TIPTON – A Tipton Governmental Economic Development Alliance meeting Wednesday focused on the city and county’s relationship with the Tipton County Economic Development Organization – with conflicting viewpoints.
Alliance members Don Havens, Tipton mayor, and Jim Mullins, Tipton County commissioner, expressed differing views of how the TCEDO has served their respective areas, with Havens throwing support behind the organization’s efforts and Mullins expressing some concerns.
While addressing a full auditorium at the Tipton County Foundation, Mullins said that in a meeting earlier this year, county commissioners opted not to approve an addendum to the TCEDO contract asking for additional money on top of the contractual amount of $87,000. That meeting served as a sort of stimulus to Wednesday's Alliance meeting.
In years past, Mullins said, commissioners had approved the addendum, but instead, this year the commissioners approved an installment of the $87,000.
While looking into the contract further, Mullins said he found the contract was “improperly constructed” because the county can’t “pay for services that have not been received.” Mullins than began to express wider concerns with the contract.
“And what we’ve discovered is, to some degree (TCEDO's) purposes that satisfy city needs may not be the same purposes that satisfy the county needs," Mullins said. "So, we need to resolve those, figure out how we can make that whole process work, and work to our advantage."
TCEDO Executive Director Nathan Kring kicked off the more than two-hour meeting with a presentation about the organization’s accomplishments over a span of one year.
He stressed the organization’s focus on education and work-force development, saying they’re tools to draw in and retain residents, and housing to accommodate new residents. Those areas are being targeted with incoming or pending grants and private investments, he said.
He summarized the accomplishments with a final slide on a slideshow stating that over one hundred jobs have been created, millions of dollars have been invested, hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants are moving into the community and there have been high levels of volunteer work.
“This ship has set sail, we’re full steam ahead, and whether you want to be on it or not, that’s up to you guys,” said Kring. “But this board of directors has been nothing but great for me, has not micromanaged me, has not dictated my decisions, they’ve listened to everything I’ve said collectively and made decisions on that and they’ve never told me to do or say anything that was against my constitution or the EDO’s constitution.”
Mullins said that he had some concerns, when looking through the TCEDO contract, about the four areas the economic development organization is to focus on, including collaboration on agri-business on a county-wide scale and “maximizing long-term economic impact at the U.S. 31 corridor.” Mullins commented that he hasn’t heard of work from the group on agri-business and he said a TCEDO board member made discouraging comments about a LOVE’s truck stop’s development plans in the corridor. He also expressed concern about transparency, saying he wants more information circulated to taxpayers and that they hold open meetings.
Some people, Mullins said, wanted the commissioners to serve a notice of contract termination, a warning that would last 180 days before the contact would be dissolved.
“Well, I’m here to openly say, and I’ve said this in other places, that I believe (TCEDO) has a vital function in the county; however I think there’s some organizational issues that could be cleaned up to make it run more effectively,” said Mullins.
Havens said he backs TCEDO, adding he thinks the current board is the best lineup he had seen for the organization yet.
“If you come to Tipton County and you can’t volunteer those types of educational and experiential qualities and personal qualities and be appreciated for it, it is a real commentary on us. Each and every one of us, it is not a commentary on those board members,” said Havens, adding that he feels a negative attitude has permeated the county.
“If there’s a problem in Tipton County, it’s us folks. We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Havens ended his statement by reinforcing that the city supports local economic development. Mullins then added that the county does, as well, but he said he thinks current arrangements need to be tweaked.
The Alliance members agreed to hold an executive session with the TCEDO board to discuss how things will change, or stay the same, between the entities.
During an extensive period of public comment, 24 people spoke, many saying positive things about the TCEDO, while others made comments encouraging teamwork moving forward.
Brent Snow, chairman for the Citizens for Responsible Government, claimed that around $950,000 has been spent, either by the county or the city, on the organization – a number that Kring disputed – and implored officials ask themselves if the work the TCEDO has done has reached that number.
Helen Tragesser, Alliance president, ended the meeting saying she believes 2017 will be a better year for Tipton County than 2016.