Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Opinion

December 4, 2011

Transparent government a must for JEDCO, city

JACKSONVILLE — The concept is simple — those who handle public funds should do so in as open and transparent a manner as possible.

The reason behind the concept is also just as simple — those who handle public funds are not managing their own money, but the money of every taxpayer in Cherokee County.

Which is why the actions, or inactions, of the Jacksonville Economic Development Corp. over the past year are so baffling.

While attending a conference in May 2010, City Manager Mo Raissi learned that economic development projects of more than $10,000 needed city council approval.

Also in May 2010, both JEDCO and Jacksonville city officials asked the Texas Attorney General’s office whether JEDCO needed council approval before awarding more than $10,000 to an existing business or as an incentive for one to locate in the area.

The attorney general’s office said, of course, approval was needed. In its opinion, not to do so violated state law.

Here comes the rub.

Instead of following the opinion of the attorney general, not to mention the spirit of the law, JEDCO officials decided to keep doing business as usual by:

• insisting the attorney general’s opinion was not legally binding, JEDCO’s attorney Eldridge Moak said in a Nov. 19 Daily Progress story.

• claiming the procedures in place in 2010 were, in their opinion, within the letter of the state law.

• claiming when the council approved JEDCO’s approximately $1 million budget, it was also allowing the board to use its discretion in how it spent the money.

When asked, Moak said regardless of state law, the city council had the authority to change JEDCO’s rules.

So why the confusion over council approval for more than a year?

By comparison, look at how the Bullard Economic Development Corp. reacted when it learned that by its own charter, city council members were prohibited from serving on the board.

The problem was that BEDCO president and chair Shirley Coe also served on the city council.

In reaction, Coe announced she would step down from serving on the board. The board then said it would ask the city council to amend the charter to allow council members to serve on BEDCO.

It is unrealistic to think public officials will not make mistakes.

But it is how those mistakes should be acted upon and corrected that is important.

If the Jacksonville City Council made the rules, why did it act so timidly in dealing with JEDCO, especially when the council was armed with an attorney general’s opinion?

They could have chosen to change the rules, as BEDCO is doing, but didn’t in the yearlong dispute.

What’s left in the wake is the appearance of a fiefdom being established at JEDCO, answerable only to itself, not the elected officials who are accountable to the people and to the state.

That is not the way good government operates.

In the future we expect to see prompt and thorough oversight of the tax dollars allocated to JEDCO.

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