Thursday, October 16, 2008

Econ Dev 101

Well, we are now seeing what we partnered up with the University of Arkansas and spent $150,00 for Eva Klein & Associates to give Mayor Coody an economic development plan -- or a lifeline for business support in the upcoming campaign. Not much. Everyone except Ms Klein and her banker must have been as disappointed as we were in her sophomoronic PowerPoint dog and pony show at the Town Center on Tuesday evening.

The mediocre quality of the performance made us again question the whole idea that the City, the University, the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, and our citizens cannot jointly develop a serious and successful economic development plan. It also reminded us of the no bid process by which Ms Klein’s company was mysteriously chosen to take our money.

Since Dan Coody obviously hoped to put on a big show and boost his flagging campaign, we were at first inclined to suspect the poor choice was his. This probability was also supported by the fact that Ms Klein has a BA in French and a masters degree in French literature from the Université de Paris, and we know too well how impressed Dan is with all things French.

It is much more likely, however, that Phil Stafford is the man behind the curtain in this expensive charade. Back in January, he announced that IDEA Partnerships, LLC was embarking on design and pre-leasing of a new 60,000 SF office and laboratory multi-tenant building in the Arkansas Research and Technology Park. Stafford, Executive Director of the UA Technology Development Foundation, selected the group to be the Foundation’s development partner for the project. Eva Klein, managing member of IDEA Partnerships, LLC, is also vice president of the Association of University Research Parks .

Just six weeks later, on March 18, Mayor Coody brought forth a proposal to hire an unnamed outside consultant to develop an economic development plan for him, and he got the council to approve a $75,000 match with Stafford's outfit. Director of Operations Gary Dumas said it would be a "visioning process" and that the University, along with Dan's staff, would select that consultant and present a contract to the City Council for approval. When Alderman Nancy Allen questioned the cost and the process, Coody rolled his eyes and sighed. Stafford and Alderman Robert Rhoads told her that objective outside consultants were superior to having the Council and interested locals try to figure it out on their own.

At the August 18th meeting, Coody and Stafford announced that Eva Klein & Associates had been selected as the most qualified impartial consultant. Alderman Allen again questioned the expense, and Stafford told her that the city would gain from the objectivity and experience of Eva's consulting group. It passed 7-1. At the next meeting of the council, Alderman Lioneld Jordan tried to have the vote reconsidered, because of the conflict of interest concerns raised by a constituent, Mayoral Candidate Walt Eilers, only to discover that Mayor Coody had already signed the contract. Too late. The Northwest Arkansas Times turned a blind eye and ignored the story. Klein dismissed the concerns and told the Morning News, "It creates no conflict. In fact, we're even more invested in the success of Fayetteville." So much for Coody's and Stafford's bullshit that we needed to spend $150,000 on an objective outside consultant.

So here we are, out a lot of money and with very little in return. It doesn't even appear to have gotten the political publicity that The Coodies hoped would help the campaign. The local newspaper appears to have no concern in performing the locally-neglected watchdog role of the Fourth Estate to sniff out and expose conflicts of interest. Maybe some concerned citizen will stop by the Town Center "visioning seance" tomorrow and ask Coody or Stafford when they first discussed the $150,000 no bid contract with Klein and the real reason she got our money.

Was it a quid pro quo? We will never know. But we do know it was another waste of taxpayers' money.

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