Insist on ethical standards

Published 8:11 pm Friday, October 5, 2012

To the Editor:
In May 2012, Beaufort County’s board of commissioners made a unanimous commitment to “redo” the bylaws and structure of accountability at the Economic Development Commission. The response of EDC’s representatives has been to delay and hinder the process. After six months of pre-election motions and postponements, the county board remains unable to arrive at standards for either ethical behavior or for financial reporting at the EDC.
The task of creating a new reality for economic development has regrettably been left with the same people whose failed vision and lax oversight resulted in more than $10.0 million of foolishly misspent money. This is the same group that for 10 years gullibly deferred to an economic development officer who never once submitted an annual report that documented EDC expenditures or substantiated the jobs he was given bonuses for supposedly creating. Year after year, the EDC board swallowed whatever fluff was given to them. Clueless to the end, they mistook public relations for public disclosure.
The current excuse for delaying finalized revisions to the bylaws is that the new economic development director should determine the reporting standards by which his own performance will be judged. Although this obviously compromises the process of supervisory control over the director, there is little surprise in finding that EDC’s leadership resists delineating ethical standards and financial reporting guidelines. Lack of candor, along with undocumented reporting, have defined the Economic Development Commission.
From the very beginning, the EDC’s leadership has demonstrated their incompetent command of the mission entrusted to them. They have allowed $6.5 million to be spent on projects for which no market research can be found. In effect, unbudgeted, speculative spending was haphazardly undertaken without any study or analysis. Sophomoric fallacies and misconceptions regarding the local economy displaced detailed research and left taxpayers with $2.5 million in an empty, unfinished industrial park on Fredrick Road and a $4.0 million problem at Washington Industrial Park, which recently added insult to injury by booking a $1.5 million capital loss on the Quick Start II fiasco.
Throughout the scandal surrounding Agri-Ethanol Products, the disappearance of one imagined relocation prospect after another and the appearance of  “for sale” signs at the industrial park, the leadership at EDC never once provided an honest evaluation of our problems. Instead, the EDC sponsored laughably self-laudatory “dog and pony” shows, which distracted taxpayers from realizing just how little was actually accomplished and how much money was being wasted in the process.
The EDC is an expensive failure, but economic development does have its place.
Every year local residents send millions of tax dollars to Raleigh. Our economy needs to bring those dollars home and to fairly and impartially put them to good use here. If we do not repatriate those tax revenues to Beaufort County, then we quite literally allow them to flow through Greensboro’s streets and into Asheville’s sewers.
Insist on a strong statement of ethical standards, rigorous financial accounting, documented reporting of achievements and a new leadership for economic development.