Help wanted, apply locally

Friday, May 23, 2008

A couple of public service jobs remain open in this community.

One is a seat on the Lewisburg City Council. It comes with power and responsibility. The base pay is $150 per month and $50 for each special meeting. The open seat is a temporary position, expiring with the results of the city's May 2009 election.

The other is the executive directorship of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board and it has a proposed salary of $47,000. The exec would report to a 21-member board led by a panel of five mayors and is fraught with controversy.

Controversy also looms for the Council as current events constantly show. So it's understandable no one has stepped forward since the vacancy was announced Tuesday last week. With only a few days left before the application deadline of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the mayor, some councilmen and the city manager wondered out loud whether three former applicants should be contacted to see if their previous applications should be used for this opening.

Meanwhile, there's an entire constituency asking for equity which was without an active applicant as of this writing.

It's not unusual for local government leaders to have to recruit candidates. The currently open seat on Council was filled several years ago by appointment. The councilman was elected in his own right three years ago. He resigned for health reasons in March. His successor served only a few weeks because the federal agency that funds the government office he leads won't allow such officials to serve on city councils.

As for the other opening, five mayors are to meet next Thursday night as a nominating committee for several members of the 21-member Economic and Community Development Board. They're also to nominate board officers, including the chairmanship. The nominating committee was selected by the current chairman. An announcement about the nominating session says the mayors are to nominate someone to be elected by the 21-member board as executive director.

The pool of candidates for the JECDB executive directorship last night was apparently the same group of people interviewed in secret earlier this year by the same five mayors. The names of the applicants were released by an order of the Marshall County Chancery Court because of a petition asking that the JECDB be directed to follow the state's open records act. State law does not provide the same procedure to force open meetings. It says that if a decision was made in secret, the decision is invalid. It's a slippery act. The slope it offers is steep and can end abruptly.

The JECDB would appear to face a conundrum. There is no good answer on what to do since a functioning JECDB is supposed to be an avenue out of economic doldrums.

The best that can be done here is to explain some of the pitfalls facing the mayors and the board to which they report.

One of the JECDB members discussing the opening for an executive noted recently that it may be irresponsible to offer the executive directorship to anyone since there's some question about the continued structure of the JECDB. One might even ask if the very existence of, or even the requirement for a JECDB will be continued. It's a state requirement. State laws change. It's managed by a state department with a commissioner who might not be in office after a state election nearly two years from now. State budget cuts could end the availability of grants to be sought by an executive director, or radically change the qualifying process. The process was changed last winter.

There's a strong reply to the argument about the responsibility of offering the job. It's obviously a political appointment. Risk comes with the territory.

But there's more.

The chairwoman of the County Commission has said the position should be filled, but that there should be a strict measurement of success. If a JECDB exec is hired, the person in the job will be expected to provide results. Standards should be set, the commission chairwoman said. If the standards are not met, then it's implied that another exec should be hired.

Three local officials went to a national convention last weekend to find a restaurant, or two, and other businesses to move here. One of the prospects provided by a consultant hired by Lewisburg and Chapel Hill has replied the company isn't doing anything for the next 18-24 months.

The candidates for our nation's top jobs and economic prognosticators have argued about whether the country's in a recession. Regardless, one should ask about the prospect of economic growth now and the daunting task that faces the next executive director of economic and community development.

That's just the big picture. The micro-economic, political facts of life are that the document organizing the JECDB does not address employment of an executive, according to county commissioners who want to rewrite the interlocal agreement between the four municipalities and the county.

Other reasons for rewriting the document have been cited. One is increased membership -- read control -- for the county, which is to pay $55,000 of the $82,000 budget of the JECDB.

Even if the money is appropriated, the controversy over control remains. But it's stumbled into a roadblock with one of the municipalities voting against the proposed interlocal agreement. A new agreement must be approved by the county and its municipalities, or it can't exist.

So, the old contract remains in place, apparently without a mechanism for hiring someone who might be nominated by a panel that met last night.

Who would want the job? It would have to be someone who doesn't need it, and that might be the best candidate.

It's like the Irish blessing: Dance as if no one were watching. Sing as if no one were listening. And live every day as if it were your last.

The challenge is doing so in public office. Tennessee requires open government, so people are always watching and listening. It is a conundrum, but it's our conundrum.

The JECDB executive directorship makes being a member of City Council a cakewalk.


Both are a bear.