EDA Evaluation

At the last Council worksession on March 22 (we got a rare week off last week), the Council heard Thomas Clough’s (a consultant to non-profits with Horizon Associates) report on his interviews with EDA, staff and Council members (see the worksession packet).  The purpose and scope of this enterprise:

A. City Council Resolution: “The Council will employ a neutral party to evaluate perceived issues with EDA process and function.  The neutral party will conduct personal interviews with the members of the 2010 EDA, City Council and staff.  The neutral party will report back to the Council at a worksession with findings and recommendations”

B. Exclusions:
1. Not an assessment of whether Northfield should continue to have an Economic development authority
2. Not an assessment of particular economic development policies and plans.
3. Not an assessment of relationships among EDA and partners (NDDC, NEC, etc.).  No interviews with leaders of these organizations.
4. Not an evaluation of particular individuals.

The findings were not a great surprise to me, but I am grateful for the summary of issues and recommendations which help to focus the Council’s next actions.  It really needs to be the Council which acts next to determine whether the Economic Development Authority statutory structure is appropriate for Northfield at this time, what the mission of an economic development group (of whatever structure) would be, and a Council level determination of the goals of economic development spending (and that’s what this is about – spending your tax dollars).  Until the Council acts, the EDA is just on hold.

My one problem with the report was Mr Clough’s characterization of the two economic development viewpoints.  The “standard” view is straightforward – grow jobs and tax base through commercial industrial expansion.  The other he called the “preservation” view which seeks “preserve and enhance Northfield’s distinctive character and quality of life.”  To me, the “preservation” label plays right into the criticism by EDA members that certain Council members would like to see the town “preserved in amber” and Mayor Mary Rossing reinforced that misperception in her March 23 post-meeting KYMN interview by calling it the “no growth” group. Perhaps other interviewees did promote the Little Town that Time Forgot view, but not me.  My issues are where we spend scarce resources and the physical form of growth.  But you can read all about that in my last few posts.

4 thoughts on “EDA Evaluation

  1. Having heard all the discussions, both at Council, EDA, and the EDA retreat last Thursday, I do not hold much hope for the problems of the EDA, somewhat ‘buried’ in the Clough report, to be solved… at least not by the EDA’s self evaluation as expressed at their retreat.

    The day after the EDA’s last meeting, 3.24, an email comes to the EDA that ‘it has been decided’ that Mr. Randy Jennings , the EDA’s contracted publicist, will ‘facilitate’ the retreat.
    Herein lies an example of a basic procedural problem: the full board had met just 24 hours before; they had not made this decision regarding the need for a facilitator, nor who it should be.

    Where, how, and by whom, was this decision made?

    At the retreat, Mr. Jennings suggested that they deal with the Recommendation section of the Clough report: sections A-J, with many sub points. I would have thought the clearest process would have been to go through those recommendations, to ask: do you agree or disagree, and if agree what would you suggest we do to correct.
    Instead, the EDA members were led ( a purposeful word choice) through a general discussion which centered primarily on the meeting structure, and the relationship with the council.

    At one point, far into the Clough report discussion, Mr. Jennings stated that the subtext of all this discussion was that direction from the Council was needed, and “we’ll do … when we get that direction”.

    I was bothered by the continually use of the word “we” by Mr. Jennings, as if he were a member of the guiding (another intentional word choice) staff, as opposed to being a contractor. But more troubling was the implication, that the EDA’s only problems were a consistent lack of direction from the Council.

    The two open seats appointments by the Mayor , that the Council must approve, are crucial; if the status quo there now is further ‘enabled’, there will be little if any change in operation or direction.

    Therefore, my conclusion would be that the City Council must take up the issue of Economic Development policy, have a very deep and detailed discussion of their intended policy, and communicate that direction very clearly to the EDA, and follow up with the expectation of performance.

  2. The first steps Mr. Clough recommended the council take in the short term are to decide whether to abolish the EDA and if not, to fill the two open seats. I hope the council will not abolish the EDA and will appoint two new members, asap. More importantly, I believe the council needs to decide just how much independence to grant the EDA or, conversely, whether the EDA should work within the guidelines laid down by the council.

    The Cough report came about not only because of the perceived dysfunction of the EDA, but because the council lacked a consensus about whether the EDA was spending its time and city resources on projects it (the council) supports. Mr. Clough’s recommendation: “Clarify roles, responsibilities, communications and reporting relationships among City Council, EDA and city staff” should be receive the council’s immediate attention. (At the same time, the EDA should clarify and agree to their internal procedures as suggested in the report, so that when it receives direction from the council, they can proceed to efficiently and effectively fulfill their mission.)

    The report provides a first step for the Council to take in providing direction to the EDA. In Mr. Clough’s analysis of what he called the tension between the two views of economic development, it wasn’t clear to me whether he found in his interviews that this tension exists among members of the EDA or among members of the Council, or between the two bodies. He recommends development of goals, policies and strategies that reconcile this duality. If based on his interviews, the tension does exist on the Council, that is where the discussion should start. Once a consensus is achieved, direction should then be passed on to the EDA whose role is to create the strategies and processes for achieving the balance” between these two values. Any projects it brings to the council will then need to be justified based on that balance.

    For over two years, the council has deferred seriously tackling the question of the relationship of advisory groups and the council. Are the former independent, created to design programs and recommendations for the council to approve, based on the narrow expertise of each group (economic development, park planning, environmental practices, for example)? Or are they created by the council solely to implement the council’s clearly defined goals?

    I believe the boards and commission should be make aware of the council goals. I also believe with good communication, the council goals can be influenced by the boards and commissions as the latter see needs and have ideas for how the city can meet them. The council has the overall task for setting the city’s priorities, but could benefit from the experience and wisdom of the over 100 citizens and the advisory groups. These people are closer to some of the city functions and can help the generalist council see the larger picture as it created budgets and policies to run the city. A well functioning EDA cluld be a good example of how this should work.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jane. I worry that the EDA and Council have focused on the EDA dysfunction without giving enough attention to the lack of agreement about how to “do” economic development and spend scarce taxpayer resources on this task. The Council needs to act promptly and clearly to determine how to manage economic development which includes both what it is and what entity will manage it. This is no small task because there is clear disagreement on the Council about this important issue, but as yet the direct discussion has been deferred or dodged. We’ll have another opportunity tomorrow evening to try to get the discussion moving and perhaps an additional opportunity on Friday at the Council retreat.

      Your suggestion that the EDA conversation could help us with managing our other boards and commissions has got me thinking that while the EDA differes from the EQC, if we can successfully negotiate what and how the EDA should function, we should be able to extend that success to considering our other advisory groups. Keep reminding us of this.


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