Calhoun Port Authority Chairman Randy Boyd, whose seat has gone uncontested for more than a decade, has gone on the attack by placing multiple advertisements in the Port Lavaca weekly newspaper.
Boyd is facing four opponents for the May 4 election. The unprecedented competition comes in the wake of a controversy that erupted last year after he directed port staff to hire disgraced U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist.
His opponents disagree with that hiring as well as Boyd continuing to fight a Texas Open Meetings Act lawsuit related to how that action occurred. They say Boyd is now trying to buy back his seat.
“I’ve spent a little over $600 total (on the campaign), and that’s a tremendous amount of money to me and my family. This guy has to be up in the thousands, and it makes you really question why he wants to stay there so badly,” said Luis De La Garza, one of Boyd’s opponents.
Boyd’s has placed four ads in the Port Lavaca Wave since Feb. 20, but he won’t have to report how much he’s spent on them until campaign filings are due April 4.
The ads contain several inaccuracies about Farenthold’s hiring and the subsequent lawsuit by the Victoria Advocate on behalf of the public. The ads also mischaracterize Boyd’s opponents and the Advocate.
Hiring and lawsuit
The lawsuit seeks in part to nullify the hiring of Farenthold because the public was not notified about it as required by open government laws.
The port’s attorney, Bill Cobb, has argued that a judge or a jury cannot nullify the hiring because the board did not hire Farenthold. He has argued that the port director, Charles Hausmann, did.
Boyd’s half-page ad March 6 repeats Cobb’s argument.
Specifically, Boyd wrote that the board has the authority only to hire the port director and the assistant port director.
But an employee manual effective at the time of Farenthold’s hiring states, “The port director shall consult with the commissioners before determining which applicant best qualifies for the position.”
John W. Griffin Jr., who represents the newspaper in the lawsuit, said that a plain reading of that manual is that the board hasn’t delegated its responsibility to hire.
Additionally, minutes from previous board meetings show the board has voted to hire employees other than the port director or assistant port director. In August 2013, the board took a vote and unanimously approved hiring David Knuckey as the port’s director of engineering services.
Boyd also used an ad to explain why he is against settling the lawsuit.
“With a bank balance of over $28,000,000.00 I think others will be waiting in the wings to sue the Port Authority for the same alleged violation if the Advocate’s suit is settled (sic),” he wrote.
But Griffin said Boyd’s explanation is not grounded in logic or the law.
“The courts do not allow double recovery, and they do not allow people to be responsible twice for the same act,” Griffin said.
The Advocate also is not seeking any compensation from the port other than its attorney’s fees should it win the lawsuit. The open meetings act provides this recourse if any member of the public demonstrates a public body violated the law.
Records show that the port has so far paid its attorneys $428,000 while Griffin said the Advocate’s legal bill is about $75,000. Griffin said the difference shows why the Texas Open Meetings Act allows the public to recover its attorney fees –public bodies can use government’s deep pockets to fight any open government lawsuit.
One of Boyd’s ads also mischaracterize De La Garza’s testimony in the lawsuit.
Griffin said he asked De La Garza to testify to disprove the port’s argument that people in Calhoun County were unconcerned about the hiring of Farenthold.
“He serves on the tax appraisal board, he’s on the board of the YMCA and he’s a member of Our Lady of the Gulf, so he is a person who has a good feel for the pulse of the community when it comes to ethics, governmental affairs and leadership,” Griffin said.
Specifically, Boyd wrote in the ad that De La Garza “pleaded the Fifth Amendment” when he testified.
“The Fifth Amendment is pleaded by persons who are concerned that their answers under oath may subject them to criminal proceedings. What does Mr. De La Garza have to hide ...?” Boyd wrote.
In an interview last week with the Advocate, De La Garza said he was frustrated because the port’s attorney kept asking him the same question in a different ways during the deposition.
“Finally, I got to a point where I told him, ‘I have answered the same question over and over and over. I am not going to change my story,’” De La Garza said.
A transcript from the deposition shows that the line of questioning had to do with why De La Garza thought people in Calhoun County cared about the hiring of Farenthold. De La Garza testified that they cared because of who Farenthold is and because of how much he was being paid – $160,000 annually.
Boyd also testified in the lawsuit and said, “I don’t know” in response to multiple questions.
Boyd’s latest ad March 13 mischaracterizes what was said during an Aug. 16 interview he did with the Advocate by telephone.
On Aug. 19, the Advocate published an investigative report about the conflicts of interests that exist between Boyd’s dredging company, RLB Contracting Inc., and his role as port board chairman.
The stories centered on how, in 2015, Farenthold’s staff arranged a meeting between Boyd and Army Corps of Engineers officials.
The Advocate reported that during that meeting, Boyd proposed RLB use material it had excavated for a job it had with a company in the private sector on the Houston Ship Channel. The corps rejected his proposal. This reporting was based in part off of a letter the Advocate obtained as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. The letter was written by Col. Richard P. Pannell, who was then in command of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Galveston District.
Boyd’s March 13 ad asserts that the Advocate told him it had interviewed Pannell. The ad questions why, after interviewing Pannell, the Advocate published a story about the meeting, proclaiming the coverage to be “fake news.”
In the recorded interview, the Advocate did not tell Boyd that it had interviewed Pannell, nor did it offer any opinion about his meeting with the colonel.
After Boyd said, “The government is not allowed to accept a gift,” the reporter agreed with that interpretation of Pannell’s letter.
Boyd has served on the port board from 1997 to 2005 and from 2007 to present.
He represents an area of the city loosely bound by Half League Road on the north, Lavaca Bay on the south, SH 35 on the west and Lake Placido Road on the east.
When Boyd last had an opponent in 2007, fewer than 600 votes were cast.
On May 4, voters will have not one but four other choices. De La Garza, Paul Lauterbach, Roger Hochgraber and Alvin Bland are all running.
Of those four, only De La Garza has placed a newspaper ad so far. He said he spent $289 to place a quarter-page ad in the Feb. 20 edition of the Wave. Lauterbach said he’s put up one sign in his front yard while Hochgraber said he can’t afford to do either.
“He’s throwing things out there, and in my opinion, the citizens don’t have the information needed to back it up,” Hochgraber said. “He’s got the money to throw at it, and he’s got a lot to lose if he doesn’t win.”