Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman will no longer be involved with Marion County Economic Development Council.
Huffman made the announcement at the May 19 meeting.
“I asked the commission to let me step down from MCEDC,” Huffman said, and the commission granted her request. “This is my last meeting. I will no longer act as liaison between MCEDC and the commission.”
Huffman had served as chairman of the council, appointed by the county commission. Prior to a county economic development director being hired, development council members had elected their own officers, including chairman, from the volunteer group.
Bylaws were proposed but not adopted at the April meeting that would allow an appointed member of the council to be chairman instead of the paid county employee.
Prior to Huffman’s announcement, Cheri Bentz, a Tampa representative, resigned from the council. Later in the meeting, Bentz explained why she no longer wanted to serve.
“I’m tired of the bickering,” she said. “That’s why I’m leaving. I’ve had enough.”
Hillsboro representative and city administrator Larry Paine asked about the issues Florence has with the council since two Florence representatives, Trayce Warner and newly appointed member Sara Dawson, asked the county commission to restructure the council.
“The mayors want equal representation,” Warner said, who is also a member of Florence City Council. “Having a neutral, non-voting chairman is a good idea instead of a community leader being chairman.”
She continued that she was concerned about longtime grudges between communities.
“We should work together to help Marion County grow and thrive,” Warner said.
“Let’s hammer out our problems here and then take them to the county commission,” Paine said. “We’re in this thing together regardless of size.”
He continued that the council’s credibility is lost by going around the group.
“Our credibility has already been lost,” Warner said.
Later Warner apologized if she offended anyone.
“I’m devoted to this council,” she said. “When are we going to get down to business?”
Paine is chairman of a bylaws committee, appointed by the council, with the task of submitting ideas to the council regarding bylaws changes.
Representation has been a concern all along for smaller communities, with representatives feeling Hillsboro and Marion — with six and five votes, respectively — dominate the council since the smaller communities have fewer representatives because the number of representatives is based on population. Discussion had been heard regarding changing the bylaws to allot each community one vote, but some believed it wasn’t fair to those volunteers who do serve to not have an opportunity to be a part of decisions.
Paine said he would like to see a chairman from the volunteer group because the development council is supposed to be promoting leadership.
“Having a chairman come from the group enhances Teresa’s ability to do her job,” Paine said.
It is important for someone from the council to take a leadership role, he said.
Encouraging honest discussion about the issues of the council, Paine asked if anyone believed he was responsible for the dissention.
“I don’t think you’re the person stirring the pot,” Warner said.
She continued that smaller communities were becoming involved with the development council again because of Huffman.
“Hillsboro seems to be the one stirring the pot,” Warner said.
Goessel representative and Goessel City Clerk Anita Goertzen said since Huffman is out, Marion will probably come back to the council.
“So the chairman will be from Marion or Hillsboro because of the votes from representatives,” she said. “I think I’m going to be the next to go.”
“What’s the big deal if Teresa is chairman? What does it matter?” Dawson asked.
“An employee has never chaired a board on other boards I serve,” Hillsboro Representative Nicole Suderman said. “I like Teresa. This would be a way to protect her.”
“It was a mistake to make an employee a chairman,” Paine said. “It’s a fundamental problem.”
Huffman can influence the agenda, Paine said, just as he could as city administrator.
“Setting the agenda is what the chairman does,” Warner said.
“I agree it was a mistake (to appoint Huffman),” Marion County Commissioner Dan Holub said.
Holub said he had copies of hateful e-mails from people regarding previous issues.
“Teresa suggested a county chamber of commerce and was attacked,” Holub said. “She was personally attacked by a mayor. The commission wanted accountability and tried to have Teresa provide that.
“There are people in this room who refused to participate with Symphony in the Flint Hills. Personally, I find this hopeless,” Holub said.
Huffman said her ideas were “shot down” by the council.
Hillsboro representative and city economic development professional Clint Seibel said he wanted to know specifically what was voted down.
Huffman said she didn’t keep a scorecard but recalled when she sent an e-mail to development council members, “suggesting” appropriate meeting behavior.
“I was accused of shoving it down your throats,” she said.
“It wasn’t asking our advice but telling us,” Lincolnville representative Jo Olson said.
“Larger communities have their own economic development boards. All we’ve got is tourism in the smaller communities,” Warner said.
Paine said there are three legs of economic development — tourism, business retention, and business recruitment.
“Everyone on this council needs to think about the other aspects of economic development (besides tourism),” he said.
Suggestions were made to have the chairman be a non-voting member and for there to be a set sequence of elected chairmen, with a chairman being elected from a small community one year and a larger community the next.
“Equal voting would take care of that,” Dawson said.
Suderman suggested having two voting members from each community but having volunteers on committees.
When asked if she was going to continue to work with communities, Huffman said the development group has nothing to do with her position.
“This is separate from my job,” she said.