By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
The Flash Today
Disgusted, or caught in an exaggeration? Maybe even a deception?
Stephenville Economic Development Authority executive director Alora Wachholz has left her job less than a month after being hired for the position and not even a week onto the job.
In her letter of resignation, Wachholz calls out a Stephenville Councilman’s actions as “disgusting” and being, “not only strikingly unprofessional, but classless and inappropriate.”
Wachholz is apparently talking about Councilman Boyd Waggoner, who took her story regarding economic impact of a small family-owned bakery with a grain of salt and went out and did some research of his own.
On the day of her hiring, Wachholz laid out some of her economic development experiences and how she had been a part of targeting businesses to get them to come to Flower Mound.
Waggoner questioned what the result of offering incentives to “like kind” businesses had been on older established businesses in Flower Mound.
Wachholz pointed out the targeting of La Madeleine in Flower Mound, which she explained brought other businesses to the neighborhood, and that in turn provided more traffic to the area and it translated into bigger business for the “Mom and Pop Bakery” on the corner.
“You are saying it has been good for the company that has been there a long time?” Waggoner asked.
“Yes, absolutely,” Wachholz replied.
However, that “Mom and Pop Bakery” known as Swirl Bakery Cafe Takery has a different story to tell about what happened after Flower Mound offered incentives to not one “like kind” business, but two.
Wagoner traveled to Flower Mound and found the bakery’s owner, Chris Norwood, who penned the following email in response to Wachholz’s comments.
“In Reference to tax rebates in Flower Mound and how they have affected me and my business. I and my wife and her parents began operating our bakery (Swirl Bakery Cafe Takery) here in Flower Mound in 2002. Business has done well here, gradually improving until the city started incentivizing larger chain bakeries to move to Flower Mound in the recent past,” Norwood wrote.
He added, “When La Madeleine was given tax breaks by the town of Flower Mound and opened in July 2014, it immediately impacted my sales. Eight months later another big bakery restaurant (Black Walnut) was given incentives to move in and again my sales began to fall. It has been two years and my sales are back down to the same as 2008, the year of the great economic downturn. Overall I’m down over 100K in sales a year after the opening of these two big competing bakeries. I have heard from other independents that aren’t doing well and they are thinking of not renewing their lease. Hope this helps, the only reason we are still around is that we are debt free and saved some money.”
It is unknown how city council members will take the two-page letter of resignation that delivers a good bit of criticism regarding Stephenville politics and “existing power struggles” that Wachholz believes are hindering its economic development.
“I was not critical of the decision to hire Ms. Wachholz as the new director of economic development. Her credentials seemed to be excellent,” Waggoner said. “I had asked her what I considered to be a ‘fairness in economic development’ question – basically whether giving incentives to bring in bigger outside organizations could sometimes hurt existing independents, and whether a ‘fairness” factor” should be considered.’
Waggoner says he sought out the bakery on his own and visited there in Flower Mound on the 8th of this month.
She seemed to say offering incentives to new businesses to come in never hurt existing independents, and gave as an example that ‘targeting’ a big bakery (Le Madeline) and bringing it to town in Flower Mound. Wachholz said this translated into “…bigger business for the Mom and Pop Bakery on the corner”.
Waggoner posed the question in reference to a recent sales tax rebate being discussed with Hoffbrau Restauraunts.
The question came up because Waggoner, along with the rest of the council, is considering a recent recommendation from its finance committee for a tax rebate for Hoffbrau, which is planning a location at the former Fiddle Creek restaurant.
Reports have indicated that council members have emails from the city of Flower Mound that contradict the bakery owner; however Flower Mound does not have any financial records to back up their claim the bakery was not harmed financially.
Those watching SEDA’s development may be scratching their heads as first board president Ron Mullins resigned, and now, less than a week into her job, the executive director has followed suit after forming – and sharing – some nasty opinions about local politics.
“My purpose in pointing out what the ‘Pop’ guy said was not to discredit the new economic director, but was simply to point out that when giving advantages to bring in new outside companies, that a ‘fairness to existing independents’ should be a factor to be considered. I regret that she resigned,” Waggoner said. “I thought basic fairness should be part of the equation, and not exclusively ‘growth.’ I believe in the American Free Enterprise system, with businesses competing on a level playing field; but when a city ‘unlevels’ the playing field to help one business over another, that decision needs to be carefully considered with respect to fairness, even though it may sometimes be good for everyone.”
Waggoner is refusing to go with the flow,
“If Stephenville wants City Council members to “rubber stamp” everything, and always ‘go along to get along’, maybe they need somebody besides me for that,” he said.
Tuesday’s upcoming council meeting may just have some lively discussion as Hoffbrau’s sales tax rebate request goes up for a vote. While not officially a part of process, Wachholz has been suggested by Councilman Rhett Harrison to help due to her experience with the funding being requested.