Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 14 July 2009 13:55
Disagreements within the Marion County Economic Development Council prompted commissioners to call a special meeting of the county’s 12 mayors Thursday.
The concerns came to a head following two recent meetings of the MCEDC when four of five representatives in Marion resigned and talk of changing bylaws without adhering to proper procedure surfaced.
“How do we want to proceed?” Dan Holub, commission chair, asked the seven mayors attending the meeting. “We have no set agenda other than to find out specific concerns with the economic director or MCEDC as a whole.”
Regarding the one vote for one town at MCEDC meetings, Pat Wick, mayor of Ramona, said it would be much fairer.
The current bylaws with respect to voting are based on population of the town. For example, Hillsboro has six representatives and six votes, Marion with five representatives has five votes and Peabody has three representatives and three votes. The other nine communities have one vote.
The one vote for one town change in the bylaws, along with other changes, were called into question based on interpretation.
Some mayors at the meeting said they believed Teresa Huffman, Marion County Economic Development director, was making changes to the bylaws without following correct procedures, while others couldn’t see any problem with that since the revised bylaws would need approval by the entire council.
“One vote would be fair for each town,” said Pat Wick, mayor of Ramona, “and it would be in your (other town representatives’) best interest to be present,” she said.
With population declines, Dalke said she believes the county should be looking at not shrinking MCEDC.
“We need to bring more people into MCEDC, not less people,” Dalke said.
Doug Kjellin, city of Marion Economic Development and voting representative on the MCEDC, said he needs further direction on whether the group is self-governing or members are only there to listen to ideas but not give opinions.
“Is the committee autono– mous or is it a sounding board (for the director)?” Kjellin asked.
If it’s the latter, then Kjellin said there would be no need for bylaws or a separate structure.
One incident that substantiated the claim of “sounding board” is when the tourism committee suggested a bus using out-of-county advertising. When it came out of committee for a vote, the council approved it.
However, Huffman took the idea to the commissioners afterword and they denied funding the idea.
Huffman said she answers to the commissioners, who provide $8,000 in taxpayer money to help fund the council.
“The commissioners are my boss,” she said.
Delores Dalke, mayor of Hillsboro, said the main issue for her is that she’s not sure if the council is economic development or tourism.
“It seems to be leaning toward Marion County tourism,” she said.
More clarity is also needed in the bylaws, she said.
For example, one change reads that membership in the council requires members to be “active.”
“Define active,” she said. “Is it doing something once a year?”
Huffman, who prepared the bylaws without the assistance of a review committee, said many times council members don’t attend meetings or help with events.
Mary Olson, mayor of Marion, said there are just not many volunteers anymore.
“It’s hard for people to take off and attend (trade) shows,” she said.
Bylaw language related to recruiting members for the MCEDC also sparked controversy with some present.
Mayor in the 12 towns of Marion County, depending on population currently, select representatives to serve on the council. In the event a mayor does not choose an appointment, the economic development director can bring the name forward for a vote by the MCEDC.
Mike Geiman, mayor of Lehigh, said he wouldn’t go along with that because it would circumvent the mayor’s authority.
“If a mayor doesn’t cooperate by appointing someone to MCEDC, you cannot force the community to be part of it,” she said. “Little or big communities that choose not to participate would be their loss.”
David Mayfield, city administrator, was asked by Holub what his experience on bylaws has been.
“Every organization I have served on has a bylaws committee,” he said. “I would also suggest taking this to the county attorney to look at (when completed).”
As the bylaws stand, Mayfield said, it’s all open to interpretation and it could be like “opening a can of worms.”
The committee, he said, makes changes and when done, the document is brought before the entire group.
Huffman said she saw issues that needed to be addressed and made tentative changes to the bylaws.
Another concern in the bylaws dealt with a majority vote.
Dalke questioned the language relating to the two-thirds majority.
“Two-thirds of what?” she asked.
Huffman said it would be two-thirds of the majority present at the meeting.
“If OK ‘d by the council,” Huffman said.
Before passage, she reiterated, it would require board approval.
“Nobody was trying to shove anything down anyone’s throat,” Holub said.
With nearly all volunteers on the MCEDC, Kjellin said some volunteers just don’t know the playing field.
“For (the MCEDC) not being broke, then why are we fixing it?” Mayfield said.
Dalke said she would like a copy of the original bylaws.
“To me, this document isn’t really bylaws,” she said about the updated version given to mayors at the meeting.
“We will talk about a bylaw committee and have auditor explain financial statements,” Holub said.
Geiman asked if two or more people sign checks for the MCEDC. He was told only the director has authority to sign checks.
In addition to mayors Wick, Olson, Dalke, Geiman, Jay and Shipman, Barbara Kaiser of Lincolnville was present.
Mayors absent from the meeting were Mark Brunhoeber of Burns, Michael Sorensen of Durham, Blaine Gehrke of Lost Springs, Larry Larson of Peabody and Jim Clemmer of Tampa.
Commissioner Randy Dalke said the economic development director's position has been evolving for the past four years.
“We are now at the next step,” he said.
Holub agreed the commissioners, the council and director are in unchartered waters.
“Teresa's job is evolving,” Holub said.
Wick said, “I would like to see her (Huffman) empowered to do her job.”
Mary Shipman, mayor of Florence, said, “I agree with Pat that we need to let her do her job.”
Peggy Jay, mayor of Goessel, concurred with Wick and Shipman.
“We need our communities working together,” said Commissioner Bob Hein.