Judge makes sweeping changes to commission

Hebron removes executive director, board members

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In a sweeping move, County Judge Lucy Hebron has begun the reorganization of the Wood County Economic Development Commission (WCEDC).

Kiki Bettis was removed from her position as executive director of the WCEDC, formerly the Wood County Industrial Commission (WCIC) by Hebron Sept. 30. In a brief meeting, Hebron thanked Bettis for her service and told her that her service was no longer needed. Hebron told Bettis the commission was going in a new direction.

Bettis said, “I went in for what I thought was a meeting. I sat down and was there about 45 seconds. I was totally shocked.”

Bettis, who was in her fifth year as executive director, was caught off guard by the action. “I just don’t understand….I don’t know what I did wrong. I have never been written up or reprimanded. I loved my job and working for the people of Wood County. I appreciate the board members, past and present, for all of their support.”

Hebron is looking to move the commission forward in a “new” direction. “As you know, I ran for public office with the goal of improving Wood County’s quality of life. Economic development has been one of my top priorities since taking office because one of the duties of the county judge is to promote economic development. That is why in my second month as county judge, I appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force to research and review the Wood County Industrial Commission and tasked it with reviewing the entity and researching whether any changes or improvements might be in order, and if so, what changes might be in order,” Hebron explained.

“The recommendations the group formulated were detailed, specific recommendations on how to improve and make better the single, and most important, economic development entity in Wood County,” she said. “One of the recommendations was to reduce the size of the board (an idea that the board itself had discussed in years past) and another recommendation was that the entity adhere to and follow the statutory framework established in the Local Government Code. I wish to ensure the continued viability of this crucial entity by following the statutory guidelines and by making recommended and much needed improvements. 

“The restructuring of the board is one of those recommendations we are now in the process of implementing. We are heading in a new direction. But, regardless of the composition of the board and this new direction, the mission of the entity remains the same and is in fact, mandated by the state statute, and that is to promote the prosperous development of business, industry and commerce in the county,” Hebron added.

“We thank those past directors, chairpersons and executive directors that have given of their time over the years to promote economic development in our county. I am excited about the future direction of the Wood County Economic Development Commission and look forward to working with the board and the new interim chair, Neal Duncan, who has held that position in the past. Mr. Duncan has also graciously agreed to serve as an interim executive director. I encourage all Wood County citizens to assist us in the effort to improve Wood County’s quality of life for all residents and we appreciate their support in this new direction.” 

Several board members received a form letter thanking them for their service and noting their terms had expired. The terms of Gerald and Lowe Ann Elliott of Winnsboro were not up, but they resigned their positions on the board leaving two open spots. 

Bettis said she had been trying to get recommendations by the board on the commissioner’s meeting agenda since August. On Aug. 14, Bettis submitted to the judge’s office agenda items concerning reduction in the size of the board, the name change, board member term limits along with mission and vision statements. The name change was the only one eventually acted upon. 

Duncan did receive a letter informing him his term was up. Hebron asked him to serve as interim chair and interim executive director. He agreed and volunteered to do both positions. He is not receiving any compensation for the interim executive director’s position. Duncan did receive a letter Oct. 3 from Hebron thanking him for agreeing to stay on the board and for agreeing to serve as interim chairperson and interim executive director. 

Duncan explained his involvement. “As far as I knew my term was ending. I got the same letter everybody did. Judge Hebron asked me to serve because I have done that before. I have been the chairman and I served as interim executive director before we hired Kiki (Bettis). It is an interim deal. I’m not being compensated and I told the judge I would like to make it as brief a period of time as possible because I do have my businesses to run. She asked me to do it so I agreed,” Duncan said. “The judge’s instructions to me were business as usual. I was asked to do a job and that is what I am doing. The people on the board now happen to be those whose terms are not up. I think everyone should be patient and see who are in those seats when there is no interim in front of anybody’s title. We all want the same thing, economic development for Wood County.”

The current board is Misty Davis, Alba; Joanne Wisdom, Quitman; Allene Dogget and Duncan, Mineola; and Cynthia Stansell and Gwen Winters, of Jarvis College.

Hebron also added Greg Hollen and Vic Savelli, both of Mineola, to the commission board.

Some of the cities involved in the organization have recently appointed people to the board. Byron George, Alba, was just appointed to the board, yet he got a letter. Longtime members Sam and Martha Scroggins, who represent Quitman, got letters that their terms had expired and thanking them for their service. Both of them were appointed to the board by Mayor Randy Dunn at the Sept. 26 Quitman city council meeting. Dana Donahue was just named chairman of the commission board, yet she received a letter also. 

Outgoing board member and past chairman Sam Scroggins expressed concerns. “One of my concerns is that part of the reason the initial recommendations of the task force were not agreeable to many on the board was because the task force was made up of almost all Mineola residents. I felt the other communities didn’t have any say in those recommendations. Now we are seeing as the new economic development commission is being set up it also appears to be a lopsided Mineola presence,” Scroggins said. “The new people are good people, they are knowledgeable and talented, but it still seems unbalanced for the rest of the county. Neal’s term had expired so it looks like it’s being stacked with Mineola presence. I’ve worked with all of those people and they are very bright and capable, but it’s still not balanced and not healthy for the county.”

Scroggins was further concerned about the dispersion of Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds. “One other concern is they don’t seem to be paying attention to the HOT funds and the fact that the distribution of those HOT funds is extremely important to the county, especially to the fishing tournaments and the merchants around Lake Fork who bring in the dominant share of those HOT funds. I don’t think they are paying enough attention to the importance of those funds and the assurance those funds are going to be distributed where the revenue is being generated.”

Ken Donahue is a former Ochiltree county judge who owns Lake Fork Marina and has served on the board for years. “It was quite a shock to learn the county judge was dissolving the industrial commission through an impersonal letter without an explanation at all to any of us. We don’t know what is to come of all of this. The business owners who are paying the HOT tax are now without representation on the board that receives their tax money,” Donahue said. “I understand that the judge is now forming a new board, but the businesses around the lake have no representation on this new board.”

Donahue feels the WCEDC board did a good job in the past. “I thought the industrial commission did a good job spreading the money around to all the communities in Wood County. Each and every one of them got an amount of money that exceeded what they contributed. I’m not real sure what our judge’s problem was with that,” Donahue noted. “The commission certainly adhered to the state law that governs the disbursement of this hotel tax money. I don’t know how you improve on that. We were very conscientious of what was required by law.”

Yantis board representative J.R. Simpson got one of the letters. “I don’t know what is going on. They have accused us in the past about giving too much money to the Lake Fork area. Well, Lake Fork and those fishing tournaments brought in about 80 percent of the money going to the WCIC,” Simpson said. “With me gone, Yantis has no representation at all. Myself and several others were removed from the board. I just don’t understand what is going on, it’s confusing to me. What did we do wrong? Neal Duncan’s term was up, did he get a letter?”

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