Payne removed from EDC board
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Marc Payne, chairman of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation board, was formally removed from the board by the Copperas Cove city council during its Tuesday evening meeting.
Payne had served on the board for nearly two years, but his actions prior to and following an EDC special board meeting on August 7 came into question where it concerned Payne’s handling of the EDC’s legal representation. Place 1 councilman David Morris, council liaison to the EDC, first brought the matter to the council during its August 15 meeting.
When bringing the item before the council on Tuesday, Morris called the matter an “open and shut discussion,” pointing to Payne summoning the Knight Law Firm to an August 7 special meeting of the EDC, during which the EDC was set to vote on an amendment to the land exchange agreement between the EDC, the city, and Coryell County commissioners, an agreement already approved in May by all three entities.
Morris contended that although the EDC board had selected the Knight Law firm for its representation, there was no executed contract between the EDC and the firm. The contract would spell out things such as terms of service, billing, cost of service and other matters between the EDC and the firm.
A motion to remove Payne was proposed by George Duncan and seconded by Matthew Russell. Councilman Jay Manning followed up with an amendment that the council postpone the action “indefinitely,” which was seconded by Dan Yancey. That amendment of the motion did not pass, with the other five council members disagreeing.
Yancey said that while he didn’t agree with some of Payne’s actions, he didn’t know if the actions warranted his removal from the board.
“I think that he has done what he was tasked to do, whether or not some of it was misguided, whether or not any counseling was done about that type of situation, I don’t know that,” Yancey said, adding that if counseling hadn’t been done, then it should be.
Manning’s concern was about how the action to remove Payne from the board came about.
“I don’t believe it’s ever in order for staff to question elected or appointed officials,” Manning said. “They represent the people. If we ever get past that point, our whole system is in danger. And that’s my problem with taking this course of action.”
During the August 8 city council meeting, city manager Andrea Gardner talked about the inaction of the EDC board on August 7 to approve the amendment to the land exchange.
At that time, Gardner told the council, “The EDC board in my opinion failed to conduct the duties that you appointed them to do, to authorize something as simple as an extension of an agreement that was already made, with all people present. Now what you do about that is your business, but it was very embarrassing that we could not approve a simple extension that the city asked for. The county wasn’t asking for it. They’re ready to go to closing on Friday.”
During that August 7 meeting, board members appeared to backpedal on the original land exchange agreement altogether, wondering if the EDC could have received more money for the property due to the certified property values being released, which hadn’t taken place by the time of the original agreement.
On Tuesday night, Payne took to the podium to give his perspective, during which he pointed the finger at fellow EDC board members for not taking action on the amendment for the already-approved land exchange. Some board members who were present when the amendment was on the agenda were not present at the meeting when the original agreement was approved.
“We had four members of the board, two of which did not make a motion or second anything,” Payne said. “I asked twice and I did not receive any. What was I supposed to do, get up and beat them with a stick?”
Yancey asked Tuesday evening if there was any discussion before or after the meeting about what the protocol should have been, and Payne said no, stating that “everyone left in a tiff” and it was “chaos” after the meeting.
“I cannot make them act,” Payne said Tuesday night of the other board members.
When being grilled about the Knight Law Firm’s presence at that August 7 meeting, Payne said the firm reps had asked if they could attend, but Morris pointed out in Payne’s letter to the council and county officials dated August 9, Payne had stated that the firm reps were present at his request.
“After they asked, I requested that they be there. I don’t see the big problem,” Payne explained. He also said he’d been trying to abide by what the council and what the citizens’ best choice is. “I’m not trying to overtake anything or push anything through. I was trying to do what I was thought was expected of me.”
Of the EDC’s interim legal representative, Dan Santee, with the same law firm that represents the city of Copperas Cove, Payne said there were a “couple incidents with the lawyer we were using and we no longer trusted him” and that he had sent out the letter to Knight firm, believing it was the proper way to do things.
“The lawyers, after we had discussed it for a while, said they had some questions, and so it proceeded from there… They asked if they could come to the meeting, and we said sure.”
Payne said the firm was simply present at the August 7 meeting and did “absolutely nothing, they just sat in the back of the room.”
The August 9 letter from Payne sent to the city council members did include a list of questions from the Knight Law Firm related to the original land exchange agreement.
Payne said he believed that the letter he sent to the Knight Law Firm was something the city secretary had asked him to do and that he talked to Marc Farmer, the EDC’s executive director, about sending the letter, but he did not send out the turndown letters to the other firms after there appeared to be concerns after the August 7 special meeting.
On Tuesday night, fellow EDC board member Christian Mulvey also addressed the council during citizens’ forum ahead of time in Payne’s defense.
Mulvey said there was a “stark difference between unprofessional and passionate” and that in his opinion, Payne was passionate about the EDC and Copperas Cove.
“As a city official, council member, or board member, we are not always going to agree, be popular, nor see eye to eye, or may even say some things that may hurt somebody’s feelings. However, if such things are said with merit and justification, are they wrong? Should they not be said? I have never witnessed Marc Payne making unwarranted statements. What I have witnessed is him stating questions that needed to be asked and he has persisted when the answers are vague.” He said that if Payne was dismissed by the council, it would be a disservice to the EDC and to the citizens of the city.
The EDC now has four seated board members to include Jimmy Hammond, Christian Mulvey, Adam Martin and Harald Weldon. The board is a five-member board, with members appointed by the Copperas Cove city council to three-year terms.
The EDC board has a scheduled planning session set for Tuesday, September 13, starting at 9 a.m. during which it will meet with the Economic Development Department staff.