GOLIAD – County Judge Mike Bennett wants the city to turn its half-ownership of the Memorial Auditorium over to the county.

That’s according to Goliad Mayor Trudia Preston, who reported to the city council Wednesday on a conference among Bennett, Preston and Goliad Mayor Pro Tem Luis Rodriguez.

Preston called the meeting with Bennett July 9 to clarify the city’s position concerning immediate improvements to the auditorium’s south restrooms instigated by Bennett to make the auditorium a suitable venue for the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission, which the county hosts Aug. 21.

Because the auditorium, located on the fair grounds, is co-owned by the city and the county, both entities must approve any changes. Preston says City Administrator Kandi Huber had told Bennett that the city could not help pay for the renovation of the restrooms because under city ordinance, the city cannot approve expenditures above $5,000 without receiving three bids from suitable contractors.

The restroom renovation is just under $50,000.

Preston told the council that Bennett says he has a grant to pay for the restroom repairs, with the funds being available in September.

City cooperation with the renovation is further hampered by the status of an interlocal agreement between the city and the county on joint responsibility of maintenance and repair of the auditorium.

Under the agreement, executed in 2017 and automatically renewed, a seven-member property oversight committee is responsible for general maintenance and financial oversight of the auditorium.

Committee members include Bennett, Preston, one county commissioner (Precinct 1 Commissioner Kenneth Edwards), a city alderman (Robin Alaniz), a citizen appointed by the city, a county appointed citizen and the city’s public works director (Earl Henning).

Although the agreement requires the committee to meet quarterly, Preston said she only remembers the committee’s meeting once.

The agreement stipulates that the committee would agree on the maintenance the auditorium requires. It then would pass on its recommendations both to Preston and Bennett.

At the same conference, Preston said, Bennett asked that committee to be dissolved, with he and Preston assuming that responsibility.

Preston interprets the agreement as specifying that the city and county would appoint someone who would be charged with maintaining the building.

“The trouble,” said Alderwoman Mary Gleinser, “is that no one has been appointed.”

Issues that Bennett indicates need immediate attention are the damaged floor, painting, replacing some of the windows and the building’s dated electrical system.

Without a person tasked with reporting maintenance problems, Rodriguez told the council, the status of the auditorium often is missed because there is no job description for the mayor (or Bennett) to follow. “Each of them has to learn on the fly.”

Preston said he asked the judge why he had initiated repairs on the restrooms unilaterally.

“He said, ‘I like to get things done quickly,’” Preston said, noting that she criticized the judge for not consulting her ahead of time. “I told him, ‘we are partners.’”

Preston told the council that the city could have filed an injunction against the county’s going ahead on its own, “but we don’t want to go that far,” Preston said, “What’s done is done. We need to go forward, but if you want the city to help with the things you want done, these are the procedures we have to follow.”

At this point in the conversation, Preston says, Bennett suggested the city give its half of the ownership of the building to the county.

Preston said that because the state had given ownership of the auditorium to both the city and the county, the procedure would be that the city would have to give its part of the ownership back to the state, who then would give it to the county.

Rodriguez, however, was firmly against the idea. “It is a benefit to both the county and the city,” he said. “I have to be convinced that it would be a good idea.”

“That means, from here on out, we have to hold the county to the interlocal agreement,” City Alderwoman Mary Burns.

Preston said she believed Bennett understood the procedure.

However, she said she wanted Bennett’s signature on the interlocal agreement.

Future repairs, Gleinser suggested, should be approved by the Texas Historical Commission.

Earlier in the week, Preston, Gleinser, Edwards and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Alonzo Morales were to meet at the auditorium with Elizabeth Brummett, the state coordinator for project review, and Hansel Hernandez, the regional reviewer for South Texas from the commission, who were planning to inspect the building to compile a list of work the auditorium required.

“Patsy Light put that whole meeting together,” Preston told the council, “to have a state architect tell us what repairs needed to be done.”

Preston said that Bennett had instructed his secretary, Pam Martin, to call the commission and cancel the meeting. However, Rodriguez said the judge had not made the call.

“I’m not going to get into all that,” Preston said. “I want us to look forward.”

She also said that since Bennett took office, monthly auditorium financial statements from the county were insufficient. “Every time someone rents the auditorium, I want to know who rented it, for how much was it rented, what was the security deposit, etc.

“From now on,” Preston said, “we expect that kind of cooperation when it comes to the auditorium.

Begging time to allow its members to study the interlocal agreement, the council unanimously voted to table discussion on it until the council’s next meeting, July 24.

Bill Clough is the Goliad editor at the Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-645-2330, or at goliad@mySouTex.com.

Advance-Guard Press - Goliad report