The Rockport City Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 12 approved three items related to the Aransas County Alliance Local Government Corporation (LGC).
The council first approved with a 3-2 vote revisions to the LGC’s Articles of Incorporation/Certificate of Formation, and Bylaws. Councilmen Michael Saski and Bob Cunningham opposed the measure.
(Editor’s note: The council first approved this at its May 14 meeting. Tuesday’s approval was for revisions made by the Aransas County Navigation District - ACND.)
Then, on a 4-1 vote, the council approved revisions to the Texas Interlocal Cooperation Contract with Aransas County, Town of Fulton, and the Aransas County Navigation District for the LGC. Cunningham opposed the measure.
The final LGC-related vote was unanimous. The council appointed Councilwoman Barbara Gurtner as the city’s representative on the LGC board of directors.
All the discussion related to the LGC at Tuesday’s meeting focused on the action regarding approving/disapproving the revisions to the LGC’s Articles of Incorporation/Certificate of Formation, and Bylaws. Once that was approved, the two other LGC-related items were acted upon quickly.
(Editor’s note: The details about the proposed setup, with a Local Government Corporation (LGC) and C6 non-profit corporation (C6) will not be rehashed in this story because it has been featured in this newspaper in the past.
The basic structure, however, is the LGC includes representatives of local government entities that provide minimal funding.
The C6 is the non-profit group, which will do the legwork, and is supported by public/private donations, primarily through memberships.
The need for a non-traditional funding source for an EDC in Aransas County is due to the traditional source used by most communities – the additional half-cent sales tax approved many years ago by the state - is already committed to Aransas County for indigent healthcare and related expenses.)
The council, at its Oct. 22 meeting, tabled taking action on the revisions due to improper wording/notice on the agenda.
The council voted 4-1 to take the item off the table, with Cunningham casting the lone dissenting vote. He noted Aransas County commissioners tabled the item at their meeting earlier that day, and called a workshop for Monday, Nov. 25.
Andrew Kane and Jeff Hutt, opponents to the current setup of the LGC, each spoke for their allotted three minutes to start the discussion. They urged the council to table the matter once again, and hold a workshop, as well.
Some of the points they made included the lack of transparency in the process of creating the LGC and C6 nonprofit arms of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
“Voting for the LGC is like opening the door for a Trojan Horse, but you have not looked inside of it to see the EDC,” said Kane. “Have you seen the budget of the LGC or the EDC? I know for a fact you have not.
“How can you in good conscious give so much power and control to a new governmental entity and you have not seen where the money comes from and how it will be spent?”
Hutt said the creation of the LGC and C6 will have a huge impact on the direction the community, and the consequences of the organizations’ actions will determine what the community looks like in the future.
“It’s imperative we get it right,” he said.
The need for an EDC in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, to help Aransas County diversify from its primarily tourism economy, rose to the surface in numerous public meetings following the storm.
(Editor’s note: All of those meetings, as well as the results, have been published in The Rockport Pilot.)
Nancy Bolting, an owner of two businesses, talked in favor of the EDC, noting how many meetings have been held regarding the subject.
“I was turning the corner with my first business after three years (then Harvey hit),” said Bolting. “Now I’m starting over.
“Having this EDC is a good thing for Rockport.
“We’ve had numerous meetings and it’s disheartening that this opposition comes up at this point.”
Jatin Bhakta, the owner of three major Aransas County hotels, said, “We’ve gone through this (creation of the LGC and C6) since Harvey.
“The (new documents created) are a better set of documents. Many lawyers have (reviewed them), and they’ve said they are better documents.”
Speaking for the EDC (LGC and C6 working together), Bhakta said, “We are a tourism economy. We have highs and lows. When low, (business owners) are at risk of losing everything.
“At this stage, we’re going forward with the C6, and we hope the county, city, town and ACND joins in the EDC (effort).
“The ones you need to listen to are the people who make businesses thrive in this county.”
John Jackson noted there have been at least 20 community meetings about the formation of an EDC, and its format.
“The LGC has already been approved by the entities,” said Jackson. “The C6 is a private non-profit. It’s already formed and is going to happen.”
He said some might ask why the need for the LGC if the EDC can go it alone with just the C6.
Jackson noted it provides a funding mechanism for entities since the county already utilizes the additional half-cent sales tax, which many communities use as an EDC funding source.
Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce President Blake McDavid said, “I know there has been positive and negative (about the creation of an EDC).
“I hope everyone recognizes the importance of continued growth in the community.
“There is a lot going on around us and we are going to have growth.
“An EDC will give us a seat at the regional table.
“This is desperately needed.”
Councilwoman Barbara Gurtner noted one of the reasons EDC discussions began was so developers, etc. could go to one place to find out what each government entity might be able to offer.
“It’s one group who knows what everyone is thinking,” she said.
“The EDC set up would create a one-stop shop, and take it off staff,” said Gurtner.
She said she likes the revisions, and reminded the council it is only voting on the LGC (The government side of the EDC).
(Editor’s note: The C6 non-profit does not have the power to offer any incentives on behalf of individual entities. Each individual entity would ultimately have the final say. The LGC is a funding mechanism for government entities. The C6 is a non-profit organization with memberships, which will do the legwork for the LGC.)
Councilman Bob Cunningham said, with the current set up of the LGC and C6, he is concerned about the dilution of government responsibility.
“Who does a citizen go to when one is getting helped and one is getting hurt (by this new organization)?” he asked.
“Our participation is going to be through our representation.
“I don’t think this really has been (addressed in a workshop setting). There’s never been any real point-to-point debate.
“At the end of the day, the devil is in the details … how money moves, how power moves.”
Mayor Pat Rios said he has a different perspective in that he has received numerous calls from business owners “in various stages of panic.”
He noted the idea of the C6 came from the business community, not the city (or other government entities).
“It is my understanding the C6 will happen sometime in January,” said the mayor.
“We are actually really struggling right now.”
Cunningham said there needs to be a better understanding how everything is structured internally.
“With the money (everyone) is putting in we could hire a consultant,” he said.
Bolting said rebuilding after Harvey is difficult when someone has to talk to each entity individually (to learn its requirements).
Cunningham said, “I just don’t think we need all these detailed (plans, organizations, etc.).
“I have confidence we will grow (naturally). We are returning pretty close to 2016 numbers.”
Sheryl Matlock said she is a business owner who thinks outside the box.
“If this goes through, I’ll put my hat in to serve on that board,” she said.
Jackson reminded everyone the agenda item being considered addressed the LGC, not the C6.
“The LGC has already been approved,” he said, noting the agenda item was approval of revisions as presented by the ACND.
He said another good reason to have the LGC is it can receive grants.
Rios said he believes a rising tide lifts all ships.
“If we can get more people in town, I don’t know of any business owner who would be against it,” said the mayor.
Cunningham responded, “Being against the structure of the LGC does not mean you are against growth.”
Rios reminded everyone each entity has a “90-day out” if it wants to leave the LGC.
City Manager Kevin Carruth said City Attorney Habib H. Erkan Jr. approved the changes made by the ACND.
“Has there been any workshop on the LGC?” asked Hutt. “Why are citizens being prevented from seeing documents and asking questions?”
Rios said, “As elected officials we are elected to represent our constituents.”
Mayor Pro-tem J.D. Villa made the motion to approve the revisions to the LGC’s Articles of Incorporation/Certificate of Formation, and Bylaws. Gurtner seconded the motion and it was approved 3-2, with Rios, Villa, and Gurtner voting yes, and Saski and Cunningham opposing the measure.