Commissioners threaten to pull EDP funding

Economic Development Partnership member says county is holding partnership 'hostage'

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Moffat County commissioners threatened to pull their economic development funding if their position on the board was identified as a "liaison" instead of an "ex-officio" board member.

Both are afforded voting rights in the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership's bylaws. The difference was a stipulation suggested by Craig City Councilor Bill Johnston that government representatives have a vote but not be allowed to hold office on the board.

Johnston said he made the suggestion so that the community would understand the Partnership was business driven, not government driven. The suggestion was made following the board's rocky stint with Commissioner Les Hampton as its chairman.

The EDP board of directors adopted bylaws for the first time two weeks ago. Each board member was given 10 days to review the proposed bylaws prior to the Oct. 1 meeting at which the bylaws were scheduled to be adopted. Hampton did not attend that meeting. Nor did he offer comment on the bylaws before they were adopted.

On Oct. 9, the commissioners sent a letter to the board questioning the bylaws and threatening to pull their fourth-quarter funding in addition to reducing funding for 2004 by half.

"For a partnership to be successful, all members need to be treated as equals," the letter states. "The bylaws committee proceeded to assign the city and county representatives to a role that is less than equal to the other nine directors serving on the board. The conflict became a reality when the membership voted to support this position."

EDP board members said the letter was the first they'd heard about the problems commissioners had with the bylaws and members of the bylaws committee said they were never contacted regarding the draft with questions or suggested alternatives.

The county's fourth-quarter payment equals $6,250 and its annual contribution is $25,000.

At the EDP's Wednesday meeting, addressing the county's letter was the last item on the agenda but moved forward because of its potential impact to the effort.

"County funding is a huge issue and without it, we don't need to discuss these other things," board chairman Scott Cook said. "I have some real serious concerns about the things that are going on. There seems to be some luggage from previous things going on. The fact is, without county involvement, we're done."

Hampton said the bylaws were an obvious attempt by the committee to eliminate all government participation in the EDP.

Committee member and board secretary Jackie Roberts said the only goal was to differentiate between the city and county representatives, which serve in perpetuity and elected board members, which serve three-year term.

"There was no hidden agenda anywhere," she said.

According to the bylaws, the city and county each appoint a representative to the EDP board. That representative has full voting rights.

Other board members are elected by the EDP membership -- those businesses and individuals who contribute financially to the partnership.

An informal poll of the Craig City Council members showed that six out of seven members had no problem with the bylaws as passed and their role defined in them.

Councilor Tom Gilchrist was in the minority. He argued that there shouldn't be two different classes of board members.

Hampton said all the county wanted was to be considered an equal partner with all the rights and responsibilities of any other board member.

"Why should the city and county sit on this board and be defined as any different from any other director?" he asked. "The board of county commissioners is absolutely firm that this position be no different than any other position on this board."

Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said a successful board needs to be built on teamwork.

"We want to be able to have an equal partnership," she said. "We have the most direct connection with the public who is giving the most money and we have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to sit on that board and have equal representation."

The EDP board voted unanimously to amend the bylaws to name the city and county representatives ex-officios with the same rights and privileges as any other board member.

Since the bylaws have been adopted, the change will take at least 28 days before being submitted to the board for final approval.

Not everyone was happy with the final resolution.

"We were held hostage today by the Moffat County commissioners for $6,200," EDP member Pam Foster said. "They held this group hostage and this group let them."

Hampton said the change would keep the county's fourth-quarter funding but the commissioners have still decided to cut their funding in half in their cash-strapped 2004 budget. To change that, EDP board members will have to appeal to the commissioners.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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