In less than five minutes Wednesday, the Calhoun Port Authority board of directors unanimously approved the next year’s budget, which projects a net revenue of about $4.1 million.
The board wrote in its agenda that it would go into closed session afterward to discuss an employee and consult with their lawyer, but the board decided not to.
This comes after lawyers consulted by the Advocate said if the board came out of closed session and voted to either terminate or continue retaining former Congressman Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist, it would have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act a second time.
Because Farenthold is of high public interest and is earning a $160,000-a-year salary, his name must be on the agenda if the board plans to discuss him.
The board did not do this when Board Chairman Randy L. Boyd told Port Director Charles Hausmann to hire Farenthold after it came out of a closed session during a meeting May 9 and so the Victoria Advocate sued.
District Judge Robert “Bobby” Bell is expected to meet with both parties to the lawsuit July 18 in Victoria before depositions are taken.
The only question asked about the budget came from Board Chairman Randy L. Boyd, who was interested in how much payroll was expected to increase.
Hausmann said the port has 14 hourly employees, and payroll for them is expected to increase by 2.47 percent.
Hausmann said after the meeting that the port also has four salaried employees, including Farenthold.
A look at the port’s 2019 budget, which includes Farenthold’s position as a lobbyist, shows that when hourly and salaried employees are added together, there’s actually an 11.39 percent increase in payroll.
Overall, there’s expected to be a 6.25 percent decrease in expenditures in 2019.
“With that, do we need to go into closed session today?” Boyd asked after the budget was unanimously approved.
“No sir, there’s no need to have a closed session today,” Hausmann replied.
Boyd declined to comment about Farenthold afterward.
Farenthold resigned from Congress on April 6, facing an ethics investigation and criticism for using $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint brought against him by a former staffer.
And although he initially promised to pay back the amount, he has since said his lawyer has advised him not to. He also told Gov. Greg Abbott that he would not pay for the expense of the special election to fill the remainder of his term. That election is Saturday and is expected to cost Victoria County as much as $30,000 and Calhoun County as much as $15,000.
Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller said he told the governor’s office that he did not think a special election was necessary.
“But it’s the governor’s prerogative, and we, as the county, will always do our duty to conduct these elections and so that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
When asked if he placed any of the blame on Farenthold, Zeller said, “His was a horribly timed departure, no doubt.”
The board’s next meeting is expected to be at 9 a.m. July 11 at the port authority’s office, which is at 2313 Farm-to-Market Road 1593 South in Point Comfort.