08/11/06 — Eastern Region officials set tighter rules for accounting

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Eastern Region officials set tighter rules for accounting

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on August 11, 2006 1:51 PM

KINSTON -- Members of the board of the Eastern Region economic development group met Thursday and discussed ways to improve the organization's financial accountability.

The 13-county organization met for the first time under the leadership of its new president and chief executive officer, Al Delia, and members opened discussion by offering possible ways to ensure the organization's money is properly spent.

Delia was hired after former CEO Tom Greenwood resigned in February in the wake of a state audit that found questionable uses of the region's money. Trips to promote the regions economic viability are considered necessary at times, but auditors found that Greenwood had spent $15,000 for a guesthouse rental, tickets and food at the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, $2,357 for a two-week trip to Ireland and a trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The expenditures were legal, but region board members admitted they were not wise uses of the group's money.

Since the group's last meeting in June, the General Assembly adopted new measures calling for the state's regional economic development organizations to do a better job of policing their finances.

Among the proposals offered at the meeting were switching to direct payroll deposits and making the organization's financial transactions more open to public scrutiny. Treasurer Jack Best of Wayne County suggested the region consider using a different bank to conduct its financial business, since one of the members of board is an executive with the bank the region currently uses -- First Citizens.

The organization should do whatever it can to show it is being financially responsible, members agreed.

Delia, who had been working as director of federal relations for East Carolina University, gave board members an overview of his objectives.

He said he plans to visit with economic development leaders in all of the region's counties to learn first hand what their concerns and goals are. He said that he has worked with the region's staff over the past two months to develop a plan to help boost development in the region. Although the Eastern Region cannot accomplish all the goals itself, it can lend its support to the various projects, Delia said. A key to the region's success is increasing its visibility as a good place for new industries to locate, he said. That means bettering the region's infrastructure, educational systems and overall quality of life, he said.

"We want to improve things so that people will want to come to us rather than having to constantly recruit," Delia said.

Delia said the region should work more to match potential new businesses with the best location available. Each of the 13 counties has something different to offer and those particular positives should be catalogued and advertised, he said. By showcasing the region's "sub-regions," he said, the entire area would benefit.

Delia told board members that he would also like to see the organization do more research into the special interests of foreign countries that offer the potential for investment in the region. Eastern North Carolina could benefit from enticing developing countries, he said. The next step would be to research economically emerging countries and begin developing a relationship that could lead to more industries and jobs in the region, he added.

Delia said the public can expect two things during his tenure as president of the Eastern Region -- the group will carefully think through all possibilities before taking action and it will measure each decision to determine its potential benefit.

"With any program that we implement, if it makes an impact, then that's when we can make adjustments to make it better. If not, I'll be the first one to say it was a dumb idea," Delia said.