OUR TURN: EDC’s business should be kept in the open

A recent meeting of the Marble Falls Economic Development Corp. spent mostly behind closed doors seems to challenge the notion of open government. For the sake of future transparency, the EDC board should refrain from such practices.

During the Sept. 5 session of this government-chartered body, which is funded through taxpayer dollars in the form of sales taxes, the directors spent much of their time in executive session.

But most of what was discussed behind those closed doors doesn’t seem to be the kind of things that should be kept out of sight from the taxpayers.

The agenda, for instance, says the directors held an update and discussion on economic development prospects; reviewed information from The Retail Coach; discussed the offer of incentives to the Scott & White Healthcare regional medical center; and sought legal advice from the EDC attorney on proposed lease incentives for the Frank Fickett Educational Center.

Other than the very last item, none of the others seem to fall under the requirements for a secret discussion.

The state’s open meetings laws say a government agency can hold closed-door gatherings — or executive sessions — for private consultations with its attorney or to discuss property transactions, among a few other matters.

The law also says any vote on these matters has to be taken in open session. Here is something else a lot of folks don’t know — officials are allowed to openly discuss what was said in executive session, they just can’t hand over tapes or written transcripts.

So it’s a mystery why some of these matters were brought up behind close doors. Certainly in the past, the EDC has updated the public on its prospects in open session.

For example, up until now the data collected by The Retail Coach to help the city target business growth has been shared in public.

So why the secrecy? The EDC is a nonprofit 4-B corporation charged with bringing businesses to Marble Falls and keeping them here. Nearly everything on the table with the EDC should be discussed in the light of day, in front of the people, since it benefits the public — which also pays for EDC’s initiatives and its salaries.

In fact, other than a presentation on a tax-increment financing plan, which was canceled, the only open forums listed on the Sept. 5 agenda were routine updates from Executive Director Christian Fletcher and City Manager Ralph Hendricks.

One observer noted the public meeting didn’t seem very public at all — and that flies in the face of good government, transparency before the people and keeping the public informed.

Government by the people needs to be conducted in front of  the people.

Of course, there are some business and proprietary issues that can only be discussed behind closed doors because they affect private financial or competitive interests, but in general discussions involving public monies should be held in the open.

Most other entities — including the Marble Falls Independent School District, Meadowlakes, Horseshoe Bay and more — conduct nearly all their business out in full view. The EDC should follow their example and remain as transparent as possible.

When government bodies suddenly disappear behind closed doors to conduct the majority of their business, the practice only creates suspicion and distrust.

 

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