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City, county take closer look at economic development groups

[11/16/2004] Economic development efforts in Vicksburg and Warren County came under the microscope Monday by city and county officials at separate meetings.

Questions were first raised at the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s meeting over budgeted allocations of $27,000 for the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and $42,000 for the Warren County Economic Development Foundation. Both amounts were eventually approved despite a disagreement between two of the three elected officials.

Also, two county supervisors asked about plans for the Warren County Port Commission to fill the position of a full-time port director. Jimmy Heidel, formerly paid full-time, now works part-time as the port director since his semiretirement began in April. Heidel also serves as the executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce and of the Warren County Economic Development Foundation.

Specific questions raised by Mayor Laurence Leyens were directed toward the Chamber of Commerce. He said the city was not aware that Peggy Martin had been named that organization’s full-time director and wanted to meet with the Chamber board next week before handing over a check.

“I would like to have an understanding of what their plans are for the next 12 months and where that money is going,” Leyens said.

Leyens said it is the same policy the city board set for funding for all organizations that receive city money at the beginning of the last fiscal year. He had voted last week to table the allocation and wanted to table it again Monday, but South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said he wanted to go ahead and vote on the funding.

“When I have a budgeted item and I know what it is for I don’t see any reason to prolong it,” Beauman said.

There was a procedural question during Monday’s meeting about whether a board member can make a motion when the agenda item has not been brought up for discussion by the mayor. Although it was decided that the item had to be brought to the floor by the board chairman, the mayor, Leyens did bring up both items for approval and both were approved.

Funding for the Chamber of Commerce wasn’t approved until after the board’s closed session, but officials said it was not a subject of that executive session. Beauman later said that they did discuss a disagreement about the job description of a new city employee.

“Laurence (Leyens) and I have a difference of opinion about some employment matters,” Beauman said.

The new employee is Christi Kilroy who took the place of Barry Graham as special projects coordinator. Graham was moved into the public affairs position over RCTV 23, replacing Patty Mekus who left to take another job outside the city.

Leyens has said that he wants the position to evolve into a business recruiter for the entire city. Previously, the Main Street program employed a downtown retail recruiter, but that position has since been eliminated.

Separately, Warren County District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders and District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, president of the Board of Supervisors, raised questions about the Port Commission’s progress toward filling the port director’s post when Heidel’s six-month contract as a part time employee ends in February.

The five-member port board appointed by the board of supervisors oversees the operation of the Port of Vicksburg on the E.W. Haining Industrial Center and operates the Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex.

“The (commission) has undergone several transitions,” said John Moss, port commission president. “What we have with Mr. Heidel is a situation that came up years ago.”

He explained that situation was the desire to get a person of Heidel’s caliber and to do that, the posts of port director and the top employee of the Warren County Economic Development Foundation and Chamber of Commerce were combined.

Today, the situation facing the board is to determine whether to seek a person for the combined post or for some combination of separate jobs, Moss said. He also said before that decision is made a supervisor or the entire board will be asked to serve on the committee.

“We are evaluating the situation,” Moss said. “It has to do with plan, it has to do with people. It is not just one thing. It is not just the port director. It is port, staff and how we attack economic development.”

He then said the commission is seeking names of people who could fill the post and they are fielding inquiries from people looking for the job in Warren County.

“We don’t know yet,” Moss said. “We are three months into it, that’s 50 percent of the time. We are still working on it. I think you need to give us time to do it.”

In other business, the commission:

Approved joining World Economic Development Alliance for $7,900 per year. For the membership, the commission will receive representation at all trade shows at which prospective industries look for sites, a minimum number of prospect referrals and other benefits.

Awarded a contract to Lampkin Construction Co. of Vicksburg for riprap on Armory Road at Ceres at a price of $68,882.

Authorized the commission president to sign a contract for engineering services with ABMB Engineers for work on the 40-ton crane project at the Port of Vicksburg. The project is to renovate the foundations of the present crane and install a new, 40-ton machine at a cