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County development group seeks direction

More questions than answers at monthly meeting

Managing editor

What is the purpose of Marion County Economic Development Council? What are the goals?

When these questions were asked at the council’s monthly meeting Nov. 18, there were numerous answers.

And that is one of the reasons some representatives are frustrated; they want to get these issues resolved and return to council business.

Before bylaws can be changed, the council determined it needed to know its purpose and goals because, for some, the mission statement currently in place doesn’t fit.

Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine was given the task of leading a committee of volunteers, composed of council members, to update the group’s bylaws.

The first issue he presented was the number of voting representatives from each community.

“If there is only one representative from each city, there are a number of us not needed in this room,” Paine said, “and we should get up and walk out.”

At the Nov. 18 meeting, there were numerous representatives from each community including three mayors and a county commissioner.

“If there is only one voting member required, then why am I here?” Paine asked.

It goes back to the value of the organization. Is input from citizens involved in the group more valuable than having one voting member from each community?

Paine also pointed out that the council only votes on a handful of items each month that typically include the approval of minutes from previous meetings and financial reports. At this particular meeting, new officers were elected but that happens only once a year.

There are four committees composed of council members — tourism, marketing, business retention and expansion, and Leadership Marion County. Those committees make decisions, which are brought before the council for approval.

“We’re here to talk and communicate, not to vote,” Paine said.

The current bylaws allow one city representative per 500 population with each city having a minimum of one representative.

Some believe it is unfair for the larger communities to have more voting power than the smaller communities.

Florence representative Greg Wynn suggested there be two representatives per city and both have voting privileges.

Renee Gilkey and Traycee Warner, representing Hillsboro and Florence respectively, said it would be a more accurate representation if it were based on population.

Jim Elliott of Hillsboro asked the maximum number of representatives if all members attended monthly meetings. It was estimated about 26.

“That’s a cumbersome number,” he said, especially if mayors and other officials are included.

“I’m more concerned with the direction of the organization than who comes to the table,” Peabody Main Street Director Shane Marler said. “There’s a chunk of economic development pie we’re not even close to touching.”

Creating entrepreneurial programs, recruiting new businesses, and expanding the tax base should be priorities of the organization, he said. There should be less concentration on tourism, even though tourism is part of the tax base and economic development.

“When the group was organized, it was for tourism and the Leadership Marion County program,” Marion County Economic Development Director and the group’s chairman Teresa Huffman said.

More discussion followed regarding the council’s requirements to follow Kansas Open Meetings Act since public officials appoint members and tax money is used to fund the organization.

Another proposed change to bylaws included changing the requirements for a quorum. Some wanted a quorum be a percentage of voting members in attendance not a majority of members, which may not be allowed.

Since the group is a quasi-government council, it was determined members need to follow state statute that directs other government entities. For example, a five-member council must have a minimum of three members in attendance at a meeting to constitute a quorum. Currently the bylaws require a minimum of seven voting members in attendance to have a quorum.

Mission

The mission of Marion County Economic Development Council is “to enhance the quality of life by encouraging countywide collaboration through tourism and economic and leadership development.”

“We should have one mission,” Paine said, “which should be to enhance economic development. Then we need to know what enhanced economic development looks like in the county.

“What’s important to one community is different than in other communities. We need to enhance economic development in each community. It looks different but how we exercise it is not.”

“All we have in some of our communities is tourism,” Goessel representative Anita Goertzen said. “There’s a conflict between communities because each community has (different) concerns.

“This group needs to focus on county economic development,” she said.

“We can’t just focus on individual communities,” Peabody Mayor Larry Larsen said. “Larger communities should be resources for the smaller communities.”

He continued that if businesses are interested in moving to the area, the group should find the best place in the county.

“If the company relocates to Florence, for example, somebody from Peabody may work for the new company in Florence,” Larsen said. “We also need to keep businesses from leaving.”

Quality of life often attracts people to a community, Huffman said, citing people who visit a community or the lake and then move to the area.

Hillsboro representative Clint Seibel said the real problem could be the name of the group.

“Maybe if we retarget our purpose, we will reflect what we do,” he said. “How is this group going to retain a business? We’re setting ourselves up to do something we can’t do but we do other things very effectively.”

Seibel continued that the group plans tourism activities because it’s the most effective use of time. Tourism and marketing are what the group needs to be doing and those lead to economic development, he said.

Does the name need to be changed? Huffman asked.

“There’s an expectation that comes with the name,” Paine said.

“Do we need an economic development group and tourism group?” Larsen asked.

“The county economic development office serves the county but this council focuses more on tourism. Most economic development is community-based,” Elliott said.

Paine said there are three parts of economic development that pertain to any size of city or county — tourism, business retention, and business recruitment.

The group decided to determine its direction and then bylaws would be drawn to fit. In the meantime, Seibel recommended the council follow the bylaws that are in place, particularly regarding a quorum.

In other business:

Officers elected for 2010 are Sherry Bentz, vice president; Peggy Jay, treasurer; and Goertzen, secretary.

The deadline for Leadership Marion County applications have been extended to Dec. 18 because there are only two applicants.

The next council meeting will be at noon Dec. 16 with the location to be determined.

Last modified Nov. 25, 2009

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