After all the introductions and opening comments at the first meeting of the county’s new economic development committee Tuesday night, many attendees appeared surprised to learn they weren’t a committee after all.
“This is a consensus-building meeting; this is not a committee to move forward,” said Chris Hernandez of Marion, picked by county commissioners to facilitate the meeting.
Commissioners agreed not to exclude any of the 14 applicants from the committee at a May meeting, but Hernandez conveyed a different message.
“They’ve got to narrow this group down,” he said.
Stan Thiessen of Hillsboro disagreed.
“We have 11 people here; can all of those people serve on the committee, and if not, why not?” he said. “If we take a process approach; we can have everyone participate. There won’t be that emotional part of what the commission fears most.”
“I can’t speak to what they’re fearful of,” Hernandez said, “but I can speak to what they’ve said. If they change their minds on that, so be it.”
A few minutes later, Thiessen pressed the issue again.
“The fact is we’re a group of volunteers with a lot invested in Marion County,” he said. “We could do what we want. It’s not like we need to go to the commission to get permission for five of us to be on the committee. Let’s keep 14 in this process.”
Craig Dodd of Hillsboro agreed the committee should be assertive.
“We have to take ownership without asking permission,” he said, “and if they don’t like it, we’ve tried.”
Thiessen also had questions about how the committee was supposed to function.
“I’m not as interested at this point in hearing stories or what we might think are good ideas for the county as I am in hearing how we’re going to move through this process,” he said.
Other members chimed in with related questions.
“Who do we answer to?” asked Russell Groves of Hillsboro.
“Do we have any authority?” asked Tammy Ensey of Marion. “What is our purpose for tonight; what we’re hoping to achieve?”
Dodd added: “What is our objective?”
Hernandez said commissioners wanted the committee to focus on bringing jobs to the county.
“What they’re really after here is smaller entrepreneurs, giving them a vision of how Marion County could fit their business model,” he said.
“You come here with a preconceived notion of what we are to do, and I think it’s in our best interests to start with a clean slate,” he said.
Hernandez wasn’t finished, saying another goal of commissioners was to find a way to combine economic development money now spent separately by the county, Marion, and Hillsboro.
“We’re the ones being tasked by the county to create this interlocal agreement to take funds from both county and city to combine them for a greater return on our funds,” he said. “If we co-op those funds there’s the ability for them to be drastically expanded. This is where the county would like to see it.”
Attendees agreed they wanted to hear from other counties with successful agreements to learn from their experiences.
Hernandez said he would brief commissioners on what was discussed and relay that all members indicated their willingness to serve on the committee being formed.
“At the end of the day, I see it as their job to make this thing move forward,” he said. “They’re going to have to fund it; they’re going to have to approve it. They’re the ones we elected to represent us.”