Chatham EDC passes new bylaws

BY CASEY MANN, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/17/19

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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Chatham EDC passes new bylaws

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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.”

Chatham EDC

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