MCEDC to rethink its purpose and function

Members of the Marion County Economic Development Council agreed at their Nov. 18 meeting in Hillsboro to go back to the drawing board to determine the group?s purpose and function.

After Larry Paine, Hillsboro city administrator and chairman of the bylaw committee, discussed each of the proposed changes and other members offered their input, the discussion ended with the group deciding to re-examine its mission.

?(The committee) went through this entire document (of bylaws) and came up with what we thought needed discussion and further guidance from the commissioners and this group,? Paine said.

The most important element, he said, was how MCEDC should represent and manage itself.

The bylaws committee, which includes Paine, Greg Winn of Florence, Peggy Jay of Goessel, Shane Marler of Peabody and former member Doug Kjellin of Marion, who resigned in October, went over what members believe would be necessary items in any good set of bylaws.

?The name and legal form of authority, its mission, how officers were selected and their duties, the membership and how they were selected, how meetings are conducted (for example, Roberts Rules of Order), how financial procedures are handled and the authority or chain of command of members and officers all need to be reviewed,? Paine said.

Other information needed for ?good bylaws,? he said, would be the function of each subcommittee and how those groups relate to the larger whole.

?It would also be important to have written down the relationship of the committee to the administrative staff,? Paine said.

Using those elements as a starting point or grading mechanism, Paine said his committee had many items to review.

?How is this organization to function under the county commission? This isn?t stated,? he said.

Membership concerns

Another proposed change dealt with membership and giving each community one vote, regardless of the number of representatives allowed.

Currently, Hillsboro has six representatives, Marion five, Peabody three, Florence and Goessel two each, and Tampa, Lincolnville, Ramona, Burns, Durham, Lehigh and Lost Springs have one vote, for a total of 26 voting members.

?I know there is some question if there should be one representative from each community, and if there?s only one voting representative, then there?s quite a few of us who are not needed and maybe we ought to get up and walk out,? Paine said.

Paine said he and the committee felt if this is the case, then what is the true value of MCEDC?

?How is this group to work as an entity of singly representative communities?? he asked. ?I think the county wants input, advise and direction on how economic development should purr in our communities.?

Under one community, one vote, Paine said, it would mean that citizens should be more ?highly prized? representing each town. The entire aspect of citizen involvement is the real question and is more prized than just community representation.

When reviewing this proposed change in the bylaw committee, Paine said, the members recalled the voting process as practically nil.

?What we vote on is accepting minutes, finance reports and annually vote on officers,? Paine said. ?The fact that we have this question on the table is utterly ridiculous for the point of what we do, which is to talk and communicate.?

Winn suggested a two-person limit for each town and both would be voting members. Trayce Warner said voting representatives would be best. Anita Goertzen of Goessel said she likes Winn?s idea.

?Not that we don?t want everybody?s opinion,? she said. ?Last month we didn?t have that big of a group and got a lot done and with a lot less bickering that goes on (in a bigger group).?

Teresa Huffman, MCEDC executive director, asked Paine if his committee will be bringing any written recommendations to the group to vote on.

?We intended to do that until an e-mail earlier in the fall or summer that derailed that,? Paine said. ?I can?t remember the context exactly, but it related to who are we, what are we, why are we doing it and this is what we are going to be.

?I think that was one of the reasons Doug (Kjellin) bailed out of the committee,? Paine said.

As for timing, Paine said he didn?t think the group could have recommendations ready by the next meeting.

?When do you realistically think this could be done?? Huffman asked.

?February at the earliest,? Paine said.

Huffman said she would like to see the bylaws presented to the council with written options, and then the council can decide what option they want.

?These bylaws belong to the council,? Huffman said. ?Excuse me, Mr. (Dan) Holub, but they don?t belong to the (county) commissioners or the mayors, they belong to the council members.?

Conflict of interest

Paine said it was his opinion that the group is failing in advancing economic development in Marion County.

In the beginning, Huffman said, the group was organized for tourism and the Leadership Marion County program.

While Marler said he believes tourism is one aspect of MCEDC, he is seeing too much of the group?s funding spent on tourism.

Creating entrepreneurship or something that improves the county?s tax base should be more of the focus, Marler said, adding that he isn?t interested in spending much time discussing a proposed county tour bus.

Goertzen said she thought what Marler said about tourism doesn?t lead to a cohesive MCEDC.

?You don?t care anything about tourism, but that?s about all we have at Goessel,? Goertzen said.

She also questioned whether some members of MCEDC would consider the smaller towns if a business was interested in relocating.

?It seems like you (Marler) are concerned about Peabody and that?s your job, but this group needs to have more of a focus on the whole county and that involves 12 cities,? Goertzen said.

Goertzen added that while Hillsboro, Marion and Peabody all have economic development groups within their towns, the other cities do not.

?The rest of us,? she said, ?need to bring people to our towns through tourism.?

Marler said that when he sits at an MCEDC meeting, he is looking at what he can do to better the whole county. He said tourism is vital to Peabody as well and believes MCEDC should not focus most of its attention on tourism.

?I think we should be on an even keel with 33 percent on tourism, 33 percent on business retention and 33 percent business recruitment,? Marler said.

Larry Larsen of Peabody added that the three cities with an economic development group should be a resource for the rest of county.

?Whether we get someone (in Marion County) on a tour bus or some other way, MCEDC should help them wherever they want to go in the county,? he said.

Clint Seibel, economic development director for Hillsboro, said MCEDC needs to retarget its purpose to more tourism. ?We reflect what we do and what we have been doing most effectively (is tourism),? he said.

He asked how MCEDC would help retain an existing business needing assistance. ?We could be setting ourselves up for something we cannot do,? Seibel said.

Huffman said Nicole Suder?man of Hillsboro will soon be e-mailing information that asks basic questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What do we want to accomplish?

Paine recommended that MCEDC members go through this mission-function analysis, which would then give direction regarding bylaws.

What happened?

The issues that led to last week?s identity crisis started emerging in May when members from Marion and Hillsboro questioned Huffman?s position on MCEDC as a non-voting chairwoman and whether the group was autonomous.

Marion County commissioners then requested a meeting with the 12 county mayors; those attending suggested a one-vote-per-community change in the bylaws. Also, several bylaw changes were proposed, and some members said the revisions were hastily put together without full council discussion.

The question of autonomy surfaced when the commissioners used its authority to reject a decision made by MCEDC marketing committee members to advertise businesses on a tour bus even after the committee and a majority of the full council approved the idea.

Commissioner Dan Holub said that while the county tries not to interfere in the activities of MCEDC, the county would not allow tax dollars to be used on a bus that allowed out-of-county advertising.

The council receives $8,000 annually from Marion County taxpayers. The MCEDC executive director has a specific line item in the county?s general fund of $43,032.

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