The Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre is a delightful place to see a children’s show.
Across town, a much-less-pleasant show went on last week. At a specially called meeting Monday, the Calhoun Port Authority staged a big production of pretending to be interested in the public’s best interests.
Alas, the show had an all-too-predictable ending: In a carefully scripted three minutes, the port board voted to keep fighting the Texas Open Meetings Act lawsuit the Victoria Advocate filed last May on the public’s behalf.
For those who missed the first act, the newspaper filed the lawsuit, as prescribed by the open government law, because the port board failed to properly notify the public of its intent to hire disgraced former Congressman Blake Farenthold. The newspaper asked then – and still does – that the board acknowledge its legal requirement to do the public’s business in public.
The port board could have settled this case almost immediately by simply posting the meeting properly and voting to hire Farenthold. That never happened.
Instead, the port board has opted to drive up attorney fees by appealing a district court ruling in the newspaper’s favor. The case remains pending on appeal.
The newspaper gets zero financial benefit from the case. The Advocate filed it only to protect the public’s right to know. This is no new position, no matter how the port tries to rewrite the script.
Port chairman Randy Boyd made a big show of pretending the Advocate had offered something new in calling this special meeting. First, he made a farce of a Port Lavaca Rotary Club meeting by badgering Advocate Editor and Publisher Chris Cobler. Rotary member Skip Sockell had invited Cobler to speak on the subject of engaging the community.
After Cobler presented his speech, Boyd dominated the audience floor so much that acting Rotary President Jan Regan ordered Boyd to stop. Afterward, Regan and many other Rotarians apologized to Cobler for Boyd’s conduct.
As events unfolded a week later, it became clear Boyd’s attempt to hijack the Rotary Club meeting was just part of a ruse to try to gain more votes in the May 4 election. Since the newspaper’s ongoing investigation has revealed Boyd’s serious conflicts of interest with owning a dredging company and serving on the port board, four people have filed to challenge him for his seat.
The other five current port board members are either unwitting or willing actors in what has become a tragedy at the public’s expense. The port’s special Austin attorney on the case, Bill Cobb, has billed the public about $400,000 and counting to keep fighting the lawsuit. At last week’s meeting, Cobb did all he could to keep the money train rolling in his direction, telling board members they had “absolutely not” violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, but had a 70 percent chance of winning should the case go to trial.
It takes considerable suspension of disbelief to equate “absolutely” to “70 percent.” Even if board members accepted Cobb’s questionable calculation of winning the case, they should realize by now that they are throwing good money after bad in keeping this doomed production afloat.
All the public’s money should be going toward improving the port, not playing politics. The other port board members have the power to draw the curtain on this sad show.
Perhaps they can get inspiration from the Port Lavaca Main Street Theatre, where rehearsals for “Charlotte’s Web” also went on last week. It’s not too late for the port to untangle itself from the trap it has woven.