Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Winnfield City Council Revisits the Resicon Bamboozle

“This is a sore, sore, sore subject - this whole Resicon thing. I mean, we got took.” That’s how Winnfield City Councilperson Sarah Junkin described the 2006 deal to bring a new business to Winnfield, but which actually resulted in large expenditures of municipal funds and no new business. Wyn Courtney, the Welsh-born entrepreneur who came to Winn Parish about nine years ago with plans to open a manufacturing business, became a popular figure around the parish during his short time here. The City of Winnfield spent significant amounts of money renovating the city-owned Vassarette building to make it suitable as Resicon’s local base of operations, but the business never opened and Courtney soon departed Winnfield, leaving debts and bad feelings in his wake. “He was a con artist, but we in good faith thought he was bringing jobs to this town,” Junkin said.

Junkin made those comments during a larger discussion of the now-long-vacant Vassarette building at last night’s Winnfield City Council meeting. Winnfield Police Chief Johnny Ray Carpenter had expressed his frustration about the City Council’s failure to exercise the needed oversight and to properly respond to the possibility that funds were misappropriated during the efforts by the city years ago to create incentives for Resicon and other businesses to come to town and use that building. Chief Carpenter also said that, in the absence of complaints filed by city officials responsible for the building, his office was limited in their ability to investigate burglaries which have happened there over the last several years and which have resulted in the Vassarette building being largely stripped. City Councilperson Jessie Edwards estimated that the value of the building had dropped from a million dollars to $200,000.

Junkin is the only current council member who was on the City Council when the city still had a cordial relationship with Courtney. She joined the council in the summer of 2006. She said the incentive efforts were already underway when she took office.

“But when Resicon was supposed to be opening their business, we all went out there and did a tour. That place was painted. It was in immaculate condition. The man had all his little things set up out there like he was going to go into business any minute.  He never did go into business, did he? I mean, he had us bamboozled. He was supposed to be hiring 30 employees the next day. Never happened,” Junkin said.

She explained that after it became clear that Courtney was not living up to his end of the bargain, the city sued him. She said he disappeared and wouldn’t repay the city. City Attorney Herman Castete said that the city did get a judgment against Courtney and that the city ultimately gained ownership of some of the equipment Courtney left behind.

Chief Carpenter said, “I even stood here many times wanting to see what we could do to bring charges against this man. We’re talking about money.”

Carpenter described some of the expenditures made by the city on the Vassarette building to make it conform to Resicon’s needs. “It was just money, money, money. Nobody went to work. Taxpayers to this day are still paying for it. Citizens filled this room for service that they rendered out there for work. Never got a check. Not one councilman backed us to try to get this money. So, if we’re going to talk about investigation, it failed here. Not one complaint was ever filed. Not one attempt was made to go after this man, nor anybody else.”

Junkin said she didn’t know that the city could go after Courtney criminally. She said she thought they were just after him in a civil lawsuit.

Carpenter said, “There should have been criminal charges brought against this man.”

Carpenter also chided the previous city officials for their lack of due diligence. “That man should have never gotten that far - I mean never gotten that far - with the taxpayers’ money.”

Former Mayor B.R. Audirsh was in attendance to respond to earlier news reports that the problems at the Vassarette building happened during a previous mayor’s administration. He wanted to make clear that the city’s association with Resicon also pre-dated his own administration. Audirsch was mayor from 2010 to 2014. The Resicon deal happened during the administration of former Mayor Deano Thornton, who left office in 2009 after accepting a job as CEO of Winn Community Health Center.

Wyn Courtney is now an author of children’s books and lives in Brownsville, Texas.

Wyn Courtney

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