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Council derides ‘politics’ of economic corporation

Hillsboro compromise draws fire from Peabody officials

News editor

Peabody council members reacted strongly Monday to a perceived infusion of politics into the new county economic development corporation by withholding a $7,000 payment until the corporation board answers in person for bylaws changes.

Bowing to demands from Hillsboro, Marion County Economic Development Corporation changed its bylaws Aug. 17 to allow government employees and elected officials to be appointed to its board.

Hillsboro’s participation and $44,500 contribution was made contingent on the change, prompted by the presence of Marion city administrator Roger Holter on the MCEDC board. Hillsboro officials argued it was unfair for only one town to have a city employee on the board.

Council member Tom Spencer voiced strong opposition to the change.

“The way it’s been amended and proceeded, the idea is that it would not be a political thing, it would be an economic development thing,” he said. “The minute you put elected personnel on there, and Roger Holter, the city administrator of Marion is on the board, it’s going to be exactly what it wasn’t intended to be. It will be strictly a political body trying to get economic development for their towns. I don’t see historically ever that Marion and Hillsboro have worked together on anything. I don’t think it will change anything.”

Council member Rick Reynolds agreed.

“It’s like they’re playing the yes man,” he said. “They’re giving in to everybody’s demands not even proving they can fulfill what they already promised.”

Reynolds read a series of e-mails he exchanged with MCEDC board chairman Russell Groves, starting with his response to a notification of the bylaws change.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that. We really liked entertaining the fact that an elected official could not be on the board. That way we don’t end up with the same six people running the whole county,’” Reynolds said. “That was one of our favorite points.”

Groves responded that the decision was difficult to make for that reason, but that it was negotiated under last minute pressure, Reynolds said.

Suggesting to Groves that Peabody, the first town to make a commitment to MCEDC, should have been included in the dicussion, Reynolds maintained the action ran counter to what Peabody had been told by former MCEDC chairman Chris Hernandez.

“I said (to Groves), ‘In the last meeting we had with Mr. Hernandez it was clearly stated that there would be no drastic changes without first consulting everybody that’s on the board. In my opinon that’s a drastic change,’” Reynolds said. “He says, ‘It’s a significant change.’”

Mayor Larry Larsen said making the change and doing so without consultation was “almost breaking an implied promise.”

Council member Steve Rose was succinct.

“I’m not too happy about it,” he said.

Spencer said the council should consider nominating one of its members and a Peabody Main Street representative to the MCEDC board.

Reynolds said he told Groves he wanted the MCEDC board to meet with the council to discuss the changes.

“I tried to get confirmation for today, but he did not answer his phone when I called him Thursday or Friday,” Reynolds said.

Council member Beth Peter asked if the city had paid MCEDC’s invoice for $7,000 and suggested it be held until its board members met with council. Other members were quick to agree.

Last modified Aug. 31, 2017

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