City seeks 'action plan' before it will consider funding for remainder of 2008

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

The Alice City Council voted Thursday to decrease funding for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and to only fund the Economic Development Corporation for two more months.

The council also called for increased accountability and performance from the two organizations.

At the recommendation of council member Leo Escobar, the council voted to continue funding the EDC for two months, with additional funding contingent upon the presentation of a "Comprehensive Action Plan" to the city by the EDC at the end of that period.

The details required in that plan were not outlined during Thursday's meeting.

Council member Dorella Elizondo, a former EDC board member, said she was frustrated by what she said was a failure by the EDC to communicate with the city.

"I quit the EDC because I felt it had lost focus, and I had better things to do with my time," Elizondo said. "I like action, I want to see things happening. You were put on notice in June that funding was going to end. Why are we waiting until December 2007 so that we can decide if we are going to be funding in January 2008?"

Elizondo said the EDC had made no effort to correct its actions during the previous six months, and had only decided to take action because the item to reduce the budget was on the city's agenda.

"All we got were hostile emails, hostile communication, and nothing to show for why you got put on (notice)," Elizondo said. "Nothing got done, except in December, in the twentieth hour into it, (you said) 'Let's call our friends over, let's shake up and put our political pressure on everyone here so we can try to bully them into giving us our money.'"

EDC Board Treasurer Charles Galindo took issue with that assessment Thursday, and said he had only become aware that the city was considering cutting funding in an email he received Dec. 6.

"I somehow missed the communication that we were not going to be funded," Galindo said. "We were never told that there was a problem with funding."

Council member Shane Valverde, who serves as the vice-president of the EDC, questioned how Galindo could not be aware of the possibility funding would be cut.

"Mr. Galindo, I don't know how you weren't informed, as a board member, that we were cutting funding," Valverde said. "We are entrusted and responsible for providing oversight for the citizens of Alice and their tax dollars. If there's no accountability for those tax dollars, then we're not being responsible to the citizens."

Prior to the vote, Mike Day, the treasurer for the EDC, said communication had increased between the city and the EDC recently, and he asked for a full year of funding.

"Clearly, all of us feel very strongly that progress has been made," Day said. "I certainly would appreciate your continued support. And I personally would be more comfortable if you funded for the year."

Alice Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez, who is on the EDC board, said she would also like to see more support for the EDC.

"I think the EDC plays a vital part in our community," Saenz-Lopez said. "I think it's a good organization, and I think we have good board members that do their part to bring in new businesses."

Saenz-Lopez said she felt the primary issue facing the city and the EDC was a lack of communication, and asked the council to continue supporting the EDC.

Mayor Pro-tem Juan Rodriguez asked that the EDC be funded for the entire year, but later voted to approve the two-month limitation.

The council also voted to reduce the amount of funding from the city for the Convention and Visitors Bureau from $90,000 per year to $72,000.

The council also voted to forgive $5,000 in debt owed to the city by the CVB for accounting issues in 2004.

Both sides said they were pleased with the terms of that agreement Thursday.