Monday, August 18, 2008

No Plan Dan

Dan Coody has been in office for 92 months, and he doesn’t have a comprehensive economic development plan for our city. Not a clue. He has given lots of speeches about the “Green Valley” of knowledge-based jobs, and he throws around the phrase “sustainability” like it is some self-executing panacea to all our problems, but he has no real strategy for what the city government can do to help make it happen.

The Coody serves by his appointment as our city’s representative on the boards of the Advertising and Promotion Commission, the Chamber of Cowbirds, and the Fayetteville Economic Development Commission, but there is a big difference between bringing it and winging it. "[W]e don't have a long-range economic development plan. We don't have a plan for where do we get the tax dollars and the jobs to support the plan," complained Steve Rust, President of the FEDC.

Eight months ago, as he began his eighth year in office, Coody finally wondered out loud "if we are willing to develop an economic plan that balances our economic, social, and environmental needs as a community. This is the most pressing issue we face in 2008. We have to start articulating our plan for the economic future of this city and we have to start right now." Or maybe seven years ago, some would say.

Seven months ago, Coody tossed the problem to his trusted employee Gary Dumas, who said, “We’ve come up with an idea that we think will help us begin that discussion, not just on how we manage growth but how we can define an economic development policy at the council level with input from all of the fractions and fractures within the community, so there will be a public policy to guide the Chamber of Commerce and (Fayetteville Economic Development Council ) and all those others who really invest in the city.” Dumas said that if started soon, it would be at least the middle of 2009 before a strategic plan was developed and a year or two after that before the result of more sales tax would be seen. There is no guarantee of success, he added, but he said there is a need to move quickly.

Coody clearly understood the political implications of needing to get something started after he changed his mind and decided to run for a third term. His campaign website lists his goals for 2009. Number six on his list of promises is to finally "develop a comprehensive economic development strategy," and number seven is "to develop and advance a positive, sustainable business climate."

To achieve his campaign goals, Coody is finally taking the first steps after almost eight years of floundering without any cogent economic development policy. His solution is the same one he always embraces by default when he doesn't know what to do. At the City Council meeting tomorrow night, he will ask the Council to approve an agenda item to spend $75,000 of public funds "to cost-share the preparation of an Economic Development Strategic Plan," -- in other words, spending our tax dollars to hire an out-of-state consultant to come up with a plan that wasn't important to him until he started thinking about that lifetime pension and running for reelection.

The City Council has little choice but to approve Coody's request to hire another consultant. They have waited almost eight years for him to offer something, anything, even if no one knows what it will be until after The Coody leaves office. Whatever it is, it has to be better than the $3.7 million TIF District Mudhole he was pushing four years ago.

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