Business Development Board content to stockpile $612,500 + from Martin County taxpayers


Local attorney and civic activist Virginia Sherlock reports on the Business Development Board meeting today: the Board approved — without discussion and without a single question from any of the 19 Board members in attendance — financial statements showing that as of December 31, 2012, the BDB’s slush fund of excess cash in the bank is $612,507.32.


BDB Chair Ed Weinberg (Source: BDB website)

Business Development Board Chair Ed Weinberg told Martin County Commissioners earlier this week that the BDB has no plans for the excess funds — cash on hand that is not designated or earmarked for any particular program or use — which at the end of October 2012 was about $526,000.00.


The financials produced at today’s meeting show the amount stockpiled has increased to over $612,000.00 in taxpayer funds that have been amassed by the BDB for undisclosed purposes.


When Board member Troy McDonald, a Stuart City Commissioner, suggested that the BDB contribute to a proposed City/County “Buy Local” program (which needs seed money of $5,000 to $10,000), BDB Executive Director Tim Dougher (recipient of a 15% pay raise last year) said the BDB would “look into” the program but “we don’t have it in our budget for this year. Maybe next year.”


Commissioner McDonald noted that the BDB has “quite a bit of cash lying around” but no one seemed interested in discussing the matter further. Eventually, a motion was made by Commissioner McDonald and approved unanimously to have a special presentation on the Buy Local program arranged for the BDB to consider . . . despite the best efforts of Tammy Simoneau, a non-voting ex officio member from the Economic Council, to explain that there is no need for a Buy Local program because the Chambers of Commerce already have programs in place. (Ms. Simoneau failed to mention that the Chamber programs exclude businesses that are not members of the Chambers, while the proposed City/County program would benefit all local businesses, including Chamber members.)


Howard Heims, during public comment, told the BDB that he and other citizens are outraged that our tax dollars are being stockpiled by the BDB rather than being used for economic development programs. Howard asked what the BDB plans to do with the slush fund — the same question he has posed at a number of meetings in the past. As usual, the BDB had no answer. It simply has no idea what it will do with the excess funds.


After a lengthy recitation by Executive Director Tim Dougher of some of the activities he’s engaged in since the last meeting two months ago — running the clock to just a few minutes before the usual time for adjournment — BDB attorney Ken Norman walked out of the meeting.


Only then was the floor opened to discussion of how the BDB would respond to the County Commission’s decision earlier this week to review the BDB contract and activities.


Several Board members were upset that their attorney left the meeting just as this discussion began, making it impossible to obtain legal guidance about how to deal with the BOCC decision to review their contract. Several BDB members suggested that it appeared Attorney Norman’s early exit was designed to prevent full discussion of the legal issues raised.


And, in fact, any such discussion was frustrated by the absence of the BDB legal counsel.


Commissioner McDonald made a motion to have the BDB begin negotiations with the County to revise the BDB contract, but after considerable discussion, a substitute motion was made and approved to have the BDB’s executive director, Tim Dougher, “reach out” to the County Administrator, Taryn Kryzda, to begin discussions to find out what the County Commission wants the BDB to do with respect to the contract and its duties under the contract.


The motion was approved with three dissenting votes — County Commissioner John Haddox, Commissioner McDonald, and Jupiter Island Finance Director Michael Ventura.


The dissenters pointed out that the BDB should not delay addressing the issues raised by the BOCC this week.


It seemed clear, however, that the majority of BDB directors have little knowledge or understanding of the issues — many Board members acknowledging that they have not even read the BDB’s contract with the County and did not attend or even watch the televised BOCC proceedings regarding the BDB on Tuesday.


Without legal counsel present and without a basic understanding of the issues, the majority of the members of the BDB seem content to simply sit back and continue to pile up hundreds of thousands of dollars from Martin County taxpayers and enjoy in bi-monthly social gatherings.


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