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EDC turmoil produces board resignations

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Discord on the board of the Bandera Economic Development Corp. and a growing disconnection between the EDC leadership and some on Bandera City Council resulted in the resignation of the EDC president and vice president and council’s decision to make the resignations effective immediately rather than at the end of June as the outgoing officers had recommended.

Bandera Councilman Jerry Russe recommended at council’s Thursday, June 18, meeting that the resignations of EDC President Toni Kunz and Vice President Laura Devenport be put into effect immediately rather than on June 30.

The rest of council agreed after hearing that there were not too many EDC actions that were pending that would need the attention of the president and vice president by the end of the month.

Russe, who has been critical of the decisions made by the EDC leadership in recent months, said the EDC had not exhibited the kind of cooperation with council that he had hoped to see and criticized the president and vice president for not following clear guidelines council had established governing the allocation of stimulus funds the EDC set aside to assist Bandera businesses harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The councilman said

The councilman said the EDC, led by Kunz and Devenport, had exhibited “old-school, good old boy favoritism” in the allocation of pandemic stimulus funds, allowing some businesses to get more assistance than they qualified for and at least one company to get assistance when it did not qualify for any.

Kunz denied the claim and said the EDC has been implementing the $100,000 pandemic stimulus fund in accordance with council’s wishes and with the full support of Mayor Suzanne Schauman.

“We did not make a move without the mayor’s support,” said Kunz.

She and Devenport said they resigned because they felt like it was the right thing to do, not because they had been asked to step down by council.

The letters of resignation were signed on Thursday, June 18. Both said they believed they had helped the EDC accomplish many of its economic development goals during their terms in office but added that the environment and relationships between the EDC and council had changed in the last seven months and did not look like it was in the process of changing.

“The continuous turmoil in my opinion is not what is in the best interest for the citizens of Bandera,” Devenport wrote in her letter. “I hope in the future the EDC can once again move forward in a positive, productive direction.”

The council and the EDC had differences in December over the willingness of the EDC to provide financial data that council had requested as council members talked about developing a new governing body to spearhead economic development activities in Bandera.

Differences continued into the new year as questions were raised about the manner in which the EDC allocated some of its assistance programs and about the stimulus fund developed after businesses were shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kunz, who frequently had disagreements with Councilwoman Lynn Palmer after she was appointed to the EDC board earlier this year, said the inconsistent, constantly changing demands of an emerging majority on council made it difficult for the EDC to implement programs.

So Kunz said she decided to step down.

Former EDC Board Member Rhonda Carrell already had submitted her resignation to the board, and it too was accepted by council last week.

That means three vacancies exist on the seven-member EDC board.

Three new members, including Palmer, were appointed to the board in April, which means that Board Member Andrea Jankoski is the only member of the EDC governing body with much experience at the helm of that organization.

Bandera City Councilwoman Rebeca Gibson, after failing to get a second on a motion to remove Palmer as an EDC board member last week, moved that Mayor Schauman be appointed to the EDC on an interim basis until more applicants for the openings can be examined and the openings can be filled.

Schauman agreed to accept the appointment on an interim basis only, saying while she did not feel it was good policy for a council member also to serve on the EDC, she felt it would be helpful for her to fill a board seat temporarily to help break any ties that might arise when the four existing EDC board members split their votes.

The mayor said she was not aware of any instances in which EDC allocations had been mishandled by the board, though she acknowledged that some of Russe’s allegations were new and had not been fully conveyed to her.

Schauman said she felt problems had arisen with the EDC board in the past, but board members had attempted to address problems when they arose.

The city is seeking applications from any residents who want to serve on the EDC through the end of the business day on July 16. Two of the open seats are reserved for city residents, and one can be filled by a county resident.

Council could vote on new appointees at its July 23 meeting.

In another vote by council last week, the rules governing which companies can apply for EDC funds under the pandemic stimulus program were altered. Companies that pay hotel occupancy taxes to the city also will qualify under the change in addition to businesses that pay sales taxes to the city and property taxes.