Polk hires Williamson as economic development director

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2014

by Leah Justice


Polk County Interim Economic Development Director Robert Williamson received a more permanent status with the county last week.

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The Polk County Board of Commissioners agreed to extend Williamson’s contract, with Strategic Work Systems Inc., by one year. His former three-month contract as interim economic development director ended last week.

Commissioners met Nov. 17 and approved the contract extension by a 4-1 vote with commissioner Ray Gasperson voting against the motion.

The contract, for one year, includes paying Williamson $65,000, or $5,417 per month. The contract states the payment does not include any county employee benefits or payroll withholding.

Gasperson said he was hopeful when the county reworked its economic and tourism development commission (ETDC) resolution that the county would be moving decisively towards having the ETDC being a main player. Gasperson said the approved resolution states the ETDC may hire and contract with consultants.

Gasperson said it was his belief after a meeting with ETDC members and staff that the ETDC would make such decisions as hiring an economic development director.

“My concern in particular is that we’re extending this contract out for another year,” said Gasperson. “That kind of stops what I was hoping to see happen.”

Gasperson also said to his knowledge the ETDC board was not consulted about the one-year contract with Williamson.

Commissioner Michael Gage said he took from the committee meeting something different than Gasperson.

“I wasn’t under the impression they (ETDC) would hire the economic development director,” Gage said.

Gage said they did discuss collaboration between the board of commissioners and the ETDC and that the ETDC will bring ideas to commissioners. Gage said his understanding is that commissioners will fund ETDC projects and the ETDC will implement the projects.

“The ETDC could hire additional people if the funding was there,” Gage said. “That’s what I took from it.”

Gasperson said he was hopeful the county would get to a point where the board of commissioners would start allocating money to the ETDC and they would make these types of decisions. The county would help with funding, Gasperson said, the ETDC could go out and get additional funding, and at the same time, commissioners would be in a position to appoint members to the board.

“I wish this agreement was not for this length of time,” Gasperson said. “It is what it is.”

Commissioner Keith Holbert said he feels like the board of commissioners is funding the position so commissioners need to have control.

Gasperson also said one of his problems with the contract is the amount of the current contract with Williamson is significantly more than the past director’s contract. Former economic development director Libbie Johnson resigned in June. Johnson’s contract with the county was for $50,000, with the possibility of receiving an $8,000 annual bonus, according to county records.

Williamson has been working with the county since October 2013 when commissioners hired him as a consultant to help draft an economic development policy and strategy. Polk County approved the policy and strategy on Aug. 18 and at the same time approved the three-month contract with Williamson to begin implementing the new plan.