County, EDC reach preliminary agreement on governance

BY CASEY MANN
Posted 11/22/18

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners and the Chatham Economic Development Corporation have reached preliminary agreement on the governing documents of the EDC.

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County, EDC reach preliminary agreement on governance

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The Chatham County Board of Commissioners and the Chatham Economic Development Corporation have reached preliminary agreement on the governing documents of the EDC.

The EDC’s governing documents, or bylaws, have been the subject of debate for years, with lack of clarity about officer terms, nomination and the appointment process being major points of contention.

In February 2017, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution extending the nomination process for EDC board members introduced by Commissioner Diana Hales.

At the time, Hales noted concerns that recently-elected commissioners Karen Howard and Mike Dasher were not provided sufficient time to recruit for their appointments to the EDC Board.

In April 2017, a new slate of recommended EDC board appointees was presented by Kyle Touchstone, the former president of the Chatham EDC. The slate included six residents that had applied and participated in a nomination process through the EDC.

During that presentation, Touchstone noted that the recommendations allowed for enough space on the EDC board for the new commissioners to choose their two appointments as well.

Before the slate was up to a vote, Howard and Dasher were allowed to make their appointments. Howard selected Jeffery Starkweather and Dasher nominated Mark Ferri.

Following the individual appointments, Howard made a motion to approve a slate of EDC board members that was different from the slate of candidates the EDC recommended, though it still included members from the applicant pool. The slate included eight rather than six members which, though creating a larger board, was still within the guidelines of the EDC bylaws.

For more than a year, the EDC board worked revamping its bylaws. The EDC contracted with Ernest Pearson, a consultant from Nexsen Pruet, who was brought in to discuss options for the EDC’s organizational structure.

An EDC Board meeting last July became contentious at times as members debated what the identity of the organization should be in order to maximize it efficacy. The question about the EDC’s independence arose because of the manner by which the board members were chosen and appointed.

At its crux, members said the question was whether the organization is a public entity serving as an advisory board to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners or a private non-profit that contracts with the county for its economic development services.

Without a resolution, a meeting was scheduled to determine the organization’s future. In September, former Chatham County Manager Renee Paschal, interim County Manager, Dan LaMontagne, Commissioner Karen Howard, Commissioner Mike Howard, EDC interim President Alyssa Byrd, and EDC board members Jeff Wilson and Chris Ehrenfeld attended a meeting to hammer out an agreement.

The agreement offered guidance for the EDC Board as it moved forward with addressing the bylaws. The group discussed issues and proposed solutions they felt would work for all parties and allow the EDC Board to move forward.

At that meeting, the group decided that the current board, with 15 voting and nine non-voting members, was too large. All agreed that nine voting members were ideal. Of those members, three would be appointed by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners with the remaining members being chosen via a codified selection process.

A draft of the new EDC bylaws was introduced last week at the EDC board’s monthly meeting. EDC Chairman Doug Emmons provided a snapshot of the changes which reflected the agreement reached.

The EDC will be reviewing the draft and providing feedback throughout November. Emmons hopes that final draft will be ready for a final review by the board by its next meeting Dec. 11.

Emmons said he would also like to present the approved bylaws to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners at its Dec. 17 meeting to codify the contract between the two entities with the new bylaws.

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