The race for the Mayor of Brenham is between two very fine individuals, both whom I consider my friends. On the surface, it seems like a fairly straight-forward race. But behind the scenes, there’s a power struggle taking place that most people don’t know about. Last fall, the City took over the reins of economic development from the Economic Development Foundation of Brenham. The EDF’s board, a privately elected non-profit organization of Brenham businessmen, are now in an advisory position to the City and its newly hired Director of Economic Development. It has become obvious to me during the mayoral campaign that a small faction in the EDF is unhappy with this new arrangement, and wants to take back control of economic development. And they are supporting a candidate in hopes she can get back their power.
To give you some background, the EDF was originally the Brenham Industrial Foundation. It was founded in 1953 by a group of Brenham business leaders, including my grandfather, Tom S. Whitehead Sr. They pooled their money to purchase land and develop industrial parks for new and expanding industries. Membership shares were sold for $50 each, which gave you the right to vote for the group’s Board of Directors each year. Through the years, especially in the 1900’s, they were very successful in bringing new industry to Brenham. This group of men and women has always had Brenham’s best interest at heart, and they still do today. However, in 1995 the City began collecting a sales tax for use in economic development. What started small soon became hundreds of thousands of tax dollars that were being allocated to the EDF. Their focus has remained the same, to recruit new industry to Brenham. But this private board that was elected by a select group of individuals who paid money for the right to vote, was now receiving a large amount of tax money each year. While there was nothing wrong with how they were using it, I’ve always thought a publicly elected or appointed board might be more kosher.
As of this past fall, the City is now in control of those tax dollars, with the EDF serving in an advisory capacity. And while a small faction might want to wrestle control of economic development back into the hands of the EDF, I’m not even sure it is legal for that arrangement anymore. And to be truthful, I’m one of those who votes for the EDF Board annually. But that’s not to say the EDF shouldn’t play an important role. It definitely should, and the City needs to take every advantage of the knowledge and experience of these business leaders. The EDF is now meeting monthly with the City, the County, Blinn College, Brenham ISD and Baylor Scott and White officials so that everyone is on the same page about economic development. That’s the way it should be, with the City keeping everyone informed. We now have a Director of Economic Development who spends 100% of her time on just that…..not torn in different directions by tourism or Chamber of Commerce duties. There is also a broader vision for development that includes retail, and other types of businesses…not just industry. The world is changing….and Brenham needs to change how we do things right along with it. No matter who is elected mayor, we need to continue on this current path for economic development. There’s no going back to the way it was before.
And that’s the way it looks to this Spectator.