Yesterday as we went around the GO Zone in 60 seconds, one of the included news reports we highlighted was on the Gulfport City Council turning down Hancock Bank Chairman/CEO George Schloegel for a spot on the new Gulfport Developement Commission.
Our readers may remember Council members Carriere, Resh and Holmes-Hinds, who along with an assist from Barbara Nalley, as the same group of rocket scientists that initially torpedoed a $500,000 state grant to rebuild historic Grass Lawn. Evidently they did not learn from the scorching they took for playing politics with the City’s recovery back in April as once again they inject politics into a new board who’s purpose is to remove politics from the redevelopment of parts of the beachfront. Make no mistake this is not about conflicts of interest as Barbara Nalley told WLOX, rather it is all about politics as she admitted later in the interview:
“I feel that Mr. Schloegel is extremely close to the administration. I feel that this board needs to be an impartial board. That’s why I suggested strongly to the mayor that he take suggestions from council members and that it would be a diverse section of appointees from across the city,” said Nalley.
The mayor says he did acknowledge council’s suggestions and he felt strongly that Schloegel should be on that board. But with Tuesday’s vote, that may not happen. Councilwoman Roland agrees with the mayor that Schloegel would have been a great choice.
I think we can all rest assured a businessman the stature of Mr Schloegel has better things to do that tote Mayor Warr’s water or serve in another civic capacity. Nalley’s remarks are insulting, both to the voting public and Mr Schloegel. Frankly it is obvious she does not understand the respect Mr Schloegel commands in banking and business circles, a respect that is only earned by putting skins on the wall, otherwise she would not have publically embarrassed herself by aiming so low.
A companion to the Sun Herald story yesterday we did not cover on slabbed was the editorial entitled “Conciliation is DOA in Gulfport” which drew the only reasonable conclusion an objective examination of the facts surrounding the council’s most recent exhibition of bad behavior could support.
That a man of Schloegel’s standing in the community would agree to serve on this new commission was a clear sign of its importance.
His rejection is a clear sign that too many votes cast by some council members are based not on “what is best for the city of Gulfport?” but on personal agendas that have become roadblocks for the city’s momentum and growth.
This week the Gulfport City Council sank to a new low. Petty politics have overtaken good government. We watched over the last few months as some on the council expressed opposition to most things advanced by the mayor.
We suspected that this had more to do with politics than with good government, but now we know . How do we know? Members of the council failed to confirm George Schloegel as a member of the newly created Development Commission. Why? One member said it was because he was busy with his two jobs and family and did not have the opportunity to interview Schloegel. Three others had different reasons.
With the council’s arguments against Mr Schloegel thoroughly discredited into the breach steps Keith Burton of the Gulf Coast News with an ill advised attempt to salvage another public relations disaster for his friends on the City Council. Unfortunately he does so by misrepresenting the entire concept of the Development Commission by adding the word “Economic” to the title and dusting off an Attorney General opinion from 1996.
The controversies surrounding the recent appointments to Gulfport’s new Economic Development Commission and the subsequent tirades by the Sun Herald and WLOX over the appointments fail to note that Gulfport, its mayor Brent Warr and a portion of the City Council are breaking the law. Municipalities are prohibited by state law to establish Economic Development Commissions.
According to an official Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion, easily researched on the Internet, the state’s municipalities cannot establish economic development commissions as such commissions are only authorized for counties.
The problem is misrepresenting the issue by adding the word “economic” to force the facts fit the picture makes Mr Burton’s friends on the City Council look sillier for even voting on the appointments (EJ Roberts was confirmed 5-0). Maybe Mr Burtion thinks the Mayor and City Council fly by the seat of their pants without benefit of legal counsel when making important policy decisions but as City Attorney Harry Hewes makes clear in today’s Sun Herald such is not the case:
City Attorney Harry Hewes issued a statement Thursday saying an Internet posting about the new Gulfport Development Commission was “recklessly reported.”
The posting cites a 1996 attorney general’s opinion, which reckons “a municipality does not have authority to establish and fund an economic development commission.”
The City Council voted in April to create the five-member commission as an urban renewal agency, which Hewes said is allowed by state urban renewal and redevelopment laws.
The word “economic” is not a part of the commission’s name.
“To my knowledge, Gulfport has not sought to establish an illegal economic development commission as so recklessly reported,” Hewes said.
Unlike an economic development commission designed mostly to woo big business, Warr administration officials say the new GDC will be responsible for physical development on city-owned properties and negotiating contracts with major developers to build projects designed by Andres Duany.
In addition, Hewes said a quick reading of the city’s resolution “clearly and properly” explains the city’s legal authority to establish the commission.
It will be interesting to see if council persons Nally, Carriere, Resh and Holmes-Hinds dig themselves in deeper in the aftermath of this latest disaster by continuing to insuniate Mr Schloegel has a conflict of interest because Hancock Bank is a city depository or by threatening retaliation against low level city employees a la Grass Lawn. The City of Gulfport deserves far better from it’s elected officials on the city counsel. Unfortunately it appears such is not possible from the group of 4 that place their petty personal interests above the good of the city.