February 10, 2016A special meeting of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners and Council last Wednesday night to discuss the status of the economic development director's contract for 2016 became animated at times as the discussion not only centered on the job performance of the most recent director but delved into the division of duties of the two boards.
The meeting, at the judicial complex in English, became necessary after the council, believing that the county hasn't been getting its money's worth in regard to the annual contract with Don DuBois, didn't provide funding for the contract for this year.
The contract approved by the commissioners in December called for the county to compensate Dubois $89,975, the same amount as in 2015. Not all of that, however, would be salary, as DuBois, as a contract worker and not a county employee, would be responsible for paying all of the expenses associated with the office.
Jim Schultz, president of the board of commissioners, in acknowledging the council's concerns about DuBois' job performance, said he and the other two commissioners invited DuBois to the meeting "to give him the opportunity to answer questions the council might have and just to have an open discussion."
Council President Steve Bartels began by asking DuBois if he agreed with statements highlighting his accomplishments as economic development director that District 2 Commissioner Randy Gilmore made at the commissioners' December meeting and appeared in a newspaper article.
"From what you read, is this accurate, do you stand behind it, and do you believe it's truthful?" Bartels asked.
While giving DuBois, who through December served as economic development director for more than a decade, an opportunity to read Gilmore's statements, Schultz said another goal of the meeting was to talk about funding for 2016.
"One thing we would like to get resolved tonight is where we are at with the budget as to whether or not we're funding economic development," he said.
Bartels answered that he didn't believe the council — which voted 4-2 against funding the contract for 2016, with only members Jerry Brewer and Doug McLain opposed; member William Breeding was not present for the vote — would change its vote if DuBois was to remain as the economic development director, but would be open to reinstating funding if the commissioners and DuBois agreed to transition to a new director. However, he said, the council would like to see parameters laid out in the new director's contract that make sense to everyone.
"Do we as a county feel the need to fund economic development?" Schultz asked.
Councilman Lucas Stroud said he definitely favors keeping the director's position, as "it's probably one of the most important jobs we have in the county." However, he explained later in the meeting that he doesn't believe DuBois is the person to continue leading that effort.
"I appreciate the work that you've done," he told DuBois, "but, in my mind, I'm only saying this because I'm in the position I'm in and it may mean something, I just feel like that we may need to have fresh eyes and just a new vision maybe. Not saying you did a bad job, but I'm saying we need something new."
Breeding, earlier in the meeting, said pretty much the same thing.
"I'd like to thank Don for what he's done, for what's been done for economic development," he said. "I think if Don was sitting in my shoes, I don't think he would criticize me for saying we've not had success that we should have had, I don't think. I think Don has tried and maybe tried as hard as he knows how."
Breeding referenced a recommendation from a bi-partisan committee in 2008 charged with saving the county $500,000.
Resident Bill Byrd, who chaired the three-person committee, said the group made several recommendations, none which dictate specific personnel cuts, instead leaving that to the individual elected office holders, that actually would have resulted in closer to $800,000 in savings. The Economic Development office was one of the areas where the committee believed cuts could have been made, he said.
"There must be immediate consideration of the cost benefits received from Economic Development," the committee stated in its report. "… We recommend serious consideration to temporarily suspending or permanently eliminating this function."
"I think it says that we did not feel we were getting a benefit from our efforts," Byrd said.
DuBois, in taking exception to Byrd's assertion, asked him: "The improvements to the (industrial) park and improvements we've made out there and the potential for this medical center and all that has no bearing on the value added to the county at all, since that date?"
"Are you asking my personal opinion or are you asking the committee's opinion?" Byrd asked.
"Well, the committee has long since been disbanded, so I guess it would be your personal opinion," DuBois answered.
"I don't feel qualified nor do I desire to answer that question," Byrd replied.
At the urging of Gil-more, DuBois noted that he brought in "over a million dollars' worth of grants, and, recently, part of the efforts of Radius Indiana (a regional economic initiative of which Crawford County is a member) with Eli Lilly, there's a $42 million grant that this county will participate in. I was a founding board member of Radius Indiana. I was there before it was actually formed, there in the beginning."
