'Impropriety' alleged as vote approaches for Port of Corpus Christi appointment

·3 min read

Editor's note: The City Council's vote on a port commission appointment - originally scheduled for Tuesday - was not included in an updated version of the meeting agenda. It is expected the item will be taken up in another meeting.

Days ahead of making an appointment to one of the region’s most powerful boards, city officials disclosed an allegation of a “potential impropriety.”

City officials would not disclose Friday to the Caller-Times what the allegation involved, who made the allegation and who was being accused.

However, they confirmed the allegation was related to the upcoming appointment to the Port of Corpus Christi Authority commission.

The Texas Department of Transportation Harbor Bridge project is seen through a window during the State of the Port luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Corpus Christi.
The Texas Department of Transportation Harbor Bridge project is seen through a window during the State of the Port luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Corpus Christi.

The allegation had been made by a city official, who told the city attorney they witnessed potential or perceived impropriety, said City Manager Peter Zanoni. Following discussions between him, City Attorney Miles Risley and Corpus Christi Police Chief Mike Markle, the information was referred to the Texas Rangers.

It was expected the agency would be in contact with the person who made the allegation, Zanoni said.

Additional information was not provided.

Zanoni said officials were advised by the city attorney to limit comment because of a potential investigation. He added that a very limited number of people had firsthand knowledge of the allegation.

As of Friday afternoon, the City Council was slated to take a vote on the appointment Tuesday.

The seat is one of three selected by the council to represent the city of Corpus Christi on the seven-member port commission.

In addition to the city’s appointments, Nueces County appoints three and San Patricio County appoints one.

There is no pay for serving on the commission. However, the seats are considered prominent positions in the community.

Among its duties, the board oversees the port’s budget and policies. That includes voting on land purchases and infrastructure investments.

About 20 people applied for the position, including current port commissioner Rick Valls, according to documents included in the council’s preliminary agenda. Valls has served on the board since he was appointed in December 2013.

At least two council members — Roland Barrera and Ben Molina — said Friday that the vote should be postponed, pending conclusion of the allegation.

A preliminary agenda for the Tuesday meeting showed an item on the appointment. However, a final version of the agenda had not yet posted early afternoon Friday.

Council members had been initially notified of the allegation via an email sent by Risley.

Zanoni said the email would not be released because it was under attorney-client privilege, but that the message did not have additional information than what had already been discussed, he said.

The Caller-Times contacted Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo and several applicants for the Port of Corpus Christi Commission seat who are prominent in South Texas business and nonprofits. Guajardo and some of the applicants, including Valls, did not immediately respond Friday.

Carl Crull, owner of Crull Engineering, LLC, and Wade Williams, owner of D2 Engineering, LLC, declined to comment for this article.

Kenneth Berry, president of The Berry Company and a port commissioner from 1999 to 2011, said he didn’t know details about the allegation.

“If the city wants me to serve, I’ll serve,” he said. “I think the port needs a new direction. They need to be more mature, and certainly they need to perform better in our community than they’ve been performing.”

Eduardo Canales, executive director of the South Texas Human Rights Center and a vocal opponent of the city’s proposed desalination plant, said the alleged impropriety “reflects the conflict of interest that all the appointees have right now, and it is not serving the community interests for the greater good.”

Senior content editor Vicky Camarillo contributed to this story.

Kirsten Crow covers government, industry and development in South Texas.

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This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: 'Impropriety' alleged as vote approaches for port appointment

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