Pearl River County’s economic development agency in danger of expiring

Published 12:37 am Sunday, March 15, 2009

Differences of opinion have led Board of Supervisors to pull its funding to Partners for Pearl River County.

At the first March meeting of the board of supervisors, Anthony Hales, Charles Culpepper and Sandy Kane Smith, made appointments to replace three members of the Partners for Pearl River County board — Ronald Dunston, Glade Woods and Suzanne Shean respectively. Dunston was to be replaced by Dale Miller, Woods was to be replaced with former Picayune Chamber of Commerce Director Mary McCullough, and Shean was to be replaced by Cris Happ.

Partners for Pearl River County is an organization charged with boosting economic development in the county.

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When the Partners board refused to accept those appointments, supervisors decided at a later meeting to pull $75,000 in promised funding.

New appointments were made by the three board of supervisors members for varying reasons, but mostly because they believe the county was not being properly served by Partners.

District IV Supervisor Patrick Lee said he agreed with the board’s decision to cut funding because he disagrees with giving tax dollars to an organization unwilling to allow taxpayer representation.

“Basically, what they’re saying is they have to approve our appointments,” Lee said. “It just seems very arrogant.”

Lee, Hales and Culpepper all said they are not happy with Partners’ service, citing a lack development. However, Hales said he made his appointment change because Dunston is running for Poplarville alderman and already has a full plate. Smith said his decision was based on a lack of economic development, and that called for a change to that board.

“We didn’t feel like we should be funding something that wouldn’t accept our appointments to represent us,” Smith said. “We had good people coming on. I wish they would have accepted them.”

According to the 2006 Partners For Pearl River County by-laws, appointments to that board are to be made in January and be ratified by a majority vote of the current Partners board. A time limit on terms was not laid out. Instead the by-laws state that terms will be up to the appointing organization.

Hales and District III Supervisor Hudson Holliday agree that they want the county to have a form of economic development, but Hales said he would like to see an organization that is more organized in spending taxpayer dollars. The previous board of supervisors, of which Hales was a member, also had problems with Partners, he said. Now that the current board has been in office for a year, members have had time to decide if they want to make new appointments.

Culpepper said he made his decision because he has not seen any new jobs come into the county as a result of Partners. He said if Partners decides to accept their appointments, then funding could be returned, if the other supervisors approved.

“I hate it that it came out this way, but I guess it’ll work out,” Culpepper said.

Holliday said he seconded the motion to pull funding not because he necessarily agrees with the rest of the board, but because he is sick of the fighting and politics getting in the way of economic development in Picayune.

“They will cut each other’s throats just to see themselves bleed,” Holliday said.

Partners Director Ron Fine said the reason there appears to be no activity from Partners is that most companies that express interest in locating to Pearl River County are looking for shovel-ready sites, a thing lacking in this county. Some companies Fine has spoken with are looking for 25-acre sites with infrastructure already built in, or a site with a pre-existing building.

Woods said the county needs to establish some industrial parks to make it more appealing, and sites should include water lines, paved roads and a rail spur.

“It’s got to be a developed area,” Woods said.

Fine said the change to the by-laws requiring ratification of appointments was made to keep politics out of the Partners board, so the baord can make independent decisions and ensure members have something to contribute.

“What they’re asking us to do is something unethical,” Fine said. “It’s not like we’re trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”

Hales also said too much politics is involved and that the county lacks support from Partners. Currently he believes the agendas of Partners and the board of supervisors conflict.

“It just feels like we we’re going in a different direction on how things should be done,” Hales said.

Holliday thinks someone in Picayune got Culpepper to replace Woods. While he could not say who, he suspects it is someone from the private sector. Holliday said he thinks Woods is doing a good job on Partners, and would have appointed him back to Partners if Woods was in his district.

Hales said early by-laws did not include such a ratification clause and the change was made to protect the interest of Partners’ board members not the county as a whole.

Partners vice president Preston Stuit said there obviously was a misunderstanding between the board of supervisors and Partners on how the by-laws read. He said those changes were made for a reason.

“So that we’re not blindsided like we are right now,” Stuit said.

Fine sees problems with the recent appointments made by the board, especially since those appointments were made in March and they are trying to replace Partners’ board president, Woods and its secretary, Shean.

“They didn’t give us any time to react to this,” Fine said.

As for the future of Partners without the county’s proposed $75,000 in funding, Fine thinks it may be bleak, especially since the City of Picayune was unable to make their usual large donation this year.

“If we don’t have money, we don’t exist, but we have to have an economic development agency,” Fine said.

In 2008, The City of Picayune donated $75,000 and the county donated about $20,000. This year those roles changed, where Picayune had to cut the amount of funds the city could donate due to budget constraints, Fine said.