Plans for acquiring property meant to boost economic development on Main Street in Buda ended April 30 when city leaders voted 7-0 to officially end the venture.
The formal decision to do so, however, was preceded by weeks of uncertainty, a factor in the backbiting between the city and the Buda Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
Sources allege Buda officials purposely canceled meetings with the EDC meant to update them on the project, as the city accused the EDC of entering into contracts without its blessing.
The controversy centers on “Pink Sunshine,” a project the Buda Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and its Board of Directors had been working on since 2017.
Pink Sunshine consisted of acquiring roughly six acres of land owned by Billy and Tammy Gray on Main Street across from the new city hall facility. The project, a $2.5 million investment, was part of an updated Economic Development Strategic Retail Plan approved by Buda city leaders in February.
Pink Sunshine was meant to anchor a “walkable and bikeable” Main Street district that EDC officials envisioned stretching from South Loop 4 near the Buda Mill and Grain to Interstate 35 connection on the north side of town. Funding for the project was to come from $4 million in EDC reserves.
EDC’s board of directors approved Pink Sunshine by a 6-0 vote with former director John Hatch abstaining. EDC officials then planned to present the agreement, which included a proposed contract for the acquisition, to city council. The EDC requested the agreement as an amendment to its budget for the project.
According to Texas Local Government code, EDCs are able to execute agreements, but city councils approve all programs and expenditures.
Ambiguity on the Buda dais
But in a resolution passed by a split 4-3 vote April 30, Buda officials accused the EDC of entering into a contract to purchase the property without consent or approval of the Buda City Council.
The resolution cited a March 26 meeting where the Buda City Council was requested to approve a Buda EDC budget amendment to “appropriate funds to purchase the property for Pink Sunshine.”
That item sought to amend the Fiscal Year 2018-19 Buda EDC budget. Pink Sunshine or any other items related to the project were not identified in the agenda item.
However, Buda Mayor George Haehn said March 26 the city council opted to forgo a presentation on the FY 2018-19 EDC budget as, he said, “the executive session presentation was sufficient” for the city council to make a determination.
At that same meeting, Buda city leaders approved 7-0 a motion to amend the “Buda EDC Sportsplex Budget” for lighting at Buda’s Sportsplex. City leaders, however, did not directly address Pink Sunshine or take a formal on-the-record vote on that item in regular session. Some who attended the meeting felt there was no action taken on the item.
However, City Attorney George Hyde said that because city council didn’t act on the Pink Sunshine request, it was a “non-approval” by the city council. City leaders did not formally vote to approve or deny the project when they reconvened in open session March 26.
Several days later, City Manager Kenneth Williams sent an email to former Buda EDC board President Jose Montoya and former Buda EDC Executive Director Ann Miller citing the city council’s “non-support of the project,” according to the April 30 resolution.
City officials also accused the EDC of failing to “timely inform” the city regarding the status of various contracts and commitments the EDC had with Pink Sunshine, and that the EDC did not hold public hearings regarding the purchase, which was in excess of $2 million. According to the April 30 resolution, the city alleged Pink Sunshine appeared “unprepared and rushed” to city leaders without cause.
The resolution said the city council never authorized undertaking of Pink Sunshine and didn’t have a desire to move forward with it.
But according to sources, Williams never responded to the EDC’s attempts to update city staff on Pink Sunshine and other economic development projects.
Sources said seven out of 12 update meetings scheduled by the EDC over the past year had been canceled. The EDC attempted to reschedule them “to no avail.” City leaders also tabled a March 5 item relating to the project.
The Hays Free Press reached out to Williams for comment on the alleged cancelled meetings and clarification on the March 26 city council vote.
Williams referred the Hays Free Press to Hyde for questions.
Those associated with Pink Sunshine also allege Williams had directed city council members not to talk with Susan Harris, the “site selector” for Grays’ property, when she inquired about giving 15-minute presentations to them individually.
Williams said in an April 8 email the “consensus” of the city council was not to purchase the Gray property and that the EDC had been informed.
Harris, however, said in an email she was unaware that Buda city leaders had made a decision on the item. Harris said she believed the March 26 item to amend the EDC budget was “not taken up and entirely ignored.”
Harris said she reached out to Buda city leaders to talk to them about Pink Sunshine individually because she was “under the specific impression” that city leaders were still analyzing the project.
The Hays Free Press reached out to Williams for comment on his email to city council members regarding Harris.
Williams declined to comment on the emails, labeling questions asked by the Hays Free Press as based on “false” information.
“I cannot comment right now on things I’m not aware of,” Williams said. “When time comes for me to comment, I will comment.”