He added that the county received a $240,000 grant to install fiber-optic cable at the industrial park near Leavenworth.
"That was after 2008. That would not have happened without somebody — it didn't have to be me, but it had to be somebody in there — representing Crawford County in those efforts. Things like that don't just happen," DuBois said.
"It takes somebody that's really working and willing to spend the time and effort to push things along, to call the people who need to be called and involved in these things. Things just don't happen on their own.
"Yeah, I'd love to have had an industry out there but, of the 92 counties in Indiana, how many of them got an actual industry moved in?" he asked. "Not very many. It just doesn't happen very often. But it takes effort to get a park like that to the position where you're even in the running."
Bartels asked DuBois if he knew his attendance rate for Radius Indiana's meetings specifically for Local Economic Development Organizations (LEDOs) for the past couple of years.
"Would 23.1 percent be fairly accurate?" he asked.
DuBois said he attends meetings that he believes are important to Crawford County, but explained that he cannot be two places at the same time.
Bartels responded that, if DuBois truly believed that, the LEDO meetings seemingly would be a priority, since it would be important "to get Crawford County in the public face."
He also asked DuBois how many general Radius Indiana meetings he attended during the past two years.
"Do you think you made 50 percent of them?" Bartels asked.
"I made a hundred percent of them up until a year ago probably," DuBois said.
"So," Bartels responded, "something's happened in the last couple of years that, at least with Radius, has changed your attendance."
DuBois reiterated it comes down to whether that meeting or another at the same time is more beneficial for the county.
"I have to make judgment calls," he said.
Referring to Gilmore's statements in the newspaper article, Bartels said to DuBois: "You got a chance to read this. So, is everything in there what you would consider accurate, and do you stand behind those listings of your accomplishments and things that are important?"
DuBois asked for specifics.
Among Gilmore's claims that Bartels referenced was that, during DuBois' term as president of the county tourism board this past year, there was a large increase in inn keeper's tax receipts.
"Do you realize you were not there April, May, October, November and September the year you were president?" he asked, while also asking if DuBois believes tourism is a part of economic development.
DuBois answered that, again, he cannot be two places at the same time, noting the tourism board had a capable vice president.
Bartels said DuBois' absence at those meetings, along with him not attending some of the Radius Indiana meetings, points to a trend.
Bartels then asked DuBois if he believed that he owed the county's tourism commission past rent for office space in the commission's facility across the road from the industrial park.
(The tourism board sent a letter dated Nov. 23, 2015, to DuBois, the commissioners and the council requesting $4,800 in rent it says is due through December 2015.)
DuBois answered that he didn't believe he owes it.
"There's four people in here that know the truth to this," Bartels said, apparently referring to himself, DuBois and Sharon Wilson, the tourism office manager, who was one of those to have signed the letter.
DuBois again said he didn't owe the rent, saying the agreement was with the Economic Development Commission, not him.
"No, it was with you, Don, and the minutes show that," Bartels said. "So, you don't believe you owe it?"
After a pause, Bartels reached into his bag, grabbed a Bible and dropped it onto the table.
"That's the fourth person that's in this room that knows the truth. And it's dramatic, and I meant it to be," he said.
Wilson, who was in the audience, said she has worked in the same office as DuBois and his predecessor for 16 years and she has seen firsthand how hard they have worked for the county.
"I've never seen a lazy bone in his body," she said of DuBois.
Wilson, who also is a former member of the county council, said an economic development director can only be successful if they have the support of the commissioners and county council.
"If you don't have the council and the commissioners of this county backing the economic development director, you will never get another thing in here," she said.
Brewer, who has served on the council since he was first elected in 1996, agreed.
"You just heard some comments from a true public servant who has no political ax to grind with a lot of experience," he said.
Brewer said nothing was being accomplished at the meeting other than hurting the county.
"This is the worst thing we could do tonight, what we're doing, to keep from getting economic development in," he said.
The commissioners and the council need to be united when seeking federal and state assistance, Brewer said.
"I'm afraid to say we have a difference of opinion, fine. Somewhat personal vendetta," he said. "But the council, and my dad was there 22 years, I've been here a long time, the council has never used funding to hire and fire and do contracts. That's the commissioners' job. The council shouldn't be here. We vote to fund it or not, and let them run the program.
