Dear Fellow Citizens of Polk County:

Published 8:04 am Wednesday, June 18, 2014

If you’re not aware, Libbie Johnson, Director of Polk County Economic and Tourism Development recently resigned. This came after months of being ignored and dismissed by the interim County Manager and Board of Commissioners. Her contract was changed from two years duration to a day-to-day status. Her responsibilities for strategy and policy development were assigned to a non-qualified “consultant” who has, at a cost of over $20,000 to taxpayers. We’ll have an opportunity to respond to his recommendations in a public hearing on June 23.
Libbie was hired after a competitive candidate search and selection process. I was part of this; helped write the job description, employment contract, performance assessment, revised ordinance and policies and procedures. These were approved by the County Manager and Board of Commissioners. With her impressive credentials and experience, both locally and at the state level, she was offered and accepted the position. She was a strong and effective Director. Her recognized depth in the equestrian community was a key strength where this segment of our economy is, and will be, most influential.
Since the Board of Commissioners majority was restructured after the 2012 election, Libbie’s role was marginalized and communications with them nearly non-existent. When the consultant was hired, she was not invited to participate in the selection, work definition, or to provide input. She was systematically ignored and disincentived from performing her responsibilities. Her effectiveness and job satisfaction was affected. Her treatment by the Commissioners’ majority has been shameful. It’s no surprise she resigned.
You may recall a similar resignation by Lynn Sprague, another capable and enthusiastic Economic Development Director. Why would a man who loved his work here choose to leave?
Our capable and experienced County Manager, returning from military duty, was offered and accepted a generous buy out at taxpayer expense. His financial management produced balanced budgets and his project recommendations served the County well. We need an experienced and capable County Manager with a proven record. Why did we make him an offer he couldn’t refuse?
Why has the Board of Commissioners majority facilitated the departures of these key people?
There is too much at stake to allow the economic development needs of the County to be mismanaged. Wise and thoughtful economic growth is possible. What we don’t need in Polk County is an initiative that is inconsistent with our Comprehensive Plan goals and community priorities.
There has been little, if any, real economic development progress since the current board majority was seated. (one exception is the White Oak Equestrian Center under construction which was not driven by the County but by private initiative and funding) The Board of Commissioners majority denied a request by the Economic and Tourism Development Commission for a modest 2013 budget increase to recruit new business to the area, which fits our needs. Recommendations to secure a business park site and bring a new hotel here have been repeatedly ignored. It should be noted that the initial series of workshops included the consultant and the commissioners. Public input was not allowed. Having been designed in such a way, the process would suggest an alignment in thinking. It should prove interesting, however, to see how publically supportive the Board is of the consultant’s recommendations, which will likely have significant financial implications.

The public hearing on the consultant’s work is scheduled for Monday, June 23. Please mark your calendars, come hear what is being proposed, and express your opinions to the Commissioners. Doing it right is critical; doing it wrong would be a disaster.

– Dennis Hill, Green Creek

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox