Several weeks ago the EDC group, through County Judge Pete Trevino, and Alice Mayor Ike Ornelas, touted their new economic development plan for Jim Wells County and the City of Alice.
The EDC board held a retreat with its new retained consultant, JJ Johnson of San Antonio, and created revised strategies and mission statement regarding its role and involvement in promoting and assisting industrial and business growth here.
On the surface that all sounds highly positive and encouraging, but its often the non stated that causes concern. Such is the case with at least part of the EDC governance plans.
Reportedly, the EDC board is expected to implement two new policies that should raise eyebrows and receive a loud rejection from governmental officials and the public alike.
The first policy is expected to limit or restrict who can and cannot attend an EDC board meeting. Apparently even elected and appointed officials (other than ex- officio members) would be denied access to these meetings unless invited. Also, the news media could be banned from attending meetings. EDC records,including meeting minutes could also have off limit status to other elected officials and the public.
To make matters worse,reportedly each and every EDC board member is expected to be required to sign a confidentiality agreement to prevent them from discussing EDC business outside of the confines of their board meetings.
Such policies do not sit well for several compelling reasons. First, EDC board members,whether regular or ex-officio, represent the elected public bodies of county and city government. Their service was anticipated to embody the principals of open and accessible representation and governance..not total secrecy and locked doors.
Ex officio members must be permitted to report to their governing bodies of city and county about the activities and plans of the organization and have allowable input. County and city officials and staffs of the local entities should be able to evaluate and offer recommendations on proposals. The public sector,including business community needs to be informed.
Over the years, the EDC has accumulated a sizable amount of funds in its coffers coming from the taxpayers of the city of Alice and Jim Wells County. It would be a travesty of transparency and accountability for EDC board representatives to now say that taxpayers have no right to know how taxpayer dollars are being spent.Future projects will undoubtedly require government and taxpayer support and financial assistance in some form to be viable opportunities. Public monies demand a level of reporting and accounting.
Granted, there may be situations involving certain contracts, negotiations, legal counsel consultation,etc that might necessitate the EDC board to enter into a permissible by law closed door session. But in no way do these potential scenario exceptions justify making entire meetings or records off limits.
The EDC mission is to foster and facilitate economic development within a direction of combined and collective deliberation and consensus-building. It does nothing to encourage these ideals if it begins to breed a culture of secrecy and distrust. To bring confidence to the table these restrictive policies and actions must be immediately reversed or rejected. They should not be on any leadership's agenda.
The influences of communication and disclosure must be.