Following a heated discussion last week, new members were appointed to Sealy’s Economic Development Corp.
The EDC formed in 1997 and uses sales tax revenues to recruit new businesses to the area and create job opportunities.
In a 4-3 vote – with council members Larry Koy, John Hinze and Jennifer Sullivan opposed – EDC members Adam Burttschell and Sterling Schiller were reappointed to the panel, and Councilwoman Dee Anne Lerma and Wyn McCready were also tapped to serve.
Koy wanted to keep his seat on the EDC and asked for Schiller, Burttschell and Debra Luckett to be reappointed.
The decision came after Mischelle McCarthy and Diane Wuthrich, who ran against Koy and Sullivan for city council earlier this month and subsequently applied to serve on the EDC board, voiced concerns that the board doesn’t meet monthly as it is supposed to and has struggled in recruiting new businesses.
“When I was running for city council I educated myself about what was going on in Sealy and I was really taken aback by the EDC,” McCarthy said. “Last year they skipped six meetings. This year they just had their first one for the year last Tuesday. I know they are required to have a meeting once a month. They get one-third of the tax revenue. Show up at the meetings. Let’s come together, let’s be in each other’s faces, let’s come up with ideas. Let’s go out and talk to the citizens and find out what they want because I can assure you it is not another Mexican restaurant. It is not another industrial place.”
Wuthrich said she believed most of the money funneled to the EDC was going to an existing local business rather than recruiting new ones.
“I see how much the utilities are going to have to go up to try and get that money in the Sealy city coffers,” she said, adding that the EDC leadership has not been effective or enthusiastic in seeking new businesses. “I’m really tired of hearing, ‘let’s keep Sealy little.’ We can’t afford it anymore.”
McCready and Schiller also spoke during the May 22 council meeting, highlighting what they thought they could contribute.
Resident Becky Funk, who did not apply to serve on the EDC, addressed the council by saying that she wanted the council to consider that the EDC might benefit from representation by members of the public rather than elected council members. She acknowledged that she understood there’s no requirement prohibiting council members from simultaneously serving on the EDC board.
“If you’re on city council you’re already giving your opinion or your vote or your ideas,” she said. “I think the boards need to be clear that people who aren’t already on council have some contributions to make.”
Councilman Koy defended the EDC’s recent activity, highlighting the accomplishments of Economic Development Director Kim Meloneck and pointing out that she spearheaded the recruitment of Sika international manufacturing company and SNC Lavalin, another manufacturing plant.
“I’m trying to think of a nice way to put this. The EDC has done, I believe, a great job,” he said. “The two people who are vying to get on it sitting there have translated their enthusiasm to Ms. Funk over here which is trying to tear down the EDC. You can shake your head no but that’s true.”
Mayor Janice Whitehead asked Koy to not point fingers at members of the audience. At one point McCarthy tried to respond to Koy and was cut off. Typically members of the public are allowed three minutes to address individual agenda items, but there is no back-and-forth dialogue between the public and the council.
“I’m very proud of the three people that are on the board right now,” Koy said. “I don’t know what the movement is. I do, in the background, in the back of my mind. I guarantee you one thing. You’re going to lose a lot of experience and you’re going to lose a lot of knowledge and you’re going to lose a lot of faith in the people that are pushing this thing.”
Councilwoman Lerma said she felt her years of business experience would be an asset to the EDC board.
“I’m excited about the growth coming this way, however I do think it needs to be controlled growth,” she said. “I would just love to be a part of it and I actually like the idea of rotating council members.”
Councilwoman Sullivan did not mention Wuthrich and McCarthy by name but indicated they would not be a good fit for the board.
“I will say that two of the individuals that applied and ran for office and were backed by the Save Our Sealy Association disturbs me because the Save Our Sealy Association has made ugly, cyberbullying comments about the EDC director,” she said. “So I feel like that would not be a good fit.”
Council members Chris Noack and Sandra Vrablec said they were “speechless” after the exchange.
Lerma thanked those who volunteer their time to serve on a board.
“I know it’s a selfless act to want to be on any board or commission because it does take time away from your family,” she said. “I appreciate any board members who are currently serving. Thank you for all your hard work and I hope we can move forward.”
A transcript of this portion of the May 22 Sealy City Council meeting is available at sealynews.com.