Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

June 11, 2014

LETTERS: Breaking promise of transparency, openness

Kokomo Tribune

---- — Breaking promiseof public openness

The recent letters to the editor exposing the practices of the Tipton County Local Economic Development Organization (LEDO) encouraged me to join the public outrage over the “bait and switch” tactic used by the promoters of a renewed effort for economic development.

Three years ago a group of volunteer business leaders issued a press release outlining the details of a new organization being formed to work on economic development for the county. It would be funded with public tax money. The core group promoting the new organization included Mike Harlowe of IU Health Tipton Hospital, Jeff Rodibaugh of First Farmers Bank and Trust, Ron Warren of Ramsay Business Solutions, Jeff Hoover of Bottcher America and John Adler of AgVenture Adler Seeds. The group promised to function with openness, transparency and civility, seeking collaboration with all stakeholders.

The LEDO would implement four goal areas: U.S. 31 corridor, agribusiness, business expansion, and family attraction. Each area would be chaired by a board member with the goals being achieved by citizen volunteers in the community.

The press release stated: “We plan to get plenty of guidance from the Interlocal Economic Development Oversight Group, which would consist of the mayor, members of the City Council, a member of the County Council, and the three County Commissioners.”

In January 2012, there was a community meeting at the Tipton County Foundation to unveil the four goals and seek community volunteers to serve on the committees. The promoters reported that each committee would be populated with volunteers having interest or expertise in a particular area. Their job would be to implement the plan, and make revisions as work was completed. More than 60 citizens expressed interest in serving on one of the four committees. The attendees at that kickoff meeting were told that the governmental Alliance board would ensure that the LEDO would report quarterly to all elected officials. The theme of the overall effort would be collaboration and communication, and the LEDO meetings would be open, with reports available to the public.

An interlocal agreement was signed by the mayor, city council and county council members, and two of the three commissioners. The lone dissenter refused to sign the document, suspecting that it was a trap intended to undermine the promises in the proposal. The fear has now become a reality.

Mr. Harlowe, who originally promised openness and transparency, now refuses to open the meetings to the public. He authorized the LEDO to use some of our public money toward hiring an attorney to explain why the meetings legally do not have to be open. What about the moral and ethical obligations of the LEDO?

The LEDO has not reported quarterly to the Alliance. There are no regular committee meetings being held to implement the goals. I have tried without success to access accounting information of where our tax dollars are being used from the LEDO. What has been accomplished in two years and with over $380,000 of our money?

Why are the seven elected officials on the governmental Alliance allowing the LEDO to break the promises made to the public of openness and transparency?

Nancy Carney