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Jeff Parish Jeff Parish is a high school English teacher and journalist. He has worked for the Greenville Herald-Banner, Dallas Morning News, The Paris News and Galveston County Daily News, among others. For comments, feedback or suggestions, you can email him at jeff@eparistexas.com.

PEDC wants investigation report next week

The Depot, 1135 Bonham

The Depot, 1135 Bonham

Paris Economic Development Corp. wants the final report on the investigation by Defenbaugh & Associates by July 22.

That’s nearly a week earlier than the July 28 deadline the City Council gave earlier this month.

“The contract said the work was going to be done by the end of May, and they’re still coming up here in July,” Chairman Stephen Grubbs said. “I think we can ask for it whenever because they’re already past the deadline.”

Grubbs said he even favored asking for the report right away, but was willing to give enough time to finish it.

Board Treasurer Rebecca Clifford, the former chair and PEDC’s sole point of contact with Defenbaugh so far, said she notified the firm of the council’s deadline a few weeks ago and was told the investigation was still ongoing.

“I know they have conducted interviews,” she said. “I think there may have been some that have not been completed, but the report should be done by July 28.”

Barrantine spoke with Danny Defenbaugh on July 2 for more than two hours. When the interview was over, he asked if she had any questions. She did not, but he apparently did: “He said, ‘Well I do: When do I get my May invoice payment?’”

The $21,075 payment has been withheld so far pending a final report, which was originally expected at the end of May. An April bill for $22,042 has already been paid. PEDC has committed at most $50,000 to the investigation.

“I say we have the check cut and when they hand us the thing, we hand it to them there on the spot,” board member Don Wilson said. “We’ve performed more than he’s performed if you just look at the contract.”

The board decided to hold payment until the final report is received, although Clifford and board member David Turner voted against delaying payment any longer.

“I think y’all ought to pay the bill,” Turner said. “I get real upset when people don’t pay me.”

The PEDC board plans to review the report a few days prior to the City Council getting it. Before such a document is released, Grubbs said, it is routine to review it to make sure all is correct and understood.

“We need to have that first scrub to make sure we understand it, and then share it as quickly as possible,” he said.

Edwin Pickle, the City Council liaison to the PEDC board, did not see that as a problem so long as the council got it by the deadline already set.

“I think y’all should see it several days before we do,” he said. “Y’all are the ones who asked for it.”

Grubbs named chairman of PEDC board

John Brockman, left, and Don Wilson are sworn in as new members of the PEDC board of directors. (eParis Extra photo by Jeff Parish)

John Brockman, left, and Don Wilson are sworn in as new members of the PEDC board of directors. (eParis Extra photo by Jeff Parish)

Stephen Grubbs is the new chairman of the Paris Economic Development Corp. board of directors.

He is part of a new slate of officers that includes John Brockman as vice-chair and outgoing Chair Rebecca Clifford as secretary/treasurer.

The PEDC board selected new officers Tuesday after swearing in two new members, Brockman and Don Wilson.

“I didn’t come in expecting to be chair of the board, although I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t looking forward to the opportunity,” Grubbs said. “It’s a new day, and together we will strive to exceed the expectations of our city.”

When nominations began, Wilson put Grubbs forward, seconded by Brockman and approved by unanimous vote.

“Your job,” Clifford said. “Congratulations.”

Wilson nominated Brockman as vice chairman. Brockman tried to nominate Wilson for treasurer, but he declined. Wilson then nominated Clifford. Both votes were unanimous.

Both Clifford and Grubbs welcomed the new members, who were appointed by the City Council on Monday.

“We’re very fortunate to have men like you who care so deeply about our city on the board,” Grubbs said. “Thank you for your willingness to serve.”

Chairman Stephen Grubbs, left, and outgoing  Chair Rebecca Clifford say farewell to resigning board member Vicki Ballard, center. (eParis Extra photo by Jeff Parish)

Chairman Stephen Grubbs, left, and outgoing Chair Rebecca Clifford say farewell to resigning board member Vicki Ballard, center. (eParis Extra photo by Jeff Parish)

He praised the staff, saying Shannon Barrentine, interim executive director, has been very professional during a time of uncertainty.

