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Published: Friday, 9/19/2008

Agency battles Findlay mayor to retain funding

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY Reacting to a scathing review of its performance by Mayor Pete Sehnert, representatives of GreaterFindlay Inc. last night went on the offense.

While the mayor told City Council in a letter earlier this week that the agency in charge of economic development was a failure, GreaterFindlay board member Lynn Child told council the organization was responsible for bringing more than $435 million in investment to the Findlay area over the last seven years.

During that time, she said, the city invested a little over $1 million in the organization.

Ms. Child provided city officials with a lengthy report about GreaterFindlay s work, which some council members said they d never seen before.

This is fantastic, said 3rd Ward Councilman K.C. Collette. It s the kind of thing we need as council people.

Still, the mayor and his top administrators said they did not believe the city had gotten its bang for its buck from GreaterFindlay, an organization that blends the chamber of commerce, the convention and visitors bureau, and the community development foundation.

Safety Director Jim Barker said he pulled the business permits taken out in the last two years and found evidence of $27 million in investment primarily for restaurants and other service businesses.

I don t see where our investment in GreaterFindlay Inc. has produced much of anything, he said.

The mayor had recommended that council not renew its contract with GreaterFindlay and instead have an economic development director who would focus solely on attracting and retaining business.

But some council members said they believed GreaterFindlay was doing a good job.

I don t think it s a time to stop one of the elements that have helped us grow not only for the last 10 years but the 15 years before that, said at-large Councilman Randy Ward. I would hope that the City Council, when the time comes, that they would seriously think about renewing this contract for those two years because I am in total support for what they have done in the last 10 years.

Mr. Sehnert conceded his letter might have been a little strong, but said he wanted to make sure the city s tax dollars are being spent wisely.

With the exit this summer of GreaterFindlay s two key executives Doug Peters and Russ Rogerson and the fact that the city s four-year contract with the agency expires at year s end, he felt it was time to examine the issue.

I m not saying my stand is the right stand, but I do think we need to have more talking about this, more discussion before we just OK that contract, the mayor said. We ve got three months. Let s get it right.

Hancock County Commissioner Ed Ingold said that while the county would support whatever council decided, he said he was troubled by the inherent conflicts of having an organization that represents the interests of local businesses and is largely funded by the city also acting as the lead economic development agency for the whole county.

First Ward Councilman J. Michael Slough said he just wanted to know the city s money was going toward economic development, not to GreaterFindlay s operations.

That s where I have a real hang-up at this time, he said.

Ms. Child urged council to renew its contract with GreaterFindlay rather than fragment economic development efforts as was done in the past.

Allow us to have one voice, trust us, help us all work together, move together as a community, she said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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