08/20/04 — Waylaid: Agency surprised by commissioner

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Waylaid: Agency surprised by commissioner

When representatives of the Economic Development Commission appeared before the Wayne County commissioners Tuesday to present a proposal to restructure the EDC staff, Commissioner Arnold Flowers had his guns loaded and cocked. He fired at first sight.

If ever there was a surprise ambush, this was it. Flowers himself is a member of the EDC and had never expressed opposition to the proposal, though it had been discussed in his presence. Before it went to the county commissioners, the Economic Development Commission had approved it unanimously. Flowers was absent when that vote was taken, but his opposition on Tuesday caught the EDC people off-guard.

The ammunition for Flowers’ attack was statistics he had compiled about the cost of operating the EDC and its efforts to recruit business to Wayne County and to retain what is here.

Indeed, this is an expensive undertaking. But that is irrelevant to the proposal to restructure the staff.

The EDC has three employees, including President Joanna Thompson. Under the restructuring, one employee would gain the title of vice president. She and the EDC’s administrative assistant would get raises in accordance with salary ranges that have been developed by Ms. Thompson and the county’s personnel office. The employees’ new salaries would be at the low end of the new ranges. Their current salaries are below the bottom figures in the ranges.

No budget increase was requested. The new salaries would be lower than called for in the budget that the commissioners have approved for the current fiscal year.

The proposal and the budget that was approved also call for a fourth position in the EDC offices: a coordinator for existing business and industry. County economic agencies now devote much of their effort to holding on to the job-producing businesses that they have, and there is less recruiting of new industry than in years past.

The addition of the existing-business coordinator was discussed at the EDC’s retreat in January in the presence of Flowers, other commissioners, many other elected officials and anyone else who chose to go. No one expressed opposition.

On Tuesday, Ms. Thompson said she would not propose filling the vacancy as long as county government has a freeze on additional hiring. Such a freeze exists now to conserve money.

The EDC’s restructuring plan also included job descriptions for all of its employees. Having established salary ranges and written job descriptions is good management. Every agency should have them and should consult them when there are staff vacancies or discussions of a job’s duties and responsibilities.

The county commissioners might have been expected to approve the EDC’s proposal with little said. When a member of the EDC itself objected and turned the discussion to his opinion of the EDC’s work, Ms. Thompson and the EDC chairman, Charles Gaylor, must have felt that they had been bitten by their own dog.

Published in Editorials on August 20, 2004 11:04 AM