Code name for Schlitterbahn tax break in meeting notice violated state law, transparency lawyer says

water park

A Corpus Christi economic development board used a code name for a massive project in a public meeting notice last week, a practice that one transparency hawk describes as a violation of state law but the board attorney claims is in keeping with the rules.

The Corpus Christi Business and Job Development Corp. met Friday to discuss a tax break for a new water park, Schlitterbahn. But the meeting agenda referred to an executive session discussion of “Project Chika,” a name unknown to the public but instead a code name for the water park project.

"It's deliberately meant to throw people off the tracks," transparency lawyer Joe Larsen told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. "It's something the public has a high interest in so it should have a specific agenda item."

Assistant City Attorney Charlotte Yochem told the newspaper, "It's a protection of confidential information with businesses who are looking to locate in our area and are interested in incentives.”

Either way, the public was not aware of the agenda item much like the public was misled two years ago by the University of Houston as it hid its negotiations to purchase and shutter the Rice University student-run radio station, KTRU. The call letters of the popular free-form station were never mentioned in public meeting postings for the UH Board of Regents.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association obscured the identity of the sole finalist for general manager last year by referring to him in an open meeting as "candidate number four."

The president and CEO of Schlitterbahn, Gary L. Henry, is a prolific businessman based in New Braunfels. Among his other enterprises is an operation that makes waterpark rides and a series of real estate, resort and constructions firms.

The company has been rapidly expanding, helped by $5 million in tax breaks agreed to by the Corpus board.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo 'uphill slide' by flickr user sandwichgirl, used via a Creative Commons license.