HUTTO, Texas (KXAN) — The Hutto Economic Development Corporation office was closed Friday as investigators try to figure out if former board members did anything illegal. Hutto City Council appointed a new board in July after learning previous members spent big bucks.
“Renting a suite at a Cowboys-Giants game in New York,” explains Hutto city attorney Michael Shaunessy, of some of the expenditures.
The Hutto Police Department has been investigating past operations of the Hutto Economic Development Corporation for the past two weeks, the city said Thursday night.
A Hutto city council member had called for a formal investigation of the EDC at the beginning of Thursday’s city council meeting, only for the Police Department to reveal an investigation was already underway.
Council Member Nate Killough said he became aware of some questionable expenditures, but went ahead and directed the city manager to work with the EDC’s CEO to get some deals closed. Killough points to the former board spending $15,000 for three conferences in New Jersey, Alaska and New Orleans.
There were also concerns about local expenses, including $1,289 spent at Mario’s Mexican Restaurant. The owner was an EDC member, meaning his business gained from taxpayer money.
Seven tracts of land known as the “megasite,” south of US 79, between County Road 132 and FM 3349, is also part of the investigation. The former board spent $80,000 on rights and analysis of the 1,200 acres of land.The board then sold its rights to a brokerage firm for just $10. The land is worth $8 million.
The city of Hutto then bought the rights back, costing taxpayers another $275,000.
“We thought it was a bad deal and this confirms it was a bad deal,” explains Shaunessy, after city council advised the board not to sell the rights to the prime piece of land.
“We directed the EDC to stop spending money on the Megasite. Instead, we wanted them to focus on finding businesses to fill what we knew was a sure deal in the Titan project, Innovation Business Park,” said Killough in a statement sent out by the city of Hutto.
Killough said the EDC’s CEO then asked for money to take a private helicopter tour of the Megasite. “It was infuriating,” Killough said.
The city is hoping an investigation will give them and taxpayers some answers. “Those taxpayers are entitled to know what is happening with the dollars that they’re paying into the EDC,” said Shaunessy.
A forensic auditor will help Hutto PD with the investigation, but it’s unclear how long that could take.
KXAN reached out to the former EDC director and a former board member, but as of Friday evening, we haven’t heard back.