Development group still in limbo
After 20 months of effort to forge an economic development entity to work for the common good, the two largest towns in the county backed away Tuesday, as did one prospective board member.
After a meeting of the interim board at the Historic Elgin Hotel in Marion, Marion County Community Economic Development Corporation’s prospective permanent board is five members short. Four remaining board candidates are split down the middle on whether to commit their time to the board.
The city of Marion signaled its reservations with an unsigned letter on city letterhead, delivered by city administrator Roger Holter and read by interim board member Tammy Ensey.
“In light of recent events in the bylaws interpretations, the inability to seat a permanent Board of Directors by the specified date and with the needed structural support and institutional knowledge to ensure sustainable organizational success, the City of Marion will withhold from appointing our representatives … until a final determination can be made by the organization as to their ability to deliver upon the previously communicated benefits of participation,” the letter read.
Marion Economic Development Director Randy Collett, a frequent participant in corporation board meetings, also was not at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We do not believe the information that has so far been presented to our potential board candidates accurately demonstrates the consistency previously communicated to our governing body,” the letter continues. “For example, at the time of Marion’s adoption for support and funding to MCCEDC, the organization’s vision statement was ‘Marion County will be a unified aggressive economic competitor providing opportunities for … development resulting in prosperity for all.’”
The letter says the city wants “a measurable and definable plan that can be effectively communicated with the citizens of Marion.”
Hillsboro economic development director Anthony Roy said at the meeting that Hillsboro’s original vote to provide $45,000 funding for one year and board appointees for MCCEDC was contingent upon being able to appoint a city employee or an elected official to the permanent board.
Doing that would require a change in corporation bylaws. However, the bylaws were changed earlier to permit Holter to remain on the permanent board. Soon thereafter, corporation attorney Josh Boehm said the change was not likely to be legal, and the bylaws reverted to the original version.
The original version did not permit employees or elected officials to serve on the board.
MCCEDC’s interim board was scheduled to hand over the reins to a permanent board a week ago, but five prospective board members appointed by Peabody and the county wanted more time to think about it. Marion and Hillsboro have not appointed board members, leaving the prospective permanent board four short.
Peabody appointee Mark Whitney, present at last week’s meeting, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Hannah Bourbon, Peabody’s other appointee, said Whitney has declined to serve on the board and the city is seeking another appointee.
Also absent were interim board member Craig Dodd and interim board chairman Russell Groves.
By the time the meeting ended, Bourbon and county appointee David Mueller agreed to stick with the corporation, and county appointees Chris Hernandez and Chase Gann hover on the fence.
Bourbon, Mueller, Hernandez, and Gann all said they liked keeping the corporation free from political influence.
“I absolutely agree that this corporation board should not have elected or government officials,” Bourbon said.
“If we made a mistake, then we should make it right, but dadgum it, if we did not make a mistake, we should not ‘make it right,’” Hernandez said.
Gann said he wants to know what will inspire Marion and Hillsboro to work together.
“I’ve learned since I’ve been here that there seems to be a lot of contention between Hillsboro and Marion,” Gann said.
The board agreed to meet again next Tuesday to discuss whether there are enough board members ready to commit so the corporation can move forward.