Monday, September 10, 2012

Courting Elgin

Last year when the fires were raging, Jim Carpenter paid a visit to Bastrop County. Not to offer to help. Not to suggest a reduction in the obscene tax benefits bestowed by the 381 Agreement. Nope. As we discovered from the ‘lost’ documents featured in Pants on fire!, he came to wheel and deal with the Elgin Economic Development Corporation. The correspondence is sparse and there still seem to be gaps in the ‘land of the lost’. What we have of the story so far is collected in three ‘clumps’ of emails.

The first email ‘clump’ starts with this from Joe Newman, director of the Elgin EDC to David Glass, the president of the EEDC on September 20, 2011:

“I had a meeting this morning with some Central Texas Airport reps and they want our support of that project and another development that I had worked on while I was in Bastrop.

“They gave me a 3-page Confidentiality Agreement to sign and I plan to let our attorney look at it at tonight’s council meeting. They would also like you to sign it and attend a meeting with them where they will show us their business plan, financials, investors, etc.

“I know we need to handle this carefully since a lot of folks are against the project and specifically Jim Carpenter.”

To which David Glass responded the same day:

“I will be happy to meet with them. Your [sic] right about needing to handle it carefully. However, I feel we need to stay close to the developers just in case they can pull it off.”

Then a few days later on the 22 Joe Newman follows up with:

“I had our attorney look at the confidentiality agreement that the developer asked me to sign. They would also like you to be in the meeting and ask that you sign the document also. Would that be OK? This is much more than just the airport project. . . .”

This little exchange speaks volumes about the modus operandi of the development community - confidentiality agreements, deals behind closed doors, disdain (and fear) of public scrutiny and always ready to jump on the next enticing project.

Then about a week later on September 30 in the second flurry of emails, this pops up from Joe Newman to Jim Carpenter with a cc to David Glass:

“. . . I spoke with David Glass, Pres. of Elgin EDC board, last night and he said that he was very sorry to have missed your presentation yesterday and offered to meet you in Austin or wherever you prefer.

I’m going to cc David so you two can communicate directly if you like. . . .”

Here’s an excerpt from Jim Carpenter’s predictable response to Joe Newman and David Glass later that day:

“. . . I think it is very important the we assemble a group of trusted leaders in Elgin that are willing to work with us in a mutually beneficial manner. Some of the best and most loyal support that our project has received in Bastrop County has come from Elgin and we want to return the favor to those who have helped us. We are attempting to provide valuable advance information but only to certain individuals in Elgin that we can trust to maintain our critically important confidentiality until we make the announcement in concert with the respective businesses and their executives… “

If there was a meeting on September 29, there is no indication of it in the documents we have received from the ORR to the City of Elgin. Where was it held? Who was present? Did it even happen? The gap in the flow of correspondence seems rather suspect.

After a few days, the final emails include this from Paul Grabowski to Joe Newman and David Glass on October 3:

“Sorry we were unable to meet last week at Joe Newman office. We would like to schedule a meeting for this Thursday morning at 9am to discuss the Central Texas Airport project and two other major projects within the same area. Is that a good time for you? Please advise… The meeting will be in Joe Newman office conference room.

“We have also invited the following, Ronnie Moore, Bastrop County Engineer, Keith Snowden, Donna Jordan and Ed Rivers may attend .

“Jim Carpenter of Central Texas Airport. Robert Leffingwell and I will be presenters at the meeting.”

Yet another meeting involving several previously unmentioned players. Note that some recipients of this email were redacted. Now there are two other major projects? Are they related to the airport? Joe Newman was out of town and unable to attend the meeting but who else participated? Or did it even happen?

Two names on the list of invitees might have caught your attention - Ed Rivers, President of the Elgin Chamber now running for Bastrop County Judge and Ronnie Moore, Bastrop County Engineer. Is Ronnie Moore’s involvement with the EEDC and specifically the CTA project a conflict of interest with his position as Bastrop County Engineer? Other documents in StopCTA’s possession offer some insight.

Nowhere in these documents is there a description of what Carpenter was selling or what the other projects were. A call to Joe Newman was marginally informative. He claims that the specifics of Carpenter’s deal were never unveiled, that the Confidentiality Agreement was never signed and that Jim Carpenter has been MIA since then. Readers will have to come to their own conclusions about the veracity of that information.

And remember all this was happening while Bastrop was burning. That just feels soooo wrong . . .

There are still more questions than answers about what went down in Elgin and StopCTA is working very hard to answer each and every one.

A few answers . . .

StopCTA has learned (hopefully reliably) that the October 6 meeting did happen and that Ronnie Moore was not in attendance. Still no clue about the other independent but ‘airport related’ projects that were pitched at the same time. Mention of this meeting seems to trigger amnesia!

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