"Yes, we advise, but we should advise it in a private manner, not in a public meeting that makes Crawford County look bad, and we're making Crawford County look bad tonight."
Brewer told his fellow council members that it was time to "cut the politics aside."
"If you guys want a change, you've got to elect one of the commissioners next year and then change," he said, adding, "Shame on us for being at this point that we're doing petty stuff.
"It's their call. It's not our call, Steve," he said. "It's not our call who they hire for economic development."
Bartels, who became president of the council in January 2015 following the election of fellow Republicans Stroud, Joe LaHue and Mark Stevens, said the concerns about DuBois' job performance aren't personal or political.
"So, we have a four-person Republican council, and we're doing this for what? What gain do we get out of this?" he asked Brewer.
DuBois said he believes it has been personal, claiming that Bartels has defamed him at public meetings, to which Bartels denied having done so.
"It's personal. You're personal with it. You don't need to do that. It's totally unnecessary," DuBois said.
Agreeing with Brewer, Schultz told Bartels, "It is the council's decision as to whether or not we fund economic development, OK? It is the commissioners' call on what we do with that."
"Then, as a councilman," Brewer said, "I would make a motion that we reinstate the funding … at the next meeting. Advertise it, do it properly in accordance with the rule and re-establish economic development funds for Crawford County for 2016."
Following more discussion and with his motion initially not receiving a second, Brewer made a motion to adjourn, which also went unanswered for some time.
Both Schultz and Gilmore said they would be willing to work on a transition plan, if DuBois was wanting to move on, which he indicated he would be, if that is what is best for the county. However, they said funding for the economic development contract needs to be in place first.
Schultz said the council is "still trying to go in a back door to do the commissioners' job. The bottom line is, that's for us to work out with Don and whoever."
Bartels said that wasn't the case and, admitting there is friction between the commissioners and him, he had asked a couple of other members of the council to talk with the commissioners after the council didn't fund the contract for 2016.
"In a public meeting of running Don down two or three times, you haven't changed my mind," Brewer interjected. "I think he's done a good job. Let's don't set economic development back, guys. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and sometimes we have to get along."
"Sometimes you've got to move forward with change," Bartels responded.
At the urging of council attorney Marcus Burgher IV to address both of Brewer's motions, McLain, the only other council member present, as LaHue and Stevens were absent, seconded the motion to provide funding for 2016.
Breeding, who said he would like to wait until the other two members are able to attend before taking action, said he is like Stroud in that, "I'm really for funding it. I even really want to expand it, but I don't want to continue what we've got."
After Brewer's motion failed 2-3, with only Brewer and McLain for, Bartels repeated that his motives aren't personal.
"I personally don't have a problem with Don DuBois. I personally believe our county needs to change. I don't think this is all negative unless we all make it negative. It's a change. Everybody's reluctant to change no matter what," he said.
"We start throwing a Bible around we're getting a little bit too personal," Brewer said.
"It was dramatic, wasn't it?" Bartels replied. "But it made a point."
"It offended me," Brewer said.
"It was totally ridiculous," DuBois added. "It was the stupidest thing I've ever seen."
Brewer again made a motion to adjourn, this time receiving a second from Breeding, followed by a vote in favor.
"Before you guys leave, let me just make a short statement," Schultz said. "I think — you heard the discussion here tonight, everybody heard the same discussion — I think it's obvious that Don is willing to talk to the commissioners about a transitional thing. I think he's pretty much indicated that.
"I think you've gotten the impression from our board that we're probably more than willing to look at that discussion with him, but the bottom line, guys, is still that we can't have that discussion unless you fund economic development, because there's no money for us even to work with. It's on you right now as to whether economic development gets funded or not."
District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius said that, despite having voted against approving DuBois' contract because DuBois had not returned his calls, which, as one of DuBois' bosses, he said is unacceptable, he agrees with the other two commissioners.
"This is a body that operates by rules, and we've got the majority of the people here that voted to have Don stay," he said. "Although I disagree with that, I respect their decision to hire him."