Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Swedish Cowbird

Gone from this evening's City Council agenda is the $20,000 no-bid contract with the Philadelphia consultants Cloud Gehshan to do a study of our "wayfinding" needs in Fayetteville. In its place is a $13,125 no-bid consulting contract with Per Erik Persson, a consultant with the the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce South Central (located in Mississippi), to invite some Swedish companies to visit Fayetteville. The taxpayers are being asked to pick up the tab for a continuing contract that was previously funded by the local Cowbirds. This could result in a couple of companies coming to our city and getting good publicity before the November election, thus allowing our Mayor to again tell us that his "leadership in implementing sustainable practices is attracting worldwide attention."

Last November, Per Erik Persson faxed a letter to Dan Coody suggesting that Fayetteville might be interested in becoming the gateway for Swedish "cleantech" companies to distribute their products in the United States, and Coody handed it off to Steve Rust, CEO of the private Fayetteville Economic Development Council. In February, Rust attended a board meeting of the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce- South Central US and Coody was a guest by call-in. That was when Rust realized, "If we choose to work with Per-Eric [sic] we will need to pay a fee." The three alternatives suggested by Per-Erik Persson ranged from $100,000 to $48,000 for his fee and expenses.

In April, Rust drafted two letters that Coody sent out on official city letterhead. One dated April 7 showed that Coody addressed Persson on a first name basis, remarked that Coody owned a cabin on Sweden Creek, and boasted, "Being the Mayor of this great city and following my passion for taking action and not just talking about the environment has afforded me the opportunity to establish national and international contacts that could help" a Swedish company "penetrate th construction market."

On April 11, four days after Coody's letter went out, Steve Rust suggsted a $52,500 six-month contract with Per Erik Persson, split four ways between the City, the FEDC, the Cowbirds, and the UA at $13,125 each. To avoid the Freedom of Information Act, Rust recommended starting with a three-month contract funded by the Cowbirds and the FEDC. On April 25, Coody voted for this three-month contract in his capacity as a Cowbird Board member, and it was subsequently executed. On May 15, the FEDC anounced that it had joined the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce- South Central US and that Steve Rust, President and CEO of FEDC, was selected to serve on the 5-state Executive Board.

On May 30, Coody sent a note to Rust congratulating him on the good publicity and bemoaning, "I wish you and I had more support on the Council for this initiative." Tonight we will see if the Council is interested in taking up the slack now that the Cowbirds are no longer funding the project. According to the proposed three-month contract, Per Erik Persson will be paid $26,250 to invite as many as 15 Swedish companies to visit Fayetteville before December, and Coody's Economic Development Director Ray Boudreaux says, "At the end of the contract period it is anticipated that some companies would be willing to sign a 'letter of intent' to move to Fayetteville." Or at least have a press conference with Mayor Coody before the election.

What is it that the citizens of Fayetteville will get for their $13,125 fee to the consultant? That's hard to say. Steve Rust advised the FEDC Board, "Obviously before a contract would be written detailed deliverables would have to be agreed on." There are none of those in the contract Coody wants the Council to approve tonight, but the Mayor will claim that anyone who votes against it is opposed to economic development, sustainability, motherhood, and apple pie.

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