The Gulf County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to schedule a public workshop with stakeholders in the Economic Development Council to try to find consensus on the future structure and mission of the agency.
Commissioners also declined a motion brought by new Commissioner Joanna Bryan to halt any movement by the board to hire former Commissioner Bill Williams in a lobbying capacity concerning the RESTORE Act.
Commissioners Tan Smiley and Carmen McLemore dissented on Bryan’s motion to halt work by the county attorney concerning a scope of services and agreement with Williams.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel joined Bryan. Commissioner Warren Yeager said he had an appointment he could not break and left the meeting before the issue was brought up.
Bryan said she had numerous phone calls and inquiries from citizens regarding the board’s action earlier this month to move the Economic Development Council back under the BOCC umbrella from a consolidated Chamber/EDC model the BOCC approved 18 months ago.
Bryan said there was a need for clarification of the board’s desires.
County attorney Jeremy Novak said that a meeting was held last week among some members of the Chamber as well as officials with the county and city of Port St. Joe, the latter two provide public funding for the EDC, to try to sort out the board’s wishes.
Novak said all parties agreed that a public workshop was necessary to hash out issues concerning the EDC and public input regarding its direction.
McLemore, who made the original motion to move the EDC back under the BOCC, said he was “solid” on his decision, but open to further examination.
He said he could not support putting money into the EDC without any tangible results to show for it. He also cited the lack of information.
McDaniel noted that at least the BOCC had gotten the attention of the Chamber/EDC with its vote of several weeks ago.
“We are going to go back and revisit this,” McDaniel said. “We got the attention. We need guidelines. All we get is give us the money and don’t ask.”
EDC director Barry Sellers later said that he had been providing monthly updates for his first nine months before actions by Williams, including removing Sellers from the county RESTORE Act committee, indicated his input was no longer welcome.
He acknowledged communications could be better, but that progress had been made, with as many as 26 site visits from companies seeking to potentially relocated to Gulf County.
He said he had done what he was charged with doing, expanding the Chamber’s reach to the north end of the county, luring in private partners, but had nonetheless seen his promised budget cut.
“I am here to work for you,” Sellers said, noting that six full-time employees manned the Chamber, EDC and Port Authority several years ago while Sellers has just one position currently.
Bryan said that the members of the BOCC had not always been fully supportive of various incarnations of the EDC and that many of the volunteers who work with the EDC and Chamber sense hostility when bringing issues to the board.
“We have people working as volunteers and they have been abused at the podium,” Bryan said. “It is shameful.”
She also noted that given a down economy and an election year, expecting much to happen in the brief time the current model of the EDC has been operational, results should not have been expected quickly.
“We haven’t given them much time to get things going,” Bryan said. “We need to be good stewards of the taxpayer money, I get that, but we also need to stick to our word.”
Smiley said the key was to set aside the personal agendas at play and get to work on jobs.
“I really want this to work because we are taking about getting jobs for people who need them, not for people who have a bank account they don’t touch over there,” Smiley said. “We’ve got to get together bringing everybody to the table and have people leave their personal agendas at the door.”
County administrator Don Butler said he would coordinate with city officials on a date, time and place for the workshop.