After years of debate and turmoil, the Chatham Economic Development Corporation has passed new bylaws, the rules that governs how the organization works – making its board smaller …
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After years of debate and turmoil, the Chatham Economic Development Corporation has passed new bylaws, the rules that governs how the organization works – making its board smaller and more independent.
Lack of clarity about officer terms, nomination and the appointment process were major points of the dispute which necessitated a re-write of the bylaws.
After the Chatham County Board of Commissioners increased the size of the EDC’s board after several contentious meetings in 2017, the need to complete the rewrite of the bylaws ained new urgency.
For a year, the EDC’s board met, debated, and argued about how the organization should function. Should it be an independent agency or part of the county government? What kind of identity should the organization have in order to maximize it efficacy?
EDC Board Chairman Doug Emmons joined the board in 2013, becoming its chairman in 2017.
“The EDC Board had been trying to modify its bylaws for years, as early as 2014 as I recall,” Emmons said. “When I became board chair in June 2017, we identified several goals, one of which was to complete updating the EDC’s bylaws."
“Accomplishing this goal took 19 months, much longer than I had envisioned,” he said. “One of the key challenges was retaining our independence as a nonprofit board and operating as a public- private partnership.”
The EDC receives funding from multiple sources, both public (county and municipalities) and private (businesses and individuals). The county benefits from having a separate non- profit organization responsible for economic development because the organization can conduct activities not permitted of governments, such as seeking grant moneys for infrastructure.
“This also enables providing a voice to local businesses regarding improving conditions for doing business in the County,” Emmons said.
Under the previous bylaws, all appointments to the EDC board were made by the County board of commissioners. Those appointments were often approvals of recommendations made by the EDC after their selection process. When the commissioners expanded the EDC board and rebuffed the EDC’s recommendations on appointments, that brought the organization’s independence into question.
Soon after, Emmons became chairman of the EDC and turned the board’s focus to updating the bylaws.
“Initially a small team of board members met to outline the desired key changes,” Emmons said. “Our goals were to simplify the document, eliminate ambiguities, and establish a productive operating model.”
The EDC board also brought in outside attorney Ernie Pearson to share his perspectives with the board. Pearson has extensive experience with economic development organizations and helping create optimal operating models.
“During his presentation, he shared four possible models, two of which were most likely— to continue to operate as a non-profit with EDC gaining control of its board to maximize a public- private partnership, or fold the EDC under the County government as another department and fund the EDC entirely from the County,” Emmons said.
Members of the EDC board and the commissioners met on Sept. 20 to determine which model would be accepted by the commissioners. As a result of that meeting, the EDC drafted bylaws to reflect that agreement.
On Jan. 8, the EDC Board unanimously approved the updated bylaws, which include significant changes which will ensure its independence.
The EDC board will be reduced in size from 15 to nine board members through attrition and will be down to 10 by April this year. For future appointments, the EDC board will appoint six board members; Chatham commissioners will appoint three board members with board members serving staggered fouryear terms.
“We believe this set of bylaws will allow the EDC to optimally serve both the public and private sectors,” Emmons said. “The operating model will benefit the county by lessening the financial burden and enabling greater economic development activities than if the function were to reside under the county’s direct organization.”
With the bylaws finally complete, Emmons is grateful to all those that participated to make it happen including the board of commissioners, both the former and interim county managers, the former and interim EDC presidents, and the EDC board members.
He is now focused on moving the EDC forward. The next steps include communicating this update to public and private sector stakeholders and securing a permanent EDC president.
The Chatham EDC will launch its next five-year strategic action plan and capital campaign and also conduct its annual Opportunity Chatham event in February. Emmons want to “ensure site consultants and businesses know Chatham County and the EDC are open for business.”