February 24, 2016It appeared that there may have been some progress made toward getting Crawford County's economic development office running again, when the county council earlier this month voted to provide partial funding for three months as a transition is made to a new director. However, at least one member of the board of commissioners says a year of full funding is needed first.
Following much discussion at its regular monthly meeting on Feb. 9 at the judicial complex in English, the council voted 5-1 (William Breeding against and Mark Stevens absent) to approve member Joe LaHue's motion to fund Don DuBois' contract as economic development director for three months at $3,750 per month, which is half the rate for which the contract was funded in 2015 and the commissioners had asked for this year. The amount includes both compensation and office expenses.
The council, in a joint meeting with the commissioners on Feb. 3, explained its earlier 4-2 (Jerry Brewer and Doug McLain against and Breeding absent) vote not to fund DuBois' contract for 2016. During that hour-plus meeting, which became animated at times, DuBois and the commissioners seemed willing to transition to a new director. However, the commissioners said funding for a contract needed to be in place first.
Amid continuing concerns from Steve Bartels, the president of the council and former president of the Crawford County Tourism Board, that rent wasn't being paid for office space at the tourism center near Leavenworth (DuBois at the Feb. 3 meeting said he didn't owe it), LaHue, in his motion on Feb. 9, stipulated that $200 of the $3,750 is to be used to pay rent.
Jim Schultz, president of the board of commissioners, told the council that six months of funding would be better, as it will take time for the county's redevelopment commission to interview potential applicants and make a recommendation to the commissioners and, once a new director is hired, for DuBois to get the person updated on various projects. He estimated that person would need to work beside DuBois for at least three months.
LaHue noted the commissioners could always return at the end of the three months to ask for additional funding.
The council, at the Feb. 9 meeting, discussed various methods to better evaluate the job performance of the director. As it stands now, as a contracted employee, the director's duties are defined in general, not specific, terms. Brewer, who has argued that the council should fund the entire year contract, said he would like to see the director be a salaried position instead, which would allow those specific job responsibilities to be defined.
"I think it would answer a lot of your all's questions," he said.
"I'm not opposed to options," Bartels said.
Breeding, however, reminded the rest of the council that, by having the position contracted, the county can pay for it with riverboat gaming revenue, saving an expense on the General Fund, something that they cannot do with employee salaries.
At a special board of commissioners' meeting last Thursday, District 2 Commissioner Randy Gilmore, who didn't attend the council's meeting, was adamant that a year's contract is needed, considering that, since there hasn't been anyone in the economic development office for all of 2016, it will take time to catch up.
"We're behind here, a month and a half," he said.
District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius, who was at the council's meeting, said it was his understanding that the council just wants to see the process in finding a replacement director is started and would be willing to extend funding for another three months, if needed.
Gilmore said that also wouldn't work.
"We need a year's contract, and we need to get this county back up to where it's working, because we're doing the county a horrible disservice," he said, adding, "It's time for the council to work with us."
Gilmore said, without a full year's worth of funding, there is no guarantee the council won't withhold funding if it doesn't like whom the commissioners hire, even though that is the commissioners' responsibility.
"Let's have a year contract and get this economic development going again for Crawford County," he said.
Crecelius noted that it appears the two bodies are at an impasse.
"Is that where we're at?" he asked the other two commissioners.
Schultz said he had hoped that, with the commissioners noting they are willing to work with DuBois in transitioning to a new director, the council would have been more receptive to providing funding for the full contract.
"I'm a little disappointed we don't have a little more of a trusting relationship with the council for them to say, 'We trust you guys to do that,' " he said.
Crecelius, who has said he believes a new director is needed but agrees that the commissioners are the ones who do the hiring, suggested presenting a contract to the council stating that, in exchange for funding for the entire year, DuBois will step down and a new director will be hired.
Schultz said he hasn't talked with DuBois since the council's Feb. 9 meeting, so he isn't sure what his feelings are regarding returning for three months at half the budget. With the blessing of the other two commissioners, Schultz said he would do so.