The board also recognized departing member Vicki Ballard, who stayed just long enough to receive a plaque and say good-bye.

“Out of 20 meetings, I’ve only missed four,” she said as she walked out the door.

In other business:

  • The board set a special meeting for 3 p.m. Monday to discuss the 2014-2015 budget.
  • Monday’s session will also deal with qualifications for legal representation. City Attorney Kent McIlyar has requested to be removed from representation of PEDC in legal matters, so the board must seek outside counsel as it has at times in the past. “We met in executive session, and it was agreed that the honorable approach would be that the city attorney would recuse himself from being involved in the PEDC because of some comments made by a council member,” said Edwin Pickle, the City Council liaison to the PEDC board.
  • The board agreed to get an appraisal to determine fair market value to sell property at 1546 South Church following an hour-long closed session.
  • Barrentine discussed Proposition 1 on the November ballot. Most state constitutional amendments are done in odd years in the spring, but this one addresses transportation funding from the state’s oil and gas production taxes. “We all know that transportation is a big deal for economic development,” she said. “It’s a big deal for the city and the region.”
  • The board approved a $5,000 bid to repair two leaking sections of the depot’s tile roof.

Wilson, Brockman named to PEDC board

eParisExtra logoThe Paris Economic Development Corp. now has a full board of directors.

A split City Council placed Don Wilson and John Brockman in the available seats Monday, completing a process that started June 23 when council members deadlocked on every nomination for PEDC while filling vacancies on 11 city commissions.

They will be sworn in when the PEDC board meets at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the community room at the Depot, followed by an election of officers for 2014-2015.

Councilman Edwin Pickle jumped out quickly in nominating Wilson, seconded by Councilman Benny Plata. Council members A.J. Hashmi, Sue Lancaster and Aaron Jenkins opposed the nomination, while Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Grossnickle and Mayor Matt Frierson voted in favor.

Pickle also nominated Brockman. Grossnickle seconded, and the nomination passed 5-0, with Jenkins and Lancaster abstaining. Both said at the June 23 meeting they would like to see a minority on the board. Jenkins nominated James Price at that meeting, which also resulted in a stalemate.

Brockman is an executive vice president and chief lending officer at First Federal Community Bank. A 40-year veteran of the banking industry, Brockman said in his application to the city that his work has incorporated commercial and industrial developments, real estate, oil and gas, and agriculture. He has also served on various economic development boards, including the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation, Seminole Industrial Development Foundation, Seminole Chamber of Commerce, Duncan Chamber of Commerce and Duncan Telecommunications Commission.

Wilson started his career working in management for a manufacturing company. His application says he has owned and managed four manufacturing firms himself, both as established businesses and startups. He has also helped companies locate plants. A former City Council member, Wilson has also served on a bank board for many years.

One seat on the PEDC board is being vacated by Vicki Ballard, and has been empty since Bruce Carr stepped down in January.

Monday’s nominations went more smoothly, but that’s not to say the issue was completely controversy free.

“I think there’s a conflict of interest because he has been mentioned in the investigation with Defenbaugh,” Louise Mosely said during the citizen’s forum. “I think anyone that involved should not be on the board.

Dr. Robert Mosely said in addition to the investigation, the $5 million deal with Rodgers-Wade made him ineligible due to a conflict of interest where decisions voted on by the board might benefit him personally.

The loan in question, which appears to have sparked the investigation being conducted by Defenbaugh & Associates, was actually a bank loan to Harrison Walker & Harper secured by Rodgers-Wade property. Wilson has not owned or been involved with the company since the late 1990s.

Grossnickle was absent from the June 23 meeting, resulting in a series of 3-3 votes. Hashmi said the appointments are supposed to be made by the end of June, and asked why the matter was not put on a June 30 special session where everyone was present.

“I don’t have a good reason for that. Honestly, I didn’t think of putting it on that meeting,” City Manager John Godwin said. “And no one requested it.”

Council approves Aldi site plan for old Hastings building

Paris’ newest grocery store could be open for business by the first of the year.

