Tuesday, August 27, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Healing rift is under way

The healing process has begun in the rift that pitted Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher against the city’s chamber of commerce over how the city should approach economic development.

When the mayor took office, he slashed funding for the chamber, which he saw as not being aggressive enough to attract businesses to the city.

Fletcher instead hired an Oklahoma-based consultant who promised to do better. Years later, the well-compensated Rickey Hayes has accomplished nothing more than a sandwich shop that was already in the process of opening several locations in central Arkansas.

The mayor and Hayes, who works from home with little oversight and has no ties to Jacksonville’s business community, have promised that they would soon make a deal to build a major big-box retailer and chain restaurants. Those deals have apparently fallen through.

When Hayes was hired, many longtime Jacksonville chamber members felt betrayed. The mayor had unintentionally alienated the city’s business community. It was a rough start for a new mayor who’d only hoped to reroute some city money and bring in some new businesses.

If the out-of-state consultant had gotten better results, Fletcher would have been able to tout it as a major success and silence his critics.

It’s time for the mayor to cut his losses with Hayes and re-establish a partnership with the chamber. This feud has divided the city long enough, and Hayes has had his chance.

Both sides have extended an olive branch. During a recent town-hall meeting to discuss expanding alcohol sales in Jacksonville, the mayor and Roger Sundermeier, a longtime chamber devotee, unveiled a new marketing campaign: Jacksonville Soaring Higher Together, emphasizing the new effort to move past the divisions and focus on what can be accomplished by working together.

The mayor and chamber members know that Jacksonville has a promising future, but that it will take a lot of work to accomplish its goals such as creating its own school district, building a veterans home, reinvigorating city festivals and opening businesses.

As the divisiveness subsides, we look forward to seeing the city and chamber get back to work.