County and Probate Judge Stomp Trenton's Toes on IDA Appointment

March 28, 2019

IDA met Monday with its new member, local newsman Evan Stone (red vest), taking his seat at the table--despite objections from the Trenton City Commission.


At its March 11 meeting, the Trenton City Commission objected to the Dade County Commission's appointment of Evan Stone, owner of the local television and radio station, to the Dade County Industrial Development Authority (IDA). IDA does much of its business on the QT, pointed out Fire/Utilities Commissioner Jerry Henegar. How was it fair to the other local media outlets to grant Stone an inside view of IDA's closed-door discussions? "I think it's a bad appointment," he said.


Furthermore, complained Henegar, here was another example of the county's one-way communication. The county commissioners had just assumed the city would rubber-stamp its decisions, he said. "They didn't even ask us," said Henegar. 


Thus Mayor Alex Case and the commission withheld their approval to Stone's appointment and resolved to take the matter back up with the county. 


Neither the county nor city commission has met since then--but when IDA met on Monday, Evan Stone had assumed his place at the table. So what happened between March 11 and the IDA's March 25 meeting?


The Planet asked Robin Rogers, the county attorney and IDA's legal advisor. He explained that IDA appointments were actually granted by a three-member election committee, consisting of the city, county and probate judge. “Two out of the three approved it,” said Rogers. "That's the gist of it."

When did this happen, and how did Stone know to show up at the IDA meeting? Rogers said he hadn't called him. The Planet asked Stone himself who said:


"Talk with Ted."


So The Planet asked County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, who said yes, he'd called Stone after talking about the process with Rogers. He said the IDA seat had been empty for three months, since it was vacated by lineman college magnate George Nelson, and that he'd looked for volunteers everywhere he went without success until Stone stepped up. "You've got to draw a line somewhere," he said. "You've got to make an appointment."


But citizen Ryan Faircloth attended the meeting, and when questioned by the persistently curious Planet as to his interest he said he'd been approached about filling the vacancy. He did not say by whom, and Rumley denied knowing anything about it.


As for the propriety of appointing a news outlet owner to the IDA board, Rumley pointed out that Eddie Gifford, publisher of The Dade Sentinel, had served on IDA's state-level counterpart, the Joint Development Authority--where Stone also serves--and: "We never had a problem."


Finally, The Planet spoke with Trenton Mayor Alex Case, who said he and the city commission hadn't withdrawn their objection to the appointment but had simply been outvoted.


In any case, Stone's maiden meeting with IDA was not among the century's rip-roarers. Executive Director William Back presided over a lengthy discussion on whether IDA should pay more in insurance premiums in order to lower its deductibles, and the venerable subject of hiring a group to do a study on whether it was feasible to build a hotel in Dade raised its hoary head once more. 


"In the world of economic development," pronounced Back, "it's all done through consultants."


Speaking of which, asked IDA's newest member, had ditching Nextsite 360 (a marketing firm hired to attract retail business to Dade, but which the board had determined was doing nothing of the kind) freed up any funds in the budget? 


Nope, said the ED. "In fact, we had to pay $7500," said Back.


Back talked up Scenic Dade, his tourism promotion group, to which, he reported (as had The Planet in these pages), "The city [of Trenton] has made a very generous contribution."


​​And he also mentioned the Dade Historical Society coke oven hike he'd hosted the previous Saturday on one of his Sand Mountain properties. "We had a number of prominent people who enjoyed the event," intoned Back.


Sharon Moore was elected vice chairperson for the group. Doug Anderton, who is retiring in June as Dade's water company manager, had consented to be chairman at the last meeting (replacing longtime chairman Nathan Wooten, who resigned after 12 years at the helm and has recently bought the old Shaw building to expand his businesses). Larry Case, who wasn't there, was re-elected secretary in absentia


Also discussed at the March 25 meeting was Back's proposal to induce the Dade Tax Assessor's office to assign a greater value on land owned by the IDA, in order to make it a more impressive gift when given away as an incentive to lure industry. A prospect codenamed Project Kodiak was also nebulously touched on. (Industries courted by development boards often keep themselves anonymous unless or until they accept the incentive packages dished up to them by competing counties and municipalities. In the nature of these matters, few of them are ever unmasked as few of the county's courtships ever come to consummation.) 


There was an executive, or closed-door, session on personnel, but after resuming normal proceedings the board announced no action had been taken.


The board decided to change permanently its meeting time to 1:30 p.m., as opposed to 3 p.m., on the third, rather than the fourth, Monday of the month. That means its next meeting is at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, April 15, in the Dade County Administrative Building. 

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