GATESVILLE — After an hour of heated acrimony, finger pointing and loud accusations between members of the Coryell County Economic Development Board and County Judge John Firth here last week, three of the five board members said they were ready to resign.
Board members Fred Chavez, Mary Beth Harrell, Barbara Burrow and Eric Kietzer took turns expressing their anger and disappointment with the way Firth and the commissioners’ court handled the board’s request for a $60,000 comprehensive economic development plan to be paid for over two years.
The commissioners first denied the proposal, asking for more information, then rejected the board’s request to be put on the court agenda to present that information.
The county is facing tough budget decisions heading into fiscal year 2015, Firth said, and all comments he received on the EDB proposal were negative.
“I do not think the county really has the political will to push this forward and get anything done,” Chavez said.
“You keep moving the goal posts,” Harrell told Firth. “First you tell us to jump through this hoop, then jump through that hoop. The process has not been as open and honest as we would like.”
“What have we done wrong?” Burrow asked. “We have bent over backward to seek guidance and it has not been forthcoming.”
“You folks have misrepresented what happened,” Firth said.
At the end of the meeting, Kietzer persuaded Chavez, Harrell and Burrow not to resign. The board unanimously agreed to have two monthly meetings instead of one and to set a day-long workshop to revamp the board’s goals, objectives and political parameters.
“I have had mixed emotions on resignation,” Kietzer said. “I am very disappointed with the lack of communications, but this is not the day to throw in the towel.”
In May, Kietzer made the board’s request to the commissioners to hire the Austin consulting firm Angelou Economics to develop the $60,000 strategic plan over two years.
On a 3-2 vote, the commissioners rejected the request until the board got the “unqualified support” of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation and the Gatesville Economic Development Board.
That vote prompted the resignation of board member Sam Golden, who called the action “a vote of no confidence in the board.”
He suggested the commissioners dissolve the county board and support the city organizations.
Burrow, a member of the Gatesville EDB, got that group’s endorsement for the county plan.
Dick Van Dyke, chairman of the county EDB, met with Polo Enriquez, executive director of the Cove EDC, and received his support contingent on the approval of the Cove EDC directors.
On June 9, Kietzer appeared before the commissioners and asked to “take a pass” on renewing the request until the board had all the information the commissioners had requested.
He asked to be put on the court’s June 23 agenda.
Firth said the presentation was not on the June 23 agenda because the board had not submitted the request in time.
“That was the last crowning blow,” Kietzer said. “That took the wind out of our sails.”
Chavez said he met with Dan Yancey, Cove EDC board chairman, who expressed strong objection to the term “unqualified support” and questioned whether the Cove body was to be made “subservient” to the county board.
“The reality is the (Cove) board is not going to vote on the plan,” Chavez said.
Chavez said many Cove residents are suspicious of the county board after an article in a Copperas Cove semiweekly newspaper inaccurately portrayed the county EDB was working solely on behalf of Gatesville.
“That is the way we have been painted,” he said. “We knew it wasn’t accurate. We should have said something but we didn’t say a damn thing. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Firth said the board’s $60,000 budget request “remains on the table” but will have to compete with requests from other county departments straining to meet unfunded state mandates.
“To approve your request, we will either have to increase the tax rate or take mandated money off the table,” Firth said. “The decision has not been made.”