Representatives of SCDC (South Coast Development Council) attended the fifth consecutive BOC meeting, yesterday. Fred Jacquot came to introduce the newly hired interim executive director, John Hitt to the commissioners. Hitt has been hired to help SCDC find a suitable permanent director. Afterwards, Jacquot and Hitt and I had a lengthy and amiable discussion about local economic development and SCDC. The good news is that Hitt is infinitely more articulate than his immediate predecessor, (make that the last two predecessors), and for that matter Jacquot makes a much better emissary than the more abrasive Jon Barton or John Knutson.
As one always finds when a dialog opens up between individuals with disparate viewpoints, there is inevitably some common ground. One thing we could agree on was the importance of developing a “buy local” movement to retain dollars in the community. We also agreed, conceptually at least, that property tax inequity impairs local government’s ability to provide important public services and maintain infrastructure which in turn enables local commerce. (Where we might have disagreed was on just how much the taxpayer should pay on behalf of a handful of shippers for a single track railroad but the subject never came up.)
Jacquot is clearly passionate and a believer that economic development requires or at least will benefit from an organization like SCDC to act as a central dispensing agent to businesses looking for information like demographics, property taxes, how to apply for enterprise zone tax exemptions, commercial realtors or properties and so forth. No one would argue that an easily accessible single system or website that pulls from many existing databases would be a handy tool but I am still not convinced why it should be SCDC, which is governed by a board of paying members or investors as Jacquot referred to them, and not one of the many other economic development agencies in the area. Jacquot envisions SCDC doing much more, however, like identifying niche markets and tracking trends.
One of my greatest objections to SCDC is how divisive the organization has been in the community. The FERC library still retains comments submitted by the previous executive director and the past board chairman, Jon Barton, insulting opponents of the Jordan Cove LNG project and some of us have retained copies of the old FONSI newsletters where Barton actually resorts to name calling. Who can forget former SCDC director the late Ron Opitz’s very public and personal attack on Jody McCaffree at FERC hearing held in North Bend.
In my opinion, for SCDC or any organization to be an effective agent in helping revitalize the local economy it would have to be able to acknowledge, accept and even embrace other viewpoints in order to begin the community dialog recommended by the SDAT report. The community has to come together to make any program work but SCDC has a thirteen year history of doing exactly the opposite. Any new executive director will face at least two major hurdles. 1) the working class perception of the agency as a waste of money that only enriches its own. (Hiring the unqualified wife of Fred Messerle was not a good public relations move); and 2) the culture, habits and reputation of its more prominent board members… Even if they find an individual capable of overcoming the first hurdle, the director works at the pleasure of the board and it is hard to envision the two things being compatible.