Unscrambling an egg

Published 8:26 pm Friday, August 24, 2007

By Staff
It’s good the Beaufort County Committee of 100 and Golden LEAF have kissed and made up.
The foundation’s recent award of $1.5 million for two Beaufort County economic-development projects — Carver Machine Works and an industry coming to the industrial park in Chocowinity — indicates that a recently tenuous relationship is on the mend. That’s good news for Beaufort County.
The foundation exists, according to the words that make up its acronym, for the long-term economic advancement of tobacco-dependent and economically distressed counties. While tobacco is grown in Beaufort County, the county isn’t classified as being “tobacco dependent.” So that means it falls under the “economically distressed” umbrella. But a great many counties — at least 40 others — fall into that same classification, and Golden LEAF can’t help them all. Thus, it behooves Beaufort County not to pick a fight with an entity that has finite resources and at least 40 other equally distressed places where those monies could be justifiably spent.
Alas, even the most reasonable of beings occasionally find that reason abandons them at the most inopportune moments. That’s what happened to Washington Park mayor and Committee of 100 member Tom Richter.
When the Committee of 100 sought a $3 million grant from Golden LEAF to upgrade the Impressions Marketing Group facility on Spring Road and provide incentives for the display-case maker to stay here, the committee, evidently, expected to get it.
Expecting something is different from wishing for it or hoping for it. An expectation can create a situation in which there is no Plan B, or if there is one, it’s ugly.
The committee expected $3 million from Golden LEAF in June. That $3 million would protect 162 jobs, aside from adding new ones, according to Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer. So when the committee received $1.1 million from the foundation for Impressions, it mattered little that Beaufort County’s award was the largest made to any county during that grant cycle.
And Richter reacted. He said the foundation was using an outdated, “two-year-old formula” that slighted the county.
Richter said that in an open meeting that was recorded, and once it was out there, he couldn’t take it back.
Did someone, somewhere make Richter or the Committee of 100 or the county a promise that wasn’t delivered? Maybe. Either way, Richter was wounded, the county was wounded, and he spoke from the sting of those wounds.
Of course, if a public official openly accuses an entity in charge of public funds of being unfair or uneven in distributing those funds, the entity is going to bite back. And Golden LEAF did.
When foundation President Valeria Lee went about explaining that Golden LEAF was perfectly in the right to decide Beaufort County’s grant amount the way it did, we couldn’t help but wonder if a bridge was burning. And Beaufort County can’t afford to burn a bridge between itself and the foundation that has gone to bat for it many times. Even Richter knew that, saying later his comments came too much off the cuff, and that he needed to “unscramble an egg.”
We’re not entirely sure how it happened, but the egg was, indeed, unscrambled. And Beaufort County will be better for it.