POINT COMFORT – Night fell on the Calhoun Port Authority office Monday as the board discussed a rough draft of bylaws for nearly two hours during a special meeting.
“We’re on page 16 of 43 pages, and I’ve got many, many, many more recommendations (and questions). How late do we want to go?” said board member Luis De La Garza just before the board decided to continue the conversation at a future meeting.
The board does not currently have bylaws.
It has been governed by the special district local laws code since the Legislature created it in 1953, although the board has passed resolutions in the past regarding how long the chairman serves, board members’ compensation and under what circumstances the public can address the board.
This is the first discussion of the bylaw draft, so the port will not take action to approve the bylaws anytime soon.
De La Garza challenged the bylaw draft page by page with board members using a digital copy he had annotated.
The board member has wanted the port to create bylaws since he won his seat from a longtime incumbent in May, but he was not on the committee tasked with that responsibility.
De La Garza’s suggestions about cutting out or modifying the board’s pension plan option was met with particularly tense opposition.
“If you guys want to continue to receive it, you can receive it, but the language that I am looking forward to having put into our bylaws is that future commissioners will not receive it,” he said. “There will be no more compensation plan after you guys leave office.”
The Victoria Advocate previously called 24 deep ports along the Gulf Coast that are members of and responded to a compensation survey by the American Port Authorities Association, along with 21 other ports along the Gulf Coast, to ask if they offered retirement benefits to their board members.
None had these benefits except for the Calhoun Port Authority, which gives members the option of having $125 deposited into a retirement or deferred compensation plan.
Both of its new members, De La Garza and Jay Cuellar, chose not to opt into that plan.
Board chairman J.C. Melcher Jr. said De La Garza’s recommendation would encounter legal issues. One of the port’s attorneys agreed.
“The law allows for it, and you would be binding future boards for something that the law allows for,” attorney Sandy Witte said.
The law allows the option but does not require it, and future board members can evaluate the option during their terms, De La Garza argued.
“If it is not against the law, then you can clearly state that is an option,” he said.
Both De La Garza and board member Johnny J. Perez took issue with a line in the draft that said “a commissioner should refrain from speaking to the media and press.”
“I’m not one that really talks to the media, but I think we have a right to,” Perez said.
Not allowing members to talk to the press would violate the U.S. Constitution, said David Roberts, one of the port’s attorneys.
“That is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I know somebody may not want 15 stories coming from 15 board members ... but I don’t think you can put it in here (the bylaws),” he said.
Members of the board verbally agreed to remove that line from the draft and suggested clarifying that comments from board members to the media do not reflect the position of the board.
Other suggestions, made almost entirely by De La Garza, were discussed, including a request to clearly state that members can decline compensation for travel and meetings and define “excessive” when referring to gifts members could not accept from clients.
Those requests were met with approval, though other suggestions, like clarifying the formula for seats up for election each year, were not welcomed by everyone.
“We can’t change that without going to the Legislature,” Melcher said.
“He just want the words in here to clarify; I can write the clarification that it is three every election term,” Witte explained.
“We could literally just close this laptop and just say, ‘Well, let’s just go with what is out there,” and that is not the right thing to do. It is not,” De La Garza said in a moment of frustration.
After the meeting, he said he anticipated a final draft of the bylaws and adoption to take multiple months, though the actual timeline cannot be anticipated.
“We’re really trying. I really believe that, and it is all for the taxpayers,” he said.