Business Development Board fails to make good use of taxpayer dollars: re-negotiate or litigate


The latest Business Development Board meeting was filled with confusion, conflicts of interest, lack of goals/standards, criticism, abuse of authority, and mega-waste of taxpayer dollars. Local attorney and civic activist Virginia Sherlock provides details:

The Business Development Board decided at its meeting today that it has only two choices with respect to its relationship with its primary source of funding, the Martin County Board of County Commissioners:  re-negotiate or litigate.
The majority of the Board chose to re-negotiate the 2009 contract which gives the BDB more than $625,000-a-year in taxpayer dollars without requiring any performance goals or standards from the agency charged with overseeing economic development efforts in Martin County.
There was lively discussion among the Board about the decision of BDB Executive Director Tim Dougher and BDB President Ed Weinberg to hire a $3,000-a-month “crisis management” public relations firm from Boca Raton to repair the tattered image of the BDB without consulting with or even informing any Board members, including current Executive Committee member and President-elect Jeff Sabin.
Dougher and Weinberg insisted that they had authority to enter into the 5-month contract with Trans Media Group without advising the Board or its Executive Committee.  The president of Trans Media was present for today’s BDB meeting and took issue with criticism from some Board members and the public about the firm’s role in seeking to rehabilitate the BDB’s reputation.
Trans Media President Glen Calder said it’s time to let everyone know about all the terrific things the BDB does in Martin County.  He said his firm would also be promoting Martin County as a great place for economic development.  He pointed out that his firm represents the Palm Beach County Business Development Board and has achieved huge success in publicizing the organization and Palm Beach County for economic development activities.
Note to BDB:  If your new Palm Beach County-based PR firm is promoting the Palm Beach County BDB and Palm Beach County as a great location for economic development, how aggressively do you think the firm will be promoting Martin County and the Martin County BDB?
After a discussion of an initial proposal to have the BDB reimburse the County for a portion of the legal fees and costs incurred defending the Sunshine litigation commenced after the BDB refused to open its records and its meetings to the public, the Board voted 8-5 to reimburse the County $50,600.00.
Notably, BDB President Weinberg, who negotiated the proposed reimbursement with County Attorney Mike Durham and County Administrator Taryn Kryzda, was one of the 5 BDB Board members who voted AGAINST the proposal.
No vote was taken on the remainder of the proposal, that is, to return $250,000.00 from the BDB’s $600,000.00+ slush fund to the County.
The meeting ran long due in part to a lengthy discussion of the most recent financial statements, with Board members seeking more detailed information about expenses than has previously been provided.
BDB President Ed Weinberg offered an apology for the BDB’s failure to appear for the Martin County Commission meeting last month at which the BDB contract and relationship with the County was a featured agenda item.  Weinberg said Executive Director Tim Dougher was out of town at an important economic development conference, and Weinberg had planned to attend but was delayed by a previous commitment and didn’t make it to the BOCC meeting. (He did not explain why none of the other BDB Board members or any of the BDB’s three other well-paid full-time staff members attended the BOCC meeting, especially after BDB member Troy McDonald urged them to attend during a BDB Executive Committee meeting shortly before the BOCC meeting.)
The Board was informed that only one proposal was received in response to the BDB’s request for proposals for an independent audit (a West Palm Beach firm which bid $12,500.00 to do the job).  Martin County Clerk Carolyn Timmann sent a letter to the BDB this week advising that, as the County’s Auditor and Public Trustee, she will be having the County’s contractual independent auditors conduct an audit to examine the BDB’s use of public funds.
The BDB Board voted unanimously to allow the Clerk to proceed with an independent audit that will extend beyond a random sampling of financial data “to fully address concerns raised regarding expenditures, reserves, and internal control policies.”
Note to BDB:  The Clerk does not require your consent to proceed with an audit in her role as County Auditor and Public Trustee.  She has a statutory right and duty to determine whether public funds are being used appropriately and in accordance with sound fiscal policies.
Time ran out before other agenda items could be addressed.  But the BDB Board ended its meeting with a vote to designate President-elect Jeff Sabin and Attorney Terry McCarthy (who was sitting in for the BDB’s regular counsel, Ken Norman, who is a member of McCarthy’s law firm) to conduct further negotiations with the County.
Attorney Mike Olenick, a BDB Board member, made the motion to replace Weinberg, Dougher and Norman with a new negotiating team after making it clear that there is really only one choice available to the BDB if it is to survive to provide necessary economic development services to Martin County residents in the future:  Negotiate.
The Martin County Board of County Commissioners previously voted to suspend future funding to the BDB.  Issues and concerns raised over the past few months with respect to the BDB will likely be placed on a BOCC meeting agenda sometime next month.
Note to BDB:  If you want to negotiate, show up for the next BOCC meeting.  Be prepared to answer questions, present a plan on how you intend to promote economic development in Martin County, and give the public assurances you will make good use of taxpayer dollars in the future.

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