Palestine Economic Development Executive Director Gayle Cooper resigned Thursday, stating city leaders weren't interested in economic development and had essentially squashed a multi-million-dollar deal by dragging their feet.
The deal, called “Project Carbo,” would have brought to the city up to 60 jobs initially, paying at least $22-an-hour, Cooper said.
Council members and Interim City Manager Leslie Cloer, however, killed it by demanding another project analysis, before approving incentives, Cooper said.
The multi-national company wanted an answer by Sunday, she said.
“This (project) and the redevelopment of the mall would have changed the face of Palestine forever,” Cooper told the Herald-Press Friday.
“The council is simply not interested in economic development; if they were, they'd support the PEDC. Instead, they put up roadblocks.”
Mayor Steve Presley, who did not attend Thursday's PEDC meeting, declined to comment.
Multiple calls to Cloer were not returned.
Cooper's resignation marks the third departure of a high-ranking city official in the last month.
“They're dropping like flies,” Cooper, who earned $80,000 a year, said. “When I first came here, I loved the feeling of camaraderie at city hall. However, current city leadership is driving away all the talent.”
Tim Perry, former director of public works, retired suddenly last month. His last day of work, July 26, was also the day he started a job as director of public works for the city of Athens.
Less than two weeks later, Deputy Director of Public Works Rob Thames announced his retirement.
Cooper, who was named executive director in February of last year, said city council and the city manager drove her decision to quit.
“I told Leslie I quit,” Cooper said. “She said, if I hadn't resigned, she was planning on firing me, anyway.”
After an Aug. 12 city council meeting, Cooper said, Cloer told Cooper she was insubordinate to her and Councilman Joe Baxter during a presentation on matching downtown grants.
Baxter declined to comment on the matter, but Cooper said she “was nothing but polite and professional.”
On Thursday, at a regular PEDC meeting, the confidential Project Carbo was discussed in executive session by PEDC board members, Cloer, and Baxter.
Before the session started, however, a PEDC board member asked Cooper and her staff to leave, Cooper said.
Cooper said she was stunned. She also said the mayor, not Baxter, should have represented the council during the executive session that she was asked not to attend.
Baxter told the Herald-Press he attended the PEDC meeting as a city resident, not a council representative. Baxter, however, also attended the executive session, which was closed to the public.
During the executive session, Cooper said, PEDC board members, Cloer, and Baxter decided they needed more time before committing to Project Carbo. Additionally, they said they needed another project analysis, which would stretch well beyond the company's Sept. 1 deadline.
“I was furious,” Cooper said. “Because of this sort of micro-management – these roadblocks – I'd never be able to negotiate with companies in good faith again.”
After receiving the decision, Cooper, the former economic development corporation director for Winnsboro, Texas, gave Cloer her two-week notice.
“She (Cloer) told me it wasn't necessary, and to clean out my desk,” Cooper said. “She put me on forced vacation for my final two weeks.”
Attractive job offers have already started to roll in, Cooper said. She'll be fine, she said, but will miss her staff.
“We were a great crew, and we worked very well together,” Cooper said. “They are all talented individuals; I'm just worried that, under current leadership, they will never be able to realize their full potential.”