Confehr: A tale of two directorships

Friday, August 20, 2010

On this page, there's a guest column by Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board. The JECDB is to do what its name implies. Tennessee's Department of Economic and Community Development has a Three Star program now run by Jamie Stitt, Wiles' predecessor in an office on the ground floor of the Courthouse Annex. Three Star programs exist to help channel grants to the county for things like housing improvements and other things. The JECDB also endorses establishment of a countywide planner's office to standardize city and county land use zoning codes and enforcement. Wiles' column makes similar points.

It's interesting that his column arrived after Lewisburg's City Council decided applicants for a city job - the one vacated by Terry Wallace - should demonstrate an ability to write an essay on topics relevant to the work that's required. Wallace's title wasn't very specific. He didn't stand on formalities, and maybe that was an advantage for the community he served when talking with businesses about establishing operations here to employ people. Improving the opportunities for the community's workforce and the city's tax base are among the responsibilities of the job that some folks saw as best called executive director of the Lewisburg Industrial Development Board. Terry has said that his title might have been the city's economic and community development director.

So, why not consolidate the IDB and JECDB directorships?

It's not as easy as it sounds. It needs city and county agreements. The JECDB has board members representing each of the four municipalities in the county and the county itself. Others on the board represent various special interests including agriculture, education, general business and the like. The funding of the JECDB has been by the five governments through a formula that was created so those governments are paying as much as they should, given the population of the entire county and the separate municipalities. As a result, Lewisburg is already paying a significant part of Wiles' salary.

The other question is: Why two?

The city job exists because it's in the city budget. Wallace and Wiles split their responsibilities on development. Wallace sought industry and Wiles sought retail development.

The JECDB exists because it's required by a state law enacted to replace the "Tiny Towns Law" of the 1990s when municipal annexations made homeowners angry. They complainted to state lawmakers who changed the law to deal with urban growth planning as well as community and economic development. Some counties and their municipalities just form a board, say it's there and that they followed the law. They held hearings to draw maps, drew urban growth boundaries, and filed the plans so they could do other things. At least one other county turned the job over to the Chamber of Commerce.

Consolidation sounds good. It may be worthwhile in this situation, which is not so large as to be unwieldy. We received the suggestion and have now passed it along.

NEXT WEEK: On tomatoes, stormwater and treatment plants.