Yesterday, Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop introduced a resolution to remove the Lucas County Improvement Corporation as the county's designated economic development agency.
The resolution was introduced during the morning meeting and failed to pass by a vote of 1-1 with Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak absent. Commissioner Pete Gerken was the no vote.
Konop introduced the resolution again during the BCC afternoon meeting and it again failed 2-1 with Wozniak voting to keep the designation.
There are numerous press reports about what happened, (WSPD news story with audio, Blade article, 13ABC story) but they can't give you the story behind the story and place the actions in context with their space or time constraints.
Konop's explanation for his action was because the agency was 'unresponsive' to his requests for information about their economic development efforts. But that's not exactly truthful.
Last week, Konop asked for a detailed report from staff on current projects, time allotted to each project, and potential for capital investment, job growth or retention.
Jeannie Hylant, chairman of the LCIC board, asked that the request be delayed given that the agency was shorthanded and some staff members were out sick. She indicated that this request should and would be done after the new board members were in place, probably as part of the orientation for the new members.
Interestingly, the request from Konop did not follow established procedures. Konop asked for the information directly from staff rather than go through the executive committee. It's unknown why he didn't follow procedures when asking for information, but he has continually ignored the fact that the LCIC employees work for a 26-member board - and not exclusively for him. And this is not the first time that he's had an issue with the decisions of the board's executive committee and taken it out on staff. (Background in chronological order here, here, here, and here.)
However, not content with being told no, he spent time over the holiday weekend calling, emailing - and having his assistant call - the several economic development specialists - demanding that they appear in his office Tuesday morning at 8:45 in order to provide him with the detailed information.
Two staff members did appear as summoned with a third one declining to attend due to a scheduled meeting with a client.
So, for Konop to say that staff 'unresponsive' isn't true. They did, in fact, attend his scheduled meeting, putting themselves into a position of conflict between board member Konop and their boss, board president Hylant. Konop obviously has little regard for the staff of the LCIC that he would put them in such a position - and that says an awful lot about Konop.
No matter how you look at it, Konop was not stonewalled, as he's claimed, so that should be discarded as a reason for wanting to abandon the LCIC.
Further, he says that the agency is rudderless. Um...perhaps Konop has forgotten that he is the reason the agency is without an executive director? And, he's the one who's in charge of the search committee for the new director which he said was going to take only 90 days - but then extended to four months.
And how is that search going, Ben? You handpicked your search committee and then Oregon Mayor Marge Brown (also a member of the LCIC board), with the support of the executive committee, added some experienced economic development professionals to the group of academics and politically correct members.
So how many times have you met? What actions have you taken toward the search? Did you work up a job description? Have you posted the vacancy in any local or national publications? Have you had any conversations with potential directors? Do you think your public comments about disbanding this agency might have any negative impact on your ability to find someone to take the job?
Oh - that's right...you want to hire a firm to do this for you. In fact, you and your fellow commissioners gave the LCIC (that's YOU, by the way) two weeks in which to hire a director. Their failure to do so would mean that the Commissioners would hire and direct a search firm and then install a director.
Now, where the BCC gets the authority to expend county monies in order to conduct a search for a non-profit agency and then dictate the hiring of the found individual is beyond me. Having been a Commissioner I can confidently say that the Commissioners have no such authority - though they could give money to the LCIC for the LCIC to expend for this purpose - but that would mean that the LCIC executive committee would do as Konop wanted. And in the past they've proven to be reluctant to ask 'how high' when Konop has demanded that they jump.
No - the real reason Konop wants to remove the economic development designation from the LCIC is because it's finally dawning upon him that he can't control it. As one of 26 board members, he has little individual authority over the agency. Since Wozniak and Gerken voted to keep Gerken as the commissioner representative on the LCIC executive committee (which has all decision-making authority for the agency), Konop can ask the committee for things, but cannot dictate actions.
Further, he's realizing that many of his requests are unreasonable or not well-thought out. He wanted to schedule a tour of various businesses by some Chinese businessmen - but concerns about what they might do with access to certain proprietary processes and information was brushed aside by Konop, but not by the executive committee - and rightly so.
In a childish manner, as Konop fails to get his way, he takes his disputes public throwing what could be described as a temper tantrum about his perceived slights. He's doing this in the guise of trying to spur economic development within the county. But his efforts are having the opposite effect.
Business leaders and other economic development agencies have encouraged him to be a bit more diplomatic about publicly bashing his own economic development agency - especially when his dispute is with the board members and his fellow commissioners and NOT with the agency staff who are only following directions.
Further, his criticisms of an entity that's only been up and running for about a year and a half are considered by many to be pre-mature. To go from nothing to a functioning agency with staff, offices, and all the other things necessary to a new organization - in addition to the work they've done helping several local companies and establishing a model for K-16 workforce development would, in most circles, be reason for praise.
But if you're a board member whose individual initiatives have not been embraced (and maybe for good reason), you use your public office to try and destroy what you cannot control.
What many people might not know is how precarious the negotiations with Schindler Elevator, in Springfield Township, were during all of Konop's shenanigans. Ousted LCIC director Shawn Ferguson was the driving force behind their decision to stay and expand in Lucas County rather than move to another location. Konop's statements, and his demand that Ferguson had to go, almost cost the county this expansion. It was in spite of Konop - and due to the efforts of the other LCIC board members - that this planned expansion is going to take place.
I can only imagine what other companies think of these actions - or how such goings-on might drive them elsewhere in their search for expanded or new facilities.
When the LCIC was first re-organized, I had numerous and serious objections to the structure, the funding and other technical aspects. I still have those concerns and believe the bylaws of the organization and the structure could be improved. But like Wozniak and Gerken, I believe that a regional approach to economic development is the best way to go. Further, there are numerous ways to go about initiating such changes. And while there are probably many right ways to change the agency, the wrong way is the way that Konop has embraced - tearing down an organization because he cannot control it and setting coordinated economic development back decades in the process.
And that's the story behind the story.