Castro Denies any Slippery Politics with Brooks Development Authority

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In order for CPS Energy to strike the deal with South Korean solar firm Nexolon to bring manufacturing facilities to San Antonio, it had to entice the company with taxpayer incentives. One of the biggest incentives was a sweet deal for the land purchase at Brooks City-Base.

More about that here.

Some people are still shaking their heads at how easily the deal went down, considering the shaky state of the solar energy economy and how much taxpayers are having to ante up.

In yesterday’s column in the San Antonio Express News, Greg Jefferson touched on concerns with the make-up of the Brooks Development Authority, the entity that pretty much rubber stamped the deal with Nexolon several weeks ago. The BDA is currently in the process of searching for a new CEO to oversee the economic development of the Authority’s property holdings. In order to be successful, the BDA needs government grants and bond allocations – which means that a likely successful candidate would own a lot of goodwill with politicians. And that’s an issue, writes Jefferson, when calls from sitting officials are made to promote candidates — it becomes a slippery slope “that seems to be getting slippier”:

Of course, each call of that nature — whether for Gomez or anybody else, whether to BDA directors or some other council-appointed board — would be a transgression. It would mean council reps are exerting political pressure on a board that, on paper, is independent and above political influence.

But in Chan’s view, that’s exactly what happened in January, ahead of the BDA board’s vote on a meaty incentive package for solar-panel maker Nexolon America.

Among the goodies: the chance for the company to essentially buy an 86-acre chunk of Brooks City-Base, valued at $17 million, for $5 million. The city has pledged to effectively make up the difference with $12 million in improvements at Brooks.

Only one of BDA’s 11 directors voted against the package on Jan. 28.

“I think they’re heavily influenced by politics — they need to be a little more independent,” Chan said. “I felt tremendous pressure was being given to board members from the council to push forward with the Nexolon deal.”

Despite whispers to the contrary, both Chan and Pelaez-Prada said she didn’t press Pelaez-Prada, her appointee, to vote against the package. And despite whispers to the contrary, a spokesman for Mayor Julián Castro said neither he nor his staff lobbied the board.

Chan isn’t naming names, and Pelaez-Prada said he didn’t hear from board members about getting squeezed by their appointing council members.

But he makes this allowance: “Given the vote count, I could see why people would think that.”

Indeed.

Politicians stacking the boards with cronies who in turn apply for government grants from the people who appointed them. Million dollar deals struck with foreign firms with not even an audit, while the public entities hide behind confidentiality clauses. Pretty good gig I guess, if you’re in on it.

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