05/22/07 — Duplin commissioners will stick with decision on EDC

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Duplin commissioners will stick with decision on EDC

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on May 22, 2007 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin Board of Commissioners held an impromptu meeting with the county's economic development board Monday afternoon, but no resolution was reached concerning the commissioners' decision to dismantle the Duplin Economic Development Commission.

The commissioners, by a 3-2 vote May 7, chose to make Economic Development director Woody Brinson's job obsolete as of July 1 and transfer all economic development efforts to two non-profit organizations -- the Duplin County Economic Development Foundation and the Duplin County Economic Development Corp.

The motion, approved by commissioners Harold Raynor, David Fussell and Cary Turner, says the county will "eliminate all funding, except for the secretarial position and debt obligation, for our current economic development department effective June 30."

The secretarial position and an allocation up to $75,000 would be used as transitional tools for the county to transfer power of economic development issues to the two non-profits. Raynor said the motion will save the county money.

But Commissioner L.S. Guy questioned whether the move was actually helping the county.

"Whatever direction we go, it should be in the best interest of Duplin," he said. "What we've (the commissioners) done in the past few months isn't."

Pat Renfro, the chairman of the economic development board, said the commissioners' actions will prevent the county from recruiting some industries to the area.

"When I came here, Duplin was the gem of eastern North Carolina, but something has changed," Renfro said. "A large prospect has already told me this has a negative impact on their decision."

Commissioner Reginald Wells added that the commissioners' decision to "fire" Brinson after he had announced his retirement effective Jan. 31, could have an effect on other county employees.

"Department heads should be leery. What happened to Woody could happen to any department head," Wells said.

Renfro said commissioners were making a mistake.

"We need a lead person. Woody with his contacts and information -- it's a treasure trove. To shut the door in his face after 23 years -- it's not a good way to handle it. I'm shocked and embarrassed," Renfro said.

The decision will also hurt Brinson financially. If he is forced out of office in June, Brinson told commissioners that will cut his retirement earnings by $400,000 in the long run.

Monday's meeting was originally scheduled to allow the economic development board to present its proposal to the commissioners.

Renfro said that he and his board were told by the commissioners in March to develop a strategy to merge the non-profits into the county's economic development efforts.

On April 30, the economic development board approved a plan that would merge Duplin's Economic Development Commission and Duplin's Economic Development Corp. boards and allow a county commissioner to be the ninth member.

The Duplin Economic Development Foundation board would consist of people of different diversities and genders, but would not include any commissioners. The foundation board would be void of any commissioners because that organization would require a separation of government involvement to receive grants, Renfro said.

The county government would continue to provide money to economic development efforts annually, while the Duplin Economic Development Corp. would conduct an annual fundraising drive to assist all economic development programs.

But before that proposal was presented, the commissioners voted to eliminate funding for the Economic Development Commission. Economic development board members hoped Monday would be a chance for the commissioners to reverse their decision.

Chairman Fussell would not entertain a motion from Commissioner Zettie Williams, who was absent due to health reasons, that asked the commissioners to keep Brinson in his position until his scheduled retirement date. A stipulation would require that monthly reports be issued to County Manager Mike Aldridge concerning economic development issues.

Fussell also would not allow an opportunity for the board to reverse its decision despite pleas from a fellow commissioner.

"We don't need to study the issue. We've had two weeks to study the issue. We need to do something. If we're not going to reverse the decision, we need to tell them today," Wells said.

At that point, Fussell closed the meeting, saying the board would not change its motion and that the commissioners would discuss the issue at a later date.

But before the meeting ended, Brinson warned that the commissioners' decision was not in the best interest of the county.

"We cannot make the formation of non-profits a priority over getting jobs and investment to Duplin County," he said.