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Market commission asks that program be moved out of parks department

Thursday, July 17, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Members of the Renaissance Market Commission – some still seething from a Parks and Recreation Department memo recommending the panel’s demise – voted Monday night to ask the City Council to place them under the oversight of the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Department.

 

The Council last month decided not to abolish the commission immediately, although it is not clear whether the commission has a future under any department. One thing the panel has done is adopt new bylaws standardizing the size of the commission, setting a time limit on the years of service for members, and clarifying the definition of and need for a quorum.

 

The commission, which oversees activities at the Renaissance Market at 23rd  and Guadalupe Streets near the University of Texas campus, was on the chopping block last month but was given extra time by the Council to adopt the bylaws and get its house in order. (See In Fact Daily, June 23, 2008) The market, begun in the early 1970s, provides a place for local artisans to sell their hand-made wares.

 

All four of the commission members present at this week’s meeting expressed emotions ranging from concern to outright anger over a March 2 memo from PARD staff to Acting PARD Director Stuart Strong outlining problems with the group. The problems ranged from finding and retaining commission members, to not being able to muster a quorum to conduct business, to its reluctance to adopt the uniform bylaws. The staff member recommended dissolving the panel and having PARD staff take over its administrative duties.

 

The memo was never sent to Renaissance Market Commissioners, but apparently made the rounds at City Hall, with one Council aide making the letter available to members of the commission, among others.

 

“This is staff treachery!” shouted Commission Member Michael Kleinman. “Why weren’t we told that the staff was recommending that we be disbanded? We want to know who ordered the memo, and who had access to it!”

 

The target of Kleinman’s tirade was Cora Wright, the assistant director of PARD, who was acting as staff for the commission. Acting Assistant City Manager David Lurie was present at the meeting but did not speak.

 

Wright – between questions being shouted at her – tried to explain that the memo was requested by City Clerk Shirley Gentry in order to track which of the city’s myriad boards and commission had adopted the new bylaws, and what other problems they might be having. Wright denied that anyone in PARD asked staff to produce a negative memo in order to hasten the dissolution of the commission.

 

Other commission members, including Chair Laura Wisdom, expressed concern over the memo’s conclusion that the commission be disbanded and its duties handled by staff.

 

“Some of the criticism in the memo regarded commission actions delayed on the advice of PARD staff,” Wisdom said. “Why are we being held accountable for their actions?”

 

The sharp exchanges continued for several more minutes until Wisdom called for a vote to ask the Council to take the commission away from PARD and move it to the Economic Development department.  The commission adjourned without taking any further action.

 

Lurie told the Council in June about problems the commission had caused by its failure to muster a quorum. “For the past eight years, Council has been unable to recruit enough members to fill the board. In 2007, the board met eight of 12 times without a quorum,” Lurie wrote in a memo to the Council and City Manager. Since the commission reviews applications from vendors seeking licenses to sell their products at the market, Lurie noted, “there have been delays because the board did not have a quorum and could not officially meet.”

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