Proposal for countywide chamber increases tension on MCEDC

A recent newspaper article prompted concern by some members of the Marion County Economic Development Council during their monthly meeting Wednesday with respect to the formation of a new countywide chamber of commerce.

The newspaper article stated that a countywide chamber of commerce was given the ?go-ahead? by Marion County commissioners, but Teresa Huffman, MCEDC director, said she was not quoted properly.

?I didn?t say what the Marion Record said I said,? she told her council. ?I didn?t bring the matter before the MCEDC since it would not be part of this group, but rather a separate entity.?

But some members of the MCEDC questioned whether it was necessary to have another group splinter off when some believe the proposed task of the new group is the MCEDC mission.

Doug Kjellin, who represents the city in his capacity as economic development director for Marion, said he wanted to read a letter into the record.

?I read in the Sept. 2 edition of the Marion County Record about the go-ahead from commissioners to allow Teresa Huffman to try and start a countywide chamber,? he stated.

Kjellin stated he questioned what role or roles this chamber would play that a true functioning Marion County Economic Development Council was not able to perform.

?In light of the recent upheaval and membership turnover within our own group,? he wrote, ?I can recognize why some new ideas should be discussed.

?However, I question if forming a new group ?from scratch? is a logical solution when much work should be done in salvaging the goals and validity of MCEDC.?

He also stated that he finds it unfortunate that the chamber of commerce idea was not even mentioned to MCEDC before being sent to the county commissioners.

Commissioner Dan Holub attended the meeting and offered the county?s reasoning behind the ?go-ahead? statement.

?First of all, (the commissioners) are approachable and when Teresa talked about the idea, we told her to, ?go ahead; the chamber idea has value.??

Aside from that, he said, the commissioners? stance on the matter was simply to explore it, and if it?s something that can happen, then make it happen.

Since a chamber is using private funds and not county funds, Holub said, that was the extent of their involvement.

?We threw the idea out there, like a casino, and when Teresa came to us, it was asking for our support,? Holub said. ?Why even start to pursue a countywide chamber if there would be conflict??

The commissioners did want to be involved in reviewing by-law changes, he said, since taxpayer money is used.

?We can?t spend money here, here and here and then have it go to the commissioners and we take it off the table,? he said. ?As commissioner, I couldn?t see having advertising competitors (even if Marion businesses were approached first) on a Marion County tour bus, and I was glad it was brought to our attention first,? he said.

Peggy Jay, mayor of Goessel and member of MCEDC, said sometimes members of the group have created a small-town versus large-town dynamic.

?MCEDC ought to be a (countywide) chamber,? Jay said. ?I think we need to either change the bylaws or make this two separate issues.?

Nicole Suderman, president of Leadership Marion County and MCEDC  member, said she was hurt by what she was hearing from smaller communities.

?When I become involved in Marion County?s leadership program I wanted to build on everything good about our county,? she said. ?Not just from Hills?boro or Marion, but all the communities.?

One member agreed saying, ?Hillsboro and Marion are not monsters.?

Volunteerism is one of the reasons Huffman said a separate entity could further better unity.

?People would volunteer more with a countywide chamber for trade shows and other functions,? she said.

Many members found her reasoning to be faulty. With all the celebrations and events in the county, volunteers are getting harder to find.

For the state fair, the county offered its employees a special deal to work a four-hour shift at the fair and get the day off.

?I want unity,? Huffman said, ?and I am surprised at the opposition to this. I want to get more people involved.?

Huffman envisioned the smaller towns, citing Lincoln?ville as an example, submitting a list of when they need volunteers for this or that event.

?We need to work together, and I don?t like all this dissention,? she said.

Delores Dalke, mayor of Hillsboro, said that when MCEDC first started, things were done a little differently than now.

?We left time for each community to bring something along for others in the group to take back to their communities and put in windows,? she said. ?Today, we give reports, grab our stuff and go home.?

?It would be good to go back to that oneness again by helping one another a lot more.?

Kjellin stated similar remarks in his letter.

?It is time we evaluate the true purpose of MCEDC  and determine if the council is a viable, worthwhile effort while our leaders seem to undermine the very spirit of collaboration among the cities of Marion County to become a unified community.

?Look critically at the results, actions and statements by our leadership and determine for yourselves whether MCEDC is truly perceived as an entity promoting unity and progress,? Kjellin wrote.

If not, he stated, perhaps a chamber has merit and simply disband MCEDC.

?Or throw off the members which sow seeds of resentment, anger, distrust and bitterness and once again bring MCEDC to a viable and practical resource for the benefit of all county communities.?

Anita Goertzen of Goessel said Huffman helps the smaller communities.

?We need more help than Hillsboro or Marion,? she said, ?and we need a group to meet with smaller communities different than MCEDC.?

In a separate action by the Marion City Council, following an executive session during Monday?s meeting, it was agreed to change Kjellin?s job description as economic development director so that attendance at MCEDC meetings would no longer be mandatory.

For a full report of that city council meeting, go to hillsborofreepress.com.

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