Aransas County Navigation District Report Card

By Jack Wright

Three District Commissioners are up for re-election on November 8. Early voting starts October 24. The voters should consider the following report card on the District before they cast their votes.

Compliance with the Texas Open Meetings and Open Records Laws – Grade F

Every District Monday meeting held since Hurricane Harvey has been illegal because the District has not properly posted its meetings in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act requirements. They were told of this non-compliance in January 2022 and did nothing to correct it.

The District has not posted any minutes of its meeting on the District website since May 2021.

The District does not produce monthly financial reports for public review even after an FOIA request made in February 2022

The District does not compare actual results to budget projections at any time during the fiscal year even though that is a requirement for entities that have an Annual Audit.

Compliance with Texas Elections Laws – Grade F

In June 2022, Commissioner Moore signed an election document that contained an erroneous deadline for filing — a deadline that has been on the State election calendar for more than a year.

In August 2022, Harbor Master Keith Barrett signed an Election Addendum backdating the effective date, effectively denying candidates having a position on the ballot.

The District was asked to produce the Agenda and Minutes to legitimize these two election documents but did not do so, thereby making these two actions violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Commissioner Moore in a letter to Mike Probst publicly admitted that he and the District had violated Texas election laws and denied candidates of their right to be on the ballot. 

Operating the District in the Best Interests of Local Taxpayers – Grade F

In September 2022, the Aransas County Commissioners Court asked the District to provide its prior years’ budgets along with the current budget in advance of the Court’s hearing to set the District’s ad valorem tax rate request. The District failed to supply the requested information prior to the meeting, effectively forcing the Commissioners Court to approve the District’s requested tax rate without the benefit of any review of the reasonableness of the rate.      

The District has nearly $10,000,000 in unrestricted reserves (more than all of the other Aransas County government entities combined), and still asked the Commissioners Court to approve a tax rate that will cost Aransas County property owners almost $2 million in taxes in 2023. 

The District’s audited financial statements shows that the District operates as a for profit business enterprise, whose revenues consistently exceed its operating and debt expenses and therefore does not need and should not receive ad valorem taxes. 

Conflicts of Interest – Grade F

In 2008, newly elected Commissioner Tommy Moore abstained from the vote on a lease contract with a barge mooring company because he had a financial interest and/or business relationship with the company. Five years later when the lease was up for renewal, Commissioner Moore voted for renewal of the lease at a significantly reduced rate and did not mention his business relationship.

In July 2022, Commissioner Moore claimed to a fellow Commissioner that he (Moore) was the exclusive sales representative for a local company, which was awarded a contract to perform work for the District. 

Does the phrase “conflict of interest” have any meaning to the District and Commissioner Moore? 

Operating the District in Compliance with Statutory Grant of Authority – Grade F 

In late 2021 and throughout 2022, the District has claimed it has the authority to control stormwater runoff from the community into Little Bay, Rockport Harbor, and all other navigable waters within its jurisdiction. The District has spent thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on attorneys, engineers, and public relations consultants to defend and assert this authority. As a direct result of the District’s actions, the completion of the Concho Street drainage project has been delayed, the cost of the project has increased, and the lives and property of affected citizens in downtown Rockport have been endangered in the event of a significant rain event.

However, the District does not have the authority to control stormwater runoff. Despite efforts by the City to reach a reasonable compromise, the District has continued to assert its unfounded authority and makes unworkable and unreasonable demands, continually backing out of agreements previously reached. 

The District has operated the Rockport Beach and the District Festival grounds for years. Serious questions have been raised about the District’s authority to engage in these activities since they are not in any manner related to the statutory purposes, duties, and powers of the District. When concerned citizens raised questions about this matter, the Harbor Master and Commissioner Moore convened a meeting of a number of representatives of non-profit organizations who are major users of the District festival grounds. At the meeting, veiled threats were made by Commissioner Moore that the organizations would not be allowed to stage their various festivals unless they sided with the District and pressured the local citizens to stop questioning the legal authority of the District. Most local citizens remember when the beach park belonged to them and did not have to pay an exorbitant fee to use it. 

Final Report Card – Grade F

The District and Commissioners have failed to do their jobs and should not be allowed to serve in their elected positions. Three of the Commissioners (Tommy Moore, Martin Diaz De Leon, and Mickey Casterline) are on the November 8 ballot to be re-elected as Commissioners. The voters should take into consideration the District’s performance before they vote. Voters do have a choice and should be heard.