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State senator disagrees with EDC, quits

Ginny Brown-Waite says the commission should turns its business leads over to county commissioners.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001


The Hernando County Economic Development Commission continued to lose public support Monday with the resignation of state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite from its board of directors.

County Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley and Brooksville Mayor Joe Johnston also resigned from the EDC board earlier this month.

Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, blasted the EDC for refusing to surrender its business leads to the County Commission, which is taking control of economic development efforts after firing the EDC.

"Knowing there's some reluctance to turn over to the county these leads they have puts me in an awkward position of being on a board that is not cooperative with the county," said Brown-Waite. "I just don't want to be put in that position."

As the EDC's sole customer, the county paid the bulk of the organization's budget and should gain access to all the EDC's assets, Brown-Waite said.

But the group, a nonprofit private-public partnership, has no intention of handing over those records. Such a move could compromise any privacy it guaranteed clients looking to relocate into Hernando County, said Robert Buckner, the EDC's vice president and transition committee chairman.

"Currently, the county has no plan in place to handle economic development," Buckner said. "We have certain confidentiality arrangements with some of the clientele. If we turn the records over to the county, it is questionable whether the records would remain confidential."

Keeping the information out of the public domain should not be a problem if the EDC followed rules set forth in Florida law, County Attorney Garth Coller said. Getting the records without the EDC's consent is the problem, he added, because the county's contract with the public-private partnership says nothing about who gets business records when the relationship ends.

Coller has advised the commission that a legal battle over the documents would not be worth waging, as the records would have little value to the county if they even exist. Commissioners have agreed.

The EDC board might consider changing its stance on records after the commission adopts an interim plan, Buckner said.

County Administrator Paul McIntosh is to present such a plan to commissioners today. If commissioners approve, Airport Manager Bob Mattingly and two temporary staffers would handle economic development until McIntosh can craft a broader program using a University of Florida study as a guide.

That university report is not due for completion until mid summer.

Until all the details are settled, Buckner said, the EDC has nothing to review.

"We hope that they have a good plan," Buckner said. "Again, we want to work in concert and be of help in any way possible."

In fact, he said, the EDC intends to press ahead with its transformation to a fully private entity with or without county help, and with or without Brown-Waite's participation.

"We're going to still continue with our reorganization meeting after May 8 and continue to proceed and try to assist with economic development wherever possible," he said.

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