Most don’t mind paying a small tax if they think their government is truly representing them and providing a needed service.
The Calhoun Port Authority levies only a small tax, but its board members have demonstrated they aren’t acting in the public’s interest. They showed this again during their last meeting when board chairman Randy Boyd suggested the port stop collecting taxes at all.
That might sound good on the surface, but the move is so transparent and arrogant that it’s alarming. The port is a critical public asset for Calhoun County and the Crossroads region. The port board needs to manage this asset much more efficiently and much more transparently.
Through extensive in-depth reporting this year, the Victoria Advocate has shown how the port board has wasted taxpayers’ money, starting with hiring disgraced former Congressman Blake Farenthold at an illegal meeting. The board has continued to employ Farenthold at a cost of $13,333 a month while failing to provide to the public any evidence that he’s doing anything at all as a lobbyist.
When defending the illegal hiring, the port board claimed Farenthold was needed to quickly lobby Congress to authorize money to repair long-defective jetties in the Matagorda Ship Channel. Yet, the former congressman has shown zero progress on this effort.
The repair on the jetties has been needed for almost 20 years, but port board members likewise have shown zero progress on enhancing Calhoun’s important public asset. Instead, they hired a former congressman apparently as a political payback for help with the board chairman’s dredging business and gave themselves a one-of-kind retirement package. They even pay themselves $400 a meeting. If that weren’t enough, they had the gall, amid all this public scrutiny, to spend $19,000 to send three board members and their spouses on a junket to Chile.
If the port has all this extra cash, the public is rightly asking, why hasn’t it been directed toward repairing the jetties?
Instead of answering to the public, the port board is trying to be more secretive. Presumably, the chairman wants to eliminate levying a tax so the board can stop being governed by the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act.
The board already has authorized spending up to $80,000 on a costly Austin attorney to fight the Victoria Advocate’s open meetings lawsuit filed on behalf of the public. The board could have chosen to properly post the meeting and vote again on whether to hire Farenthold. Instead, the board chose to waste tax dollars on fighting the lawsuit.
Fortunately, Texas law is not on the side of the port board in any effort to get out from under public scrutiny.
Joe Larsen, a Houston attorney who serves on the board of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, noted the port authority is a political subdivision created by the Texas Legislature.
“That won’t change, even if it eliminates taxes and sustains itself through fees or other means,” he said.
Unfortunately, the port board has shown a reckless disregard for the law and the public.