What a mixed message.
The Board of County Commissioners decided to restore the Economic Development Council last week in a narrowly-divided vote.
This came after the BOCC voted late last year to bring the EDC back under its umbrella, in large part because they were fatigued by spending taxpayer money for what they believed were few results.
And at the same meeting last week, despite restoring the EDC, commissioners voted to approve leaving one potential project in the hands of the county administrator and permitted him to hire a “consultant” for the project.
In short, the BOCC spent even more taxpayer money on economic development, with few parameters as far as scope of services or payment.
They did so despite having an EDC director identified during a nationwide search and who appears to have all the skill set.
They also ignored the port director, who has been working on a volunteer basis for nearly a year, even though what is known about this potential project is it involves the Intracoastal Canal.
Instead of making do with the resources available, as county commissioners love to tell the school district, the cities and others, commissioners decided to tap taxpayers once again.
They actually double-dipped when they approved the county administrator moving forward on filling a position that would serve as a jack-of-all-trades under the administrator and other key department heads – public works, emergency management – headed toward retirement.
Broad job specifications, where there were any, salary to be determined, just add another administrative position.
And critics think the school district is top heavy? The county makes the school district appear penurious.
This position would be created and filled despite the fact that commissioners transformed the county jailer position into a deputy administrator position a few years back, paid appropriately, and the supervisor of human resources also identifies himself as a deputy administrator.
How is that bringing efficiency to government, as Commissioner Warren Yeager argued last week?
And what is the plan?
If this is a plan of succession for key staff in the coming years, there are other ways to go about it.
The county advertised nationally for a Tourist Development Council director. The county advertised nationally not once but twice for an EDC director.
Commissioners aren’t going to search, with the aid of the Gulf Coast Workforce Board as in the recent past, to replace the long-time county administrator?
The Public Works position won’t be filled after a search for the best-credentialed candidate?
If this is a move-between-departments position, this is the baseball version of a utility player. Not ready for succession to full time but capable in a pinch of filling in admirably.
But this individual is supposed to provide assistance across disparate departments? Exactly what is the efficiency?
The county administrator could also be helped in the short term by having this economic development project taken off his hands.
Not much is known – the county administrator adhering to the same confidentiality provisions that have driven the county commissioners batty in the past.
But enough is known to know this is a project for the EDC and its new board, it is a project that requires the input of the port director and it sure does not need the county to expend additional funds on a “consultant” to perform duties that at this time are unclear.
This is the sort of thing discussed last week when Commissioner Joanna Bryan talked of the county’s many stops and starts in differing directions when it came to economic development.
How the lack of a consistent message and messenger was hurting the county.
By the end of last week’s meeting there remained two individuals as point of contact on economic development in the county, the EDC director and the county administrator.
And the county administrator does not have the expertise for anything remotely port related. Every member of the Port Authority, even folks with state agencies for transportation and economic development defer to the port director when it comes to the Port of Port St. Joe.
One also can’t help but wonder how a project that involves significant acreage along the Intracoastal Canal might impact the expansion of Eastern Shipbuilding to Gulf County.
Is the St. Joe Company aware of this project?
Is its engaged partner, the Bank of Montreal?
Is Eastern Shipbuilding Group?
If the answer to any one of those questions is no, county commissioners have a potential problem on their hands because there is a lot invested, by a number of parties including the BOCC, to bringing ESG to Gulf County.
Any action that impacts that project negatively is an issue.
A real kicker is the lack of transparency and accountability involved.
The BOCC created two positions without the remotest of Request for Qualifications or Proposals, without any true idea of how much it would cost taxpayers.
They did so without either item appearing on the agenda. The EDC discussion was there, but the county administrator broached creating these two positions under “Staff Business.” Only commissioners were privy to information in advance.
This comes at a time when commissioners are slowly edging their way to bringing clarity and transparency to their agenda. At least they are paying the issue lip service.
But at a time when one commissioner is requesting a clearer agenda, when the other commissioners are at least expressing half-hearted support, the county administrator brings topics such as creating two new positions to commissioners without a notation on the agenda.
Commissioners should decide what message they want to send and get back to the rest of us.
Because despite an encouraging vote last week by the three newest commissioners to provide a unified message on economic development, business as usual remains in place.