Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez was the first to speak.
“We need to get a handle on the Expo Center,” he said. “It’s been a mess since (Lou) Trlica left.”
Rodriguez first brought up an instance last September when a Ramon Ayala concert was held at the coliseum. He explained that for events like that, the county is supposed to receive 10 percent of the beer and gate sales. Not only that, the county refunded a $320 deposit fee even though it hadn’t been paid for pavilion use.
Former County Commissioner Ronnie Olivares’ name was on the contract for the concert even though Trlica, former Expo Center administrator, was still in charge at that time. However, Trlica did sign the refund check on Sept. 20, 10 days before leaving.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar said after the meeting that due to bad weather, the concert didn’t make any money.
“When board member Bebe Adamez asked Mr. Olivares why wasn’t this dance approved by the board, as required by policy, he was told that there wasn’t time, which there was plenty of time,” Rodriguez said. “And besides, he already had the approval of three other board members and four with his vote.
“This dance should have been approved by the full board as stated in policy, and by admitting to having four votes for approval, without a meeting, this is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.”
The policy Rodriguez referred to, as stated in the board’s bylaws, says, “No individual board member... outside of scheduled or called meetings shall assume any authority, take any actions for or in behalf of the board, or in any way interfere with the approved operating procedures of the board.”
The commissioner moved to table any action on the item until all commissioners were present, as Commissioner Ken Haggard was not there.
Salazar abstained from voting because, he said, “Why are we even discussing this? It’s a contract between the board and this individual. The county is not involved.”
Salazar said after the meeting that the Expo Center board is an entirely separate entity from the county.
“The bottom line is it’s not our business,” he said.
Commissioners Dennis DeWitt, Rodriguez and County Judge David Silva voted in favor of tabling the item.
Rodriguez then brought up what he thought were conflicts of interest in recent Expo Center board appointments.
“People in town are asking me how Commissioner Salazar and Judge Silva get away with appointing their sister and brother to the Expo Center board. It doesn’t look right,” Rodriguez said.
The commissioner said Salazar told Silva that his sister wanted to serve on the board, and the judge submitted her name to the court.
“Even though Commissioner Salazar didn’t directly submit his sister’s name, it was basically his appointment because he got Judge Silva to submit her name,” Rodriguez said. This is nepotism in the second degree.”
Rodriguez said Salazar also asked Silva for a second when nominating former Commissioner Olivares to the board. Olivares is Silva’s nephew by marriage.
“Judge Silva, you shouldn’t have seconded that motion, just like you shouldn’t have presented Commissioner Salazar’s sister to the court for approval,” Rodriguez said.
The commissioner said that at another meeting, Salazar submitted Silva’s brother’s name to the court.
Rodriguez said, “The perception that is presented to the public by making these appointments, and I admit I voted in favor of both motions, is not a good one.”
Rodriguez said the board handles a $143,000 budget.
“If something should go wrong, like it has for the dance of Sept. 18, who is responsible for the money not collected? A board member who signed the contract?
“What if it’s your sister, Commissioner Salazar, or your brother, Judge Silva? When it comes to a vote by this body, how would you vote? Wouldn’t it be a conflict of interest?” he asked.
“What’s going to happen?” Salazar said in response. “Nothing is going to come to commissioners court.”
Salazar later said there is no taxpayers’ money involved in what the Expo board does. Members oversee events at the center and use money from those events for basic upkeep, like paying electric and water bills.
The county does not oversee the board, Salazar said, beyond appointing its members. The $143,000 in the county’s budget for the Expo Center is to pay county employees and take care of major repairs.
In the meeting, Silva interjected to address the nepotism issue.
“(County Attorney Mike) Knight said there was no violation. It’s not a conflict of interest because the board members are not being paid,” the judge said.
Salazar then questioned Rodriguez’s own board appointment, Bebe Adamez, saying that was a conflict of interest.
“He owns part of the (KTKO FM 105.7) radio station,” Salazar said of Adamez.
Salazar said there is conflict of interest because of radio advertising done for events at the Expo Center, generating money for the station.
Rodriguez responded by saying that Salazar’s sister owns a catering service that sometimes profits from Expo Center events.
“There’s a big difference,” Salazar said, mentioning that she is not paid by the center itself for her services.
Any action on the item was unanimously tabled until all commissioners are present.
Sarah Taylor is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or sarah@mySouTex.com.