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Tempers, discord flare at development meeting

Managing editor

After more than two hours of discussion between seven mayors, the county commission, the county economic development director, and City of Marion officials, it appeared to boil down to some members of Marion County Economic Development Council questioning their roles in the organization.

At the end of the Thursday evening meeting, it was determined a bylaws committee of MCEDC members should be formed to make any changes.

MCEDC members are appointed by city councils within the county.

Dissension among the group began some time ago when representatives of some of the smaller communities felt they had less of a voice on the council than the larger towns.

Changes to the county council bylaws also caused problems when the changes were believed to have come from the county commission and not from members of the county development council.

Ramona Mayor Pat Wick said the situation had changed for some cities and the county with the hiring of economic development professionals.

“Each town should have the same vote (on the county economic development council) regardless of population,” she said. “We should all be on equal footing; one vote per city.”

“Is MCEDC an autonomous group or is it a sounding board?” Doug Kjellin, Marion Economic Development Directors asked. “We need to better understand our role.”

He continued that the primarily volunteer board should have had a say in the proposed changes. Instead, county economic development director Teresa Huffman presented the bylaws to the group without input from MCEDC.

“There was some push-back,” Kjellin said, “not because so much of the words on the document but the way it was proposed.”

In the past, MCEDC had been self-directed without much input from the county commission. When a development director was hired, one of the duties of the director was to oversee the county development council.

The group receives $8,000 annually from the county commission for countywide development activities. Among those activities is the Leadership Marion County program.

Sub-committees, which are comprised of representatives appointed by city councils, make decisions for the group. Those decisions then are brought before the development council on a monthly basis.

The only items the entire development council votes on each month are housekeeping issues (including minutes of meetings and financials).

Among the issues discussed included one vote per city, regardless of size, and allowing Huffman to recommend volunteer representatives for those cities whose mayors choose not to participate.

Four of the five Marion representatives resigned July 6, partly because of issues related to the bylaws. When these members were criticized Thursday for resigning, city administrator David Mayfield said the reasons they resigned weren’t just because of this issue.

“Before you judge them, you need to ask them why,” he said.

Earlier Mayfield suggested a bylaws committee be appointed of MCEDC members to review these changes. The bylaws then could be presented to MCEDC for revision and approval.

Anatomy of the bylaws

Marion County Economic Development Council was formed in the early 1990s in an effort to bring county communities together at least once a month to discuss common successes and shortcomings, and to share projects and ideas.

Bylaws, dated Dec. 18, 1991, indicated the group had the mission to coordinate and further all areas of economic development in Marion County, with tourism promotion and Leadership Marion County as two main areas.

A nominating committee was appointed by the chairman to nominate representatives for officers.

A few amendments were made in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Most notable changes were with the removal of special emphasis on tourism promotion and Leadership Marion County in the mission, additional representatives for those cities with higher populations, chronic absenteeism, the director being able to recruit additional members to the council if the mayor chooses not to appoint members, and the county economic development director serving as a non-voting chairman of the council.

When the council first was organized, Hillsboro had an executive director of Hillsboro Development Corporation. In 1998, the City of Marion hired an economic development director.

However, there were no other development professionals in the county until Huffman was hired on Nov. 1, 2006, as the county economic development secretary. She then was promoted to serve as county director, and eventually as chairman of MCEDC.

Each community has representation on the council based on population. There can be one representative, appointed by city councils, per 500 people. This proportion gives Hillsboro the most representatives with six. Some communities have only one.

Other points

An amendment, adopted in November 2008 that was criticized by mayors and city officials was the ability of Huffman being able to recommend appointments for those cities whose mayors have declined to participate by appointing members to the council.

“If the mayor doesn’t make an appointment then Teresa can make a recommendation to MCEDC for an appointment,” Mayfield said, clarifying the statement.

“I want the opportunity to appoint someone if a mayor doesn’t appoint,” Huffman said.

“We can’t support that,” Mayfield said.

County commissioner Randy Dallke suggested a formal letter be sent to that city council. If the council refuses to appoint a representative, how are we going to appoint someone who wants to be appointed? he asked.

“I don’t want someone appointed who isn’t the right representative for the city,” Dallke said.

Lehigh Mayor Mike Geiman agreed.

“I don’t want just anyone to represent Lehigh,” he said. “If the mayor doesn’t want to do it, there’s nothing wrong with Teresa going to the city council.”

“If a mayor doesn’t want to cooperate, we can’t force a community to be a part of this,” Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke said. “It’s their loss.”

She continued that there should be a definition of “active” when the bylaws require members/appointees to be “active.”

Huffman explained changes in the bylaws were brought on by incidents.

“I didn’t have anyone to help me at a show,” Huffman said, which prompted a proposed requirement of representatives assisting at tourist-type shows including Wichita’s Sports, Boat & Travel Show, Kansas Sampler Festival, and Kansas State Fair.

“Should we hire someone to work these shows?” Dallke asked.

“This has worked in the past. There weren’t any issues in the past,” Mayfield said. “What’s the problem now? If it’s not broke, why fix it?”

During the meeting, some were becoming frustrated with the situation, reminding others that the bylaws were proposed and not set in stone.

But, for others, it was a matter of MCEDC making changes to the bylaws instead of the county commission and the county economic development professional.

Other proposed changes were requiring the treasurer to send monthly financial reports to the county development council chairman, who is Huffman, and all changes to the bylaws being approved by the county commission. Council members said the treasurer’s report was available online for members to review.

Part of the reason for some of these changes, Huffman said, was because MCEDC was going to be included in the county’s annual audit. Officials claimed auditors would require some changes including separation of duties.

“If the treasurer pays the bills and is the only one who sees the statement, there could be a problem,” Huffman said.

Dalke said she was concerned that the bylaws really were more of operational rules. She continued that she was concerned that the new bylaws appeared to be decreasing representation instead of increasing it.

“We’re down to 12,000 (population) left in the county,” Dalke said, addressing one of the issues facing the county development group. “If it decreases much more we won’t be able to keep the lights on.”

“I want Teresa empowered to do her job,” Wick said. “Give her what she needs to do her job.

“Larger cities should fall all over themselves to help her. You’re the role models.”

“Don’t tie her hands,” Florence Mayor Mary Shipman said. “Give her the power.”

Last modified July 16, 2009

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