03/02/14 — STEP team meeting

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STEP team meeting

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on March 2, 2014 1:50 AM

FREMONT -- The Fremont Small Town Economic Prosperity team is still waiting on a contract from the state Department of Commerce for the $100,000 it has been promised to implement its economic prosperity projects.

The projects must be completed within 18 months of the contract being signed, signaling more time for the Fremont STEP team to budget for the projects.

Judy Hills, executive director of the Eastern Carolina Council, reported to the team that the department is reviewing and rewriting contracts sent over by the Rural Center.

"It's not just you going through this," she said. "From what I was told, the whole system was going through this process."

Other former Rural Center-managed programs like the Community Development Block Grant are coming under the same scrutiny as the STEP contracts.

The STEP program moved over to the Department of Commerce after spending by the Rural Center was questioned.

The center was restructured and many of its projects were moved over to the department.

Without funds to work with, the team focused on organizing itself into a formal committee with subcommittees focused on specific projects.

"A delay is of benefit to us at the time," Mayor Darron Flowers said. "It gives us extra time if they don't write the contract retroactively to Jan. 1."

The scope of the delay is unknown but Mrs. Hills said it could be a few months before the contracts come out.

The team and Mrs. Hills agreed the likelihood of the contract being written back to January was low without the funds available to the town.

Flowers suggested organizing the group with a chairman, vice-chairman and secretary.

He said he believed the officers should not be city officials or employees.

"You already have myself and the other six members of the board up there," Flowers said.

Flowers also suggested prioritizing projects based on what would take the longest and be the most important.

Keith Spivey was the only nomination for team chairman.

He accepted and took over operation of the meeting to open the floor for volunteers for vice-chairman.

"I'm from the old school military and the way I was told, volunteer or be voluntold," Spivey said. "I'm very easy to work with."

Beatrice Jones volunteered to serve as vice-chairwoman for the team.

Joyce Artis was nominated as team secretary which she accepted as well.

Spivey said that without a contract the team could not do much more than organize itself into subcommittees for each of the projects.

"I don't want us to spin our wheels or be caught in between a rock and a hard place," he said.

Former STEP Program leader Art Jackson attended the meeting as a possible candidate for a consultant position approved in the plan to help facilitate the process of implementing the STEP team's projects.

The team budgeted $12,000 to pay a program administrator during the process.

Jackson retired from the Rural Center in September.

Ms. Jones asked Jackson if he left the center on amicable terms with the knowledge that they would rub elbows with some of his former colleagues during the implementation process.

"There is no friction there," Jackson said. "It was a clean break."

No official decision was made Tuesday night but both Mrs. Hills and Jackson will be at the next STEP meeting March 25.

At the next meeting the team plans to break out about four subcommittees to handle individual projects with project leaders.