POINT COMFORT – Former Congressman Blake Farenthold will keep his $160,000 lobbying job even though he lost the support of half of the Calhoun Port Authority’s board members.
During a special meeting Thursday, the port’s board deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to fire Farenthold, meaning he will keep his job for now.
“At this time, Mr. Farenthold stays,” board president Randy Boyd said.
Board members J.C. Melcher Jr., Tony Holladay Sr. and Aron Luna voted to terminate Farenthold. Boyd, as well as board members Tony Wehmeyer Jr. and Dell Weathersby, voted to keep him.
Board members declined to answer questions after the meeting.
Their deadlocked decision came after another vote to allow board members to reconsider Farenthold’s hiring. In a 4-2 vote, the board decided to move ahead with a decision on Farenthold. Boyd and Weathersby voted against considering Farenthold’s contract.
Board members convened their closed session at 4:30 p.m. Farenthold requested the discussion be held behind closed doors.
Board members remained behind closed doors for about 90 minutes before taking the first vote. They then went back into closed session for about 10 minutes before taking the second vote in public and adjourning.
Farenthold was not present at the meeting and did not answer phone calls afterward. At a Texas Tribune event last week, Farenthold said he would not talk to reporters because he was now a private citizen — despite his employment with the port authority, which is a public, governmental organization.
The special meeting came three days after attorneys representing the Victoria Advocate filed a lawsuit against the port authority. The lawsuit claims port officials broke the Texas Open Meetings Act by failing to properly announce discussion of Farenthold’s hiring at a May 9 meeting. The agenda for that meeting did not mention his name, salary or position.
No public comment was allowed at Thursday’s special meeting.
Nonetheless, Port Lavaca resident Paul Lauterbach, 48, missed his daughter’s high school graduation party to attend.
“I don’t get involved in this stuff ever, but this ... is over the top,” Lauterbach said.
Although Lauterbach said he was disappointed by board members conducting the meeting behind closed doors, he was most offended by their hiring of the disgraced congressman.
“He’s radioactive. There are people in Congress that have already said they don’t want anything to do with him,” he said. “No one wants to touch him.”
Lauterbach, who is a Republican, said he lost respect for Farenthold after the former congressman failed to keep his promise to repay $84,000 of taxpayers’ money that was used to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit with a former staffer. Farenthold has said the decision to keep the money was made on the advice of his lawyer.
Lauterbach found that reasoning inadequate.
“Why would you ever not do the right thing because your attorney told you?” he said.
That failure to keep his word, Lauterbach said, was further evidence Farenthold was a bad choice for the port authority job.
“They thought no one would notice,” he said.
John Griffin, a Victoria attorney representing the Advocate in its lawsuit, said board members still have far to go in recognizing the importance of transparent government. The purpose of the Advocate’s lawsuit, he said, is to send a message that the public deserves notice of important decisions − such as the hiring of a $160,000 lobbyist.
Although board members named Farenthold this time on their agenda, Griffin said, they have yet to reveal their reasoning for hiring him or follow the open meetings law. Instead, they have relied on an “oral arrangement” with the ex-congressman, he said.
“No one has ever explained in any meaningful way to the public how it’s in the best interest ... to hire this man for this job at $160,000 a year,” Griffin said. “The public is entitled to more than that.”
And even if board members had successfully terminated Farenthold at their Thursday meeting, he said, doing so would have been meaningless.
“The port authority can’t fire someone who was never lawfully hired in the first place,” he said.
With a lack of action from the board, Griffin said the lawsuit would move forward in Calhoun County district court. Now that board members have been officially notified of the lawsuit, they will have until June 4 to file a response.
“It just means the lawsuit is full steam ahead,” he said.