Establish a committee to assist in finding new economic developer

June 10, 2014

With the process of securing the services of a new county economic development director now entering the interview stage, we’d like to offer what will undoubtedly be an unprecedented approach to finding the right candidate – opening up the interview process to many of the major players who have a stake in the county’s economic future and the five candidates who are not incumbents for the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.

It would be unprecedented, but the circumstances surrounding the appointment of a new economic development director (EDD) in this county are equally unusual.

In May, Ashe County voters sent a clear message to two of our current commission members that their services on the board and to the county had reached their end.

Despite that clear repudiation by county voters, those two, Judy Poe and Gerald Price, will play a significant part in the process of securing the services of a new EDD.

Our suggestion is not one that questions the integrity of those two to make the best choice on an EDD for the people of Ashe County. It acknowledges a simple fact, the new director will be working closely with at least two commissioners who may have played no role in their appointment.

There is a proposal by one of the candidates that the hiring on a new EDD should wait until the new commissioners are sworn in December 2014.

In a perfect world, perhaps that would be best.

On the other hand, it could also be argued that the county has been without an EDD for long enough – 10 months and counting, so far.

We believe there is another way – open up the interview process to those commission candidates, but also to others, like BREMCO’s CEO and Ashe County native Doug Johnson, and Wilkes Community College’s Ashe County Campus Dean Chris Robinson, and Skyline/Skybest’s CEO Jimmy Blevins and LifeStore’s President Bob Washburn, and American Emergency Vehicles’ President/CEO Mark Van Arnam. And we’ve only named the big hitters. There are plenty more business leaders in Ashe County that could offer valuable insights.

Of course, they may decline an invitation to interview a prospective EDD, but there is no question, each has a clear understanding of the challenges we’re facing building Ashe County’s economic future. Their perspectives and the questions they might have for a candidate could prove invaluable to the decision-making process.

We want to make one vitally important distinction with our proposal – the current county commissioners would have the final say in the person chosen as the new economic development director.

If a committee of the county commission candidates and county business leaders was established for the interview process, its role would only be advisory.

And because these interviews are usually conducted in confidence, non-disclosure agreements could be signed by all those who participate.

Of course, the current county commissioners could disregard any suggestion of forming an interviewing committee and argue they will make what they consider the best choice for Ashe County.

We wouldn’t dispute that, but the stakes are too high.

Now is the time to put aside any political differences and create a process that finds the right person at this critical moment in developing the county’s economic future.

Establishing a committee of business leaders and commission candidates would send a positive message that the current county commissioners are serious about growing the county’s economy through effective leadership.