Extra_Logo_Slider_SizeParis City Council members approved a site plan Monday for Aldi’s proposed store in the old Hastings building in Paris Town Center.

“I don’t have an exact date yet,” said Bryan Burger, civil engineer for the project. “I do know they’re ready to submit a request for building permits. They’d start construction in about a month, six weeks, so probably four or five months after that.”

Burger said the renovation will redo the front of the building and parking lot to create an entryway with a few handicap spaces.

“We’ll tear out the sidewalk and the 30-foot driveway and replace it with new concrete,” he said.

In other business, the council approved funding for 10 new hangars at Cox Field. An agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation has the state paying for 90 percent of the project while the city pays for 10 percent, which comes to about $121,000.

That may not be the entire amount, however. Engineering Director Shawn Napier said the FAA will only contribute $600,000 to the project. If construction of the hangars costs more than that, the city has to cover the difference. TxDOT will still pay 90 percent of the hangar access and taxiway.

Councilman A.J. Hashmi expressed some concern about the open-ended nature of the cost.

“We have no idea how much it can go up,” he said.

He also asked how long it might take to recoup the costs from hangar rental fees. At an average cost of $150 a month, the 10 hangars should pay for the project in roughly seven years. The air field currently has a waiting list of 23 people wanting hangars.

“If the water department can collect its fees and be a profitable department, why can the airport not be profitable?” Hashmi said. “There needs to be some way of collecting more funds there.”

As the city looks at an overall development policy, Napier said, the pricing is also being examined in favor of a possible three-tier structure for private, airport businesses and corporate use. The city is also in the process of conducting a study of similar airports to see how Paris compares pricewise.

“You’re spending a lot of taxpayer money, but it only benefits a small portion of Paris,” Councilman Benny Plata said. “Most of the citizens don’t have anything to do with the airport. That’s my take on it. If it can be profitable, it needs to be profitable.”

That is the point of trying to develop the airport, Councilwoman Sue Lancaster replied.

Earlier in the meeting, Hashmi stepped down to the podium for the citizens forum to reiterate points made at the June 23 meeting about attempts to skirt open meeting requirements in Texas law.

PEDC chair says charges of inconsistency are ‘false’

 

PEDC Chair Rebecca Clifford updating city council on forensic investigation on  June 3, 2014

PEDC Chair Rebecca Clifford updating city council on forensic investigation on
June 3, 2014

PEDC Chair Rebecca Clifford has said the mayor’s allegation of inconsistencies in her reporting about the investigation into Paris Economic Development Corp. is false.

“There were no discrepancies between what I was told by Mr. Defenbaugh and what I reported to the City Council,” Clifford said Monday in a written memo to the City Council and PEDC board members. “There do appear to be inconsistencies, but the inconsistencies are not with my report.”

The PEDC board is set to discuss the investigation and a $21,075 invoice from Defenbaugh & Associates when it meets at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the community room of the Depot.

In a June 23 meeting, Mayor Matt Frierson said he had had a phone conversation with Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Grossnickle, City Manager John Godwin, City Attorney Kent McIlyar and investigator Danny Defenbaugh. As a result of that meeting, Frierson said Defenbaugh reported that Clifford instructed him not to produce any written reports.

Clifford said the report she gave to the council in early June was screened by Defenbaugh for accuracy, and he OK’d it.

“As per the contract between PEDC and Defenbaugh & Associates, I was provided a weekly oral status report,” she wrote. “I never received a written report from Mr. Defenbaugh, and I never instructed Mr. Defenbaugh not to provide a written report to me.”

She also said that Defenbaugh was told in the phone conversation “to wait for further direction before proceeding.” She said the investigation should have been completed in mid-June if not for the “interruptions.”

Frierson has denied any interference from the city in the investigation.

“I was not a part of the conversation that members of the City Council and city staff had with Mr. Defenbaugh, so I cannot confirm what was or was not said,” Clifford wrote.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:

  • A report from the executive director search committee.
  • Discussion and possible action on “tax abatement and incentive agreement compliance.”
  • Possible action on PEDC’s line of credit with Capital One.
  • Discussion and possible action on roof leaks at the Depot.