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Development group shifts focus

Volunteers will be sought for tourism efforts

Managing editor

Everything about Marion County Economic Development Council will change — the focus of the group, membership, and even the name. The decision was made Dec. 15 after three years of turmoil and growing indecision on the board.

Remaining representatives from Burns, Florence, Goessel, Hillsboro, and Peabody voted unanimously to make the changes. Marion County Commissioners Dan Holub and Randy Dallke and commissioner-elect Roger Fleming also were in attendance.

It was determined the true purpose of the countywide council should be tourism and marketing, not economic development.

Longtime member Anita Goertzen, Goessel City Clerk, resigned at the beginning of the meeting. She said she was willing to help with the tourism bus but wanted out of the organization.

“Years ago, we didn’t do a lot but we didn’t have any squabbles,” she said.

Goertzen said having development professionals involved in the county council is a conflict of interest.

“Tourism is all we have (in the smaller communities),” Goertzen said. “It’s the paid professional’s job to bring businesses to their communities.”

“Goessel isn’t getting anything out of this group,” Goessel Mayor Peggy Jay said.

She continued that she was on the council before county economic development director Teresa Huffman was hired. Jay knows there was conflict between some board members and Huffman but believes it’s important for the county developer to be active with the county board.

Other board members agreed that it was imperative the county developer be involved.

Members Cynthia Fleming of Hillsboro and Shane Marler of Peabody didn’t think the council name was appropriate.

Trayce Warner of Florence agreed the focus should be tourism. She has been a member of the council for three years and said she has only known conflict while serving on the board.

“The marketing committee came up with some ideas but because of negativity of the group, we couldn’t move forward,” Warner said. “When I want to do something (development-wise) in Florence, I go to Teresa (Huffman). When I want county support, I go to Marion County Economic Development Council.”

She said the group’s focus was on bylaws instead of promoting the county. Warner didn’t want to see the group disband.

Sandra Heyman of Burns said she appreciated the informational programs that Huffman brought to the group.

Currently, mayors appoint council members with the number of representatives determined by population. Past concerns have centered around a balance in representation.

“There was so much focus on votes we couldn’t get anything done,” Marler said.

Discussion followed regarding tax support for a tourism and marketing group. Currently there is $11,500 in the group’s checking account. A grant from Kansas Health Foundation funds the leadership program, which is administered by the county.

In the end, it was determined that the organization would recommend three representatives from each commission district for a total of nine members with the focus of the new group to be marketing and tourism. The newly formed group will make suggestions for a new name. Those who are appointed must be interested in tourism and probably will not be the same members currently serving on the council.

It was decided that paid economic development professionals from Hillsboro, Marion, and Peabody should meet on a regular basis to network. Marion Mayor Mary Olson told the group the city council would probably no longer fund an economic development position. Talk then was directed toward Hillsboro and Peabody paid developers.

History of group

When the group formed in the 1980s, a grant was used to start the operation and bylaws were adopted. At that time, members were city officials and community volunteers. When the grant money was depleted, the county began to fund activities.

Primary functions of the group were promoting tourism and providing the Leadership Marion County program.

The focus shifted in the 2000s with more emphasis on business development and business retention. A county developer was hired Nov. 1, 2006, who then became chairman of the council.

In the past three years, representatives have resigned from the council because they experienced conflict with the county director and some members. The director also resigned from the council.

The council had been struggling to have the mandatory number of members attend a monthly meeting. The Dec. 15 meeting was called to discuss the group’s direction.

The next step

The county commission will review the recommendation from the county development council and determine the direction for the organization.

Input from Holub, Dallke, and Fleming indicated they were interested in following the lead of the county organization.

Last modified Dec. 22, 2010

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