Two quit development board seats

Friday, July 9, 2010

Two members of Lewisburg's Industrial Development Board resigned during the panel's meeting Tuesday in City Hall where dismissal of the town's economic developer was a hot topic.

"I'd like to know if there were reprimands or warnings before this," now-former IDB member Jackie Abernathy asked city leaders at the monthly meeting when City Manager Eddie Fuller responded to the question about Terry Wallace with a legalistic answer he felt obliged to use.

"The city is an at-will employer and Tennessee is a right-to-work state," Fuller said. No reason must be provided under state law.

Ultimately, Abernathy and IDB member Tommy Harris quit. While their reasons may be on what the board does, the timing seemed linked to Wallace.

Four officials with the City Council have said there was a lack of support for Wallace's continued employment. Economic developers aren't hired by the council, so Fuller was responsible for the dismissal. Wallace was allowed to resign. He didn't.

"It's very difficult to understand why with an economy like this," Abernathy said.

Recalling discussion among councilmen, Abernathy said it seems some want "somebody right out of college for $30,000."

Wallace's salary was $66,000.

"I think that's totally inappropriate and I think it's age discrimination," she said.

IDB Chairman Eddie Wiles turned discussion to Wallace's monthly report delivered on paper. It reviewed his contacts with industrial prospects. Many of his reports were reproductions of e-mails he sent and received.

Tony Beyer, a local businessman, retired banker and a member of the 13-county Workforce Development Board, generally described a client's needs and what it offers in terms of prospective employment and wage rates.

As for Wallace's dismissal, he said the timing is not particularly good.

"Is there a plan?" Beyer asked. "Who do we talk to? Who answers the phone?"

Economic recovery may be long and slow, he said.

"Are we going to be dead in the water?"

Wiles referred to the IDB's attorney, his $500 monthly salary and the city manager's responsibilities.

Not stated, though, is the city manager's announced intention to retire in the fall.

"Are we going to be as efficient as we were?" Wiles continued. "No way."

Assistant economic developer Lisa Jackson is using the cell phone Wallace had, and Greg Lowe, the city's codes officer who's another assistant economic developer, can be called as well as Fuller and Mike Wiles, the executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, according to Eddie Wiles.

Speaking up for Wallace, Harris said Wallace "kept me informed" about an international deal that seems to be bearing fruit.

Other aspects of Wallace's report were discussed and then Abernathy quit.

"In the last year or so, I don't think the IDB has been effective..." she said. "I'm not happy with the direction. We're not doing what we were doing. We worked so hard to get proposals ... and we're not doing it any more."

"I'm resigning, too," Harris said. "I don't like the bull (feathers.)"

Two people seated closer to Harris later said he put a $5 bill on the meeting table, apparently to pay for his plate of the catered lunch of chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.

As Harris left, Abernathy said the board "is not active like it was."

Beyer had commented, "Before you jump off a bridge, be sure you know how deep the water is."