Beeville Economic Improvement Corporation board member Jessy T. Garza approached the City Council Tuesday evening, asking for a change in that board’s articles of incorporation.
“Was the grant application flawed?” Garza asked the council.
“Absolutely! No question in my mind,” Garza said as he read from a prepared statement during the council’s hearing of visitors.
Garza was at the meeting to point out what he considered was undue influence applied to some members of the BEIC board by members of the Bee Development Authority board in its effort to win what he called a $1.2 million grant from 4B sales tax funds for the construction of a 38,000-square-foot warehouse at the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex.
Garza said he wanted to see the BEIC board include an “autonomy clause” in its articles of incorporation. He said the clause should be a broad statement signifying the board’s autonomy from third party influence.
Garza asked that the clause forbid individual contact between any member of the BEIC board and a perspective grant applicant, once a grant application is submitted to the BEIC board.
“All discussion between the BEIC board and a perspective grantee would occur in a meeting open to all members of the public, notified by proper notice,” Garza said. “One exception to this requirement: a special purpose committee formed by the BEIC would be able to meet with a perspective grantee, but again, it would be in a meeting open to all members of the public.”
“What would be the objective in having an autonomy clause?” Garza asked the council.
“It would ensure that there is absolute transparency in a process that is viewed as fair and equitable, i.e., everything would be perfectly visible and not behind a closed door with individual members of the board.”
“If we can accomplish this objective, we can ensure that all grant applicants receive a fair and equitable hearing of their application and that they individually feel that the playing field is absolutely level and not tilted towards those that can wield the most influence.”
“The mayor is not here tonight,” Garza said, “but Councilman (David) Carabajal, you will recall at one point in the grant process the BDA had agreed to accept a grant totaling $800,000, because we categorically told them that the $800,000 was as much as the BEIC could realistically afford. Ask yourself, how did we go to $1.2 million, with this ridiculous requirement that only 20 jobs per year be created?”
Garza said records of the BEIC meetings on that matter did not reflect a “well-thought-out empirical analysis” or “the confluence of incontrovertible data.”
“How did this occur?” Garza asked. “Very simple. You push, push, push until you get what you want.”
Garza alleged that representatives of the BDA approached the person that was supposed to be developing a so-called clawback with “teeth” that they “would not accept his initial proposal and if they did not get what they wanted, they would walk straight out of his office and go straight to the Bee-Picayune. That’s how simple it is. That’s how we ended up with 20 jobs per year. By the way what is a clawback with teeth? Basically it is a clause that would ensure that if they represented that they were going to create 175 jobs, then the BEIC’s contractual expectation would be the creation of those 175 jobs.”
If the 175 jobs were not created, Garza said, “a proportionate piece of the $1.2 million would be returned to the BEIC. So the process became not what we were willing to provide, rather, what they were willing to accept.”
“The tail was wagging the dog!” Garza exclaimed. “In my 30 something years of working with nonprofit organizations, I have never seen a perspective grantee dictate to the grantor how much it is willing to accept and the terms of acceptance.”
Council members were not able to take action on Garza’s recommendation because no such item was on that evening’s agenda.
But Carabajal asked City Secretary Tomas P. Saenz to be sure that his entire statement was entered into the council’s record of the meeting.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.