STAFF WRITER CONNIE SWINNEY
MARBLE FALLS — City Council members have approved granting the Marble Falls Economic Development Corp. more autonomy in decision-making policies, including removing the council’s role in approving the selection of the entity’s executive director.
On June 6, Marble Falls City Council members unanimously approved several changes to the EDC’s by-laws, which also included giving the assistant city manager more power in working with the EDC and allowing the entity to “hire its own legal counsel” without required consultation with the city attorney.
Prior to passage, officials granted council member Reed Norman’s request to discuss the changes in open session instead of passage without open discussion in what is known as a “consent agenda.”
Norman said he did so in the interest of transparency and to give the council and residents a chance to ask questions and discuss the motivation behind the proposed amended passages.
“My intention was not a witch hunt. All it was is to have more transparency for the citizens. I wanted the citizens to know what’s going on,” Norman said. “On this particular issue, when you want to change by-laws, who knows how many citizens know what that was.
“I was confused about it, not concerned,” Norman added. “I had questions, and if I had questions, then what about the public?”
According to the council agenda, one of two main goals of the changes involved, “removing the requirement for council approval on every EDC policy, program, contract, and project.”
• striking a requirement that the EDC must seek “approval of the City Council” to employ an executive director;
• striking a requirement that “all policies for program administration shall be submitted for council approval, and the board shall administer said programs accordingly;”
• giving the assistant city manager more powers to handle city-related services at EDC requests (i.e. accessing maps, handling zoning questions);
• and removing the requirement for an annual presentation and update by the EDC executive director subject to council approval.
“It’s not (about) oversight. It’s approvals,” EDC Executive Director Christian Fletcher said. “It will help us to have more efficient operations. It doesn’t change any of the statutory triggers that the council has over EDC.”
One requirement that remains in place is all amendments to the EDC budget must go before the City Council for approval unless EDC officials choose to re-allocate funding from another area of the budget to cover the expense.
The City Council also has final approval of the EDC budget, which derives its funding from a one-half-cent sales tax collected from purchases within the city limits.
Marble Falls Mayor John Packer, who also serves as the city representative on the EDC, said the changes reflected the evolution of the entity.
“It’s updating with the way things have evolved within the city and the EDC. In general, it’s one of the most professional EDCs around, professionally managed,” Packer said. “The council (still) approves the (EDC) operating budget.
“Some things over a certain amount have to be approved by the council,” Packer added. “City Council definitely has oversight over approving the budget.”
EDC President Steve Reitz added, “We were trying to be more efficient with our board and board activities, trying to reflect the current conditions and how we operate.”
Even though he voted in favor of the changes, Norman emphasized he believes certain issues should be discussed and questioned by the council in an open forum prior to passage.
“Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand what the EDC wants to do,” Norman said. “Anytime we have anything come up like this again, I think council needs to know, and then it can come up on a ‘consent agenda’ after it’s been discussed in an open forum.
“Anytime you deal with the taxpayers’ money, I think it’s important for us to know,” Norman said.
He added that he trusts the city staff; however, offering openness to the public should play a part in their actions.
“I’ve never been one to trust government that much,” Norman added. “When you’re an elected official, the people that elected you expect you to do your job and not just be a ‘yes man’. It’s a big deal.”