Tuesday, November 18, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Right decision on consultant

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and the city’s controversial economic development consultant quietly parted ways during a divisive campaign for re-election that Fletcher won by 841 votes.

The consultant, Rickey Hayes of Owasso, Okla., had been paid about $250,000 over five years while Fletcher was mayor. Hayes did not report to the city council, and his results were meager. We never met the man, and you probably didn’t either.

Hayes did get Firehouse Subs for Jacksonville a couple of years ago, but he’s had little luck since, blaming a lack of prime real estate and saying big deals take a long time.

Hayes was paid about $90,000 in his first year working for the city part time — more than the full-time mayor and police chief — and even had the city pay extra for private planes to fly in executives who were considering opening businesses in Jacksonville. There’s no telling if they were for real.

The first of many times this newspaper called for Hayes to be fired was in August 2013. “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,” we said in an editorial then.

Fletcher and Director of Administration Jim Durham, the mayor’s second in command, were so hopeful that Hayes would eventually bring in businesses that they could not bring themselves to let Hayes go until the re-election campaign.

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce lost some of its funding when Hayes was hired. But, now that he is gone, Fletcher and the chamber have buried the hatchet and promise to work together to recruit new businesses.

This last election shows that Jacksonville residents expect more. They want to see the city’s finances improve and be reassured that the city can pay for projects like the $3.2 million firing range. Hayes was a hot-button issue during the campaign. It was clear that he did not have many supporters among residents here. The mayor made the right decision to make a change.