earlier regarding liens on rental property for unpaid city utility bills died for lack of a motion.

The council took nearly an hour to debate the item regarding changes to the city's property maintenance code. In particular, the item adopts the 2021 edition of the International Property Maintenance Code, and extends some requirements — including limitations on weeds, rubbish and garbage, and pests including insects, spiders, rodents, vermin, etc. — out to 2,500 feet beyond the city limits, using the city's extra-territorial jurisdiction.

The council finally approved the plan 5-2, with councilmen Ornelas and Hughes dissenting.

In other business, the council approved an interlocal agreement with the South Plains Association of Governments to update the city's Master Plan for city parks at a budgeted cost of $1,000; approved an interlocal agreement with the city of Plainview for aerial mosquito control services; and authorized Thomason to sign a memorandum of understanding with Howard County allowing the county to use space behind the old police station at 405 and 411 Nolan St. for radio equipment, to install grounding equipment and a generator, and to use the city's fiber optic links.

The council also accepted nominations from Councilwoman Diane Yanez (District 2) of Chavonna Parker to the Convention and Visitors Board and of Juanita Porras to the Parks and Recreation Board; and by Mayor Thomason of Mary Frances Malone to the Animal Rescue and Adoption Committee.

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