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Jonesborough’s role on WCEDC executive board still uncertain

Jonesborough’s representation on the Executive Committee of the Washington County Economic Development Council is not a matter of money, according to WCEDC Vice Chairman Joe Grandy.
“Jonesborough is a really important part of the economic development community, and I don’t know if there is a lot, or any, opposition to the town’s paying less than $25,000 per year,” he noted.
Rather, he said, the decisionrelates to the membership’s balance between public and private sectors. “We’ve tried to maintain an equal balance, and a change would shift it,” he explained. “If we add Jonesborough, do we add another private investor?”
The creation of a WCEDC Executive Committee is part of a proposed intergovernmental agreement that would move the state’s 1101 designation from the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Economic Development Board to the WCEDC.
Jonesborough was a member of the Economic Development Board established with Washington County and the City of Johnson City prior to the state’s enacting Public Chapter 1101, the Growth Policy Act, in 1998.
The WCEDC was formed in 2009 as a private-public partnership dedicated to providing united economic development in the county.
Grandy said the original idea was to rein in all of the organizations that were conducting economic development with no oversight or coordination.
“It was frustrating from the aspect of the funding body,” he said. “We needed a more uniform economic development effort.”
The next year, members of the Economic Development Board pledged their support of the new structure to centralize all economic development groups in one location for the greatest use of staff and resources.
Other WCEDC organizations are the Johnson City Public Building Authority and the Johnson City Development Authority, which Grandy said are funded separately by the City of Johnson City.
Since the formation of the council, the Economic Development Board has become less active. The proposed intergovernmental agreement would officially move the lead economic development role from the Economic Development Board to the WCEDC.
“Once the designation has been moved, we won’t have a need for this entity,” Grandy said.
Assuming the leadership position will bring additional changes in the WCEDC.
“As it has grown, a decision was made to create an Executive Committee to streamline decisions that need to be made quickly,” Grandy said, noting this would be an infrequent practice. “There are very few decisions that would not be made by the full board of directors.”
Proposed members of the Executive Committee are the WCEDC chairman and vice chairman; a private investor nominated by the WCEDC; the mayor of Washington County and a county commissioner; the city manager of Johnson City and a city commissioner; and a board member or general manager of the Johnson City Power Board as selected by the JCPB.
Though not the deciding factor, Grandy said a question regarding the difference in funding did come up when talking about including Jonesborough on the Executive Committee.
“We had to consider how businesses who are ponying up money to support this organization would feel about a government entity being in there with the same vote for less,” he said.
Under the proposed agreement, the city and county would each contribute $171,206 toward the WCEDC annual budget, and the town would contribute $7,000.
Private investors support the WCEDC at a minimum of $25,000. Shared memberships are limited to one vote.
However, Grandy said he has never heard any complaints from the private investors.
“Jonesborough’s seat on the Executive Committee is not contingent on their anteing up additional money,” he insisted.
Grandy said Jonesborough is a critical component as far as being at the council level, but its representation on the Executive Committee has been overemphasized.
“It’s definitely been blown out of proportion,” he said. “Jonesborough has always had a seat at the table, and you can’t necessarily assign a dollar amount to a lot of its value.”
The town’s providing water and sewer service to a large part of the county, including the industrial park, is only one example, he said.
Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe agrees. “It’s a silly discussion if you ask me,” he said. “If you’re assembling a team, this is not how you do it.”
Building on the foundation of the group effort is the next step, he said. “It does not need to be a public debate on the merits of one of the team members in economic development,” he said.
“We should instead focus on developing individual strengths toward a collective goal.”
Wolfe shared his thoughts when asked to be a guest on WJCW’s “Thinking Out Loud” broadcast last week. “I wanted to convey to folks that it hurts my heart personally to hear Jonesborough is insignificant,” he said. “That is not only short-sighted, it’s incorrect.”
According to Wolfe, Jonesborough provides the texture to the fabric of the community that makes it unique. “We’re what sets Washington County apart from communities seeking to attract the same businesses and tourism,” he said.
The intergovernmental agreement was approved by the Johnson City and Washington County commissions during their December meetings.
“We are waiting for Jonesborough to officially bless the agreement, and then the WCEDC will hold the designation in the eyes of the state,” Grandy said.
Final approval of the intergovernmental agreement will automatically shift the designation, he said, and no additional approval is required.
Wolfe said he will place the intergovernmental agreement on the agenda for the Jan. 13 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, at which time he expects it will be approved.
“Based on the conversation I’ve had with leaders, I would recommend passing it in its current form with the hope and expectation that the board of the Economic Development Council will move to include Jonesborough on its administrative governing body,” he said.
While a formal opinion from Town Attorney Jim Wheeler is not in-hand, Wolfe said Wheeler pointed out the agreement is irrevocable once passed.
According to the document, unanimous approval from the three founding members would be required to terminate the agreement.
“A full vote would be needed for Jonesborough to pull out,” Wolfe said. “My question is, why would we?”
Grandy said members of the WCEDC Bylaws Committee will make a formal recommendation to the board of directors regarding the town’s membership on the Executive Committee.