Keeping faith, funds for economic development

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Despite the cloud of controversy surrounding the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership, the organization's primary fund providers -- the city of Craig and Moffat County -- still support the effort and have no plans to pull their funding.

"I still think it's a viable effort," Craig City Council member Don Jones said. "I think they will get their act together if they rely on their fellow businessmen to do it and get government out of it."

He's not alone in thinking the effort deserves continued support.

"At this time I do think it's important that we get this rolling," Councilor Bill Johnston said. "Now we need to push a little harder in a positive direction. We can't quit yet."

The economic development effort began in 1998 as a Craig Chamber of Commerce committee, but really kicked into gear at the end of 2000 when the committee financed a target industry analysis -- a blueprint for local economic development.

In 2001, the partnership broke its ties with the chamber to pursue separate goals and non-profit status. Its first goal was to hire a director.

Wally Ralston started working as the EDP's executive director in May.

The city and county each contributed $25,000 toward the effort in 2002 and appropriated the same amount for 2003.

Private contributions totaled $18,250 in 2002 from 15 businesses.

Though there were questions from the Craig City Council in August about whether the partnership's new director was making any progress, the real controversy didn't hit until January when the Partnership's board of directors refused to release documents pertaining to the director's employment, the partnership's goals and its budget.

Two weeks later, Ralston resigned after a tie vote was recorded on a motion to terminate him.

"We had (a director) for a year that I don't think could quit because he never really started," Councilor Carl Chapman said.

During that December meeting, a 3-4 vote was cast to remove Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton from his position as chairman. The motion failed, prompting board member Ken Recker to resign.

"I think there are a lot of conflicts of interest on the board and I think a lot of that is brought on by having someone from government as the chair," Chapman said.

At the same time, it was discovered the board of directors wasn't following the EDP's bylaws, which, it was later pointed out, were never formally adopted.

There is some concern over whether current board members have been elected according to the EDP's bylaws and whether the board has ever held a legal vote.

On Jan. 21, the board voted 3-2 to make the director's resignation effective immediately.

"We didn't have the right person," Jones said. "We made a mistake. Hopefully we learned. Surely we won't make the same mistake twice."

One year and $77,448.57 later, there are questions about whether that investment was well spent.

"No, it wasn't," Johnston said. "The greatest portion of the money spent has been on an employee and that employee didn't work out. The money wasn't too well spent so far, but it will be."

What's important, city and county officials said, is where the Partnership goes from here.

"They need to make sure they have a solid foundation on how to operate the board," Johnston said. "They need to, based on education, see what they need to accomplish and they need to hire a person who can get us there."

One concern is that the board be led by businesses instead of government. Both city and county officials believe they should be entitled to a vote and a place on the board of directors for their $25,000 annual investment but city officials don't believe a government representative should hold an office on the board.

"I'd like to see it business oriented," Johnston said. "Business run with government having a vote, but not holding office."

Hampton announced this month that he planned to resign his position as chairman of the board at the EDP's annual meeting, tentatively scheduled for May.

Chapman isn't as forgiving as his fellow councilors.

"I wouldn't recommend we spend one penny more until they get their act together," he said. "We've received nothing for our money. We threw it away to this point."

According to newly elected county Commissioner Daryl Steele, the county will continue its support of the EDP.

"We need to look at getting more results," he said. "I support the concept, but we need to monitor the results a little better."

The board's first step in getting back on its feet will be to revise the EDP's bylaws and present them to its membership -- those who have contributed financially -- for approval.

The board meets Feb. 19 to begin the revisions.

Items board members feel need clarified are how board members are elected, who is entitled to an ex-officio seat on the board and whether ex-officio members can vote.

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