Mayor’s plan for county economic development board shows lack of community focus

Published 1:57 pm Monday, November 16, 2015

A proposed resolution which will be on the agenda for Monday morning’s Carter County Commission meeting — one dealing economic development —is confusing, alarming and, we believe, deserves careful consideration and discussion.
We are referring to agenda items that will ask the commission to approve a resolution to establish a Carter County Economic and Community Development Board — to be under the leadership of the County Mayor.
Up to this point Carter County Tomorrow has been the entity employed by both the city and county to oversee economic development.
If this resolution is passed, a new Carter County Economic and Community Development Board would be created and it would be controlled by the County Mayor, to “facilitate, foster, promote and oversee all economic and community development, including tourism, in Carter County.”
In addition to the Mayor, the board would consist of two commissioners elected by the Commission. The commissioners would serve one-year terms. Also the board would be comprised of “the appropriate representatives of the city and county governments within Carter County.”
Such a move is poorly timed since the Commission has filed a lawsuit against the non-profit economic development entity it has been doing business with – Carter County Tomorrow.
Two CCT board members, Sonja Culler and Danny Ward, are also Carter County commissioners. They were two of the four commissioners who voted against filing the complaint.
Since becoming County Mayor five years ago, Leon Humphrey has been at the center of controversy surrounding the CCT. But although he has had a seat on its board throughout his tenure, Humphrey has been publicly criticized for his lack of attendance at its meetings.
At this point, the city has not agreed to enter into any agreement with the Carter County Commission regarding economic development. The City most recently appointed City Planner Jon Hartman to the position of economic development director as did Carter County Tomorrow.
When Hartman was contacted by the Star on Friday and asked about the upcoming county commission meeting and the pending resolution, it was clear he had been left completely out of the loop.
It seems premature on the part of the County Commission to assume the city would want to be a part of this board, especially when the idea has not been presented to them or even discussed publicly by the Elizabethton City Council.
Luring business and industry to any community is a big job, one that requires leadership by an experienced person in a full-time position. Economic development is a continuing challenge facing us here in Carter County. We can no longer depend on service industry jobs to sustain us economically.
We are not sure the Mayor and county commission have the expertise or the time to recruit business and new jobs to this county. From where we sit, this appears to be another power play on the part of the County Mayor.
Then there is the question of who will be asked to fund the work of this new economic development board. That expense will surely fall squarely on the taxpayers.
That is a big problem. After all, it’s never a good idea for taxpayers to be asked to write blank checks, or pay money without having any control of how that money is spent.
We have said it before and we will say it again — as long as we argue and fight over who has control, we will never recruit new business or new jobs to this county. It is time to put away the swords and daggers and resolve to work together to bring more than low-paying service jobs to Elizabethton and Carter County.
It can no longer be “us-versus-them” when the local economy needs coordinated, unequivocal leadership. The Commission’s willingness to break commitments and partnerships and go its own way speaks volumes about the way it does business. This latest maneuver comes as a slap in the face, not only to the people who sit on the board of Carter County Tomorrow, but also to the City of Elizabethton. This resolution is devised to set up the county as an uncertain partner, at best, in dealing with a range of new efforts to diversify and boost the area’s economy.
Reorganizing economic development starts with everyone working together to move Elizabethton and Carter County forward. Our future as a community must come together as a cooperative effort between city and county, not each going its own way. We need to be focused, competitive, and speak with one voice — a very strong voice — that comes only with good leadership.
Rather than moving forward on their own, elected officials need to come together with business leaders working to repair the relationship and coming up with a new economic development strategy to get the local economy moving.
If you are a citizen of this community, and if you want to see economic development grow in Carter County and Elizabethton, you should make plans to attend the Carter County Commission meeting Monday morning, at 9 a.m. at the Carter County Courthouse.
This is no time for silence or apathy.

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