Friday, September 28, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Consultant main target

It was billed as a candidate’s forum — a chance to meet and listen to those vying for a seat on the Jacksonville City Council, but it wasn’t. Candidates did not have the opportunity to explain why they are running for city council.

Thursday night’s “forum” at the Jacksonville Community Center was just another round in a three-year battle between the chamber of commerce and Mayor Gary Fletcher. This round was fired by the chamber, and no matter who is right in the ongoing mess, the chamber was 100 percent wrong to use this public forum to dole out sour grapes.

It was not coincidental that from the big stack of submitted questions (which no one saw) the moderator, all on his own, picked five nearly identical questions that focused on the chamber’s desire to head up economic development for the city.

When he took office, Mayor Fletcher cut $40,000 in funding for the chamber that was being used in part to fund economic-development efforts.

The bottom line was, “What have you done for us lately?”— and the chamber hadn’t done much. Now the chamber is using that same adage toward the mayor’s business consultant, who also hasn’t done very much.

But here’s the problem: It is not an apples-to-apples comparison. The chamber benefited from a robust economy, but the mayor’s recruiter, Rickey Hayes of Oklahoma, was hired during some of the worst economic times we have seen in decades. His critics say Hayes hasn’t done much for the city, apart from making some calls to retail prospects, and there’s a good chance his contract will not be reviewed at the end of the year.

Secondly, just because the chamber lost some outside funding is no reason for it to stop pursuing economic development, which is what chambers of commerce are supposed to do. Instead of going out and showing it deserves to head the program, the chamber has chosen to complain that it has been wronged by the mayor — and that was what the forum was all about.

The forum should have showcased the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, but instead, it was “do you or do you not believe the chamber should run the economic show?” No one came out and said no, but naturally the incumbents backed the mayor’s decision and believe the city is about to reap the benefits. Most of the newcomers agreed with the chamber.

Now, again, these candidates may not be wrong on this issue, but the election is about much more, and all the candidates tried to get these other issues into the forum, but it was hard when the questions didn’t lend themselves to it. The singular direction of the questions also kept the incumbents on the defensive, not allowing them much room to expound on the good they have done for the city.

There’s no reason why Mayor Fletcher, the new faces on the city council, director of administration Jim Durham and the chamber of commerce can’t work together to attract new businesses to Jacksonville.

They can do it without outside help and save the city $48,000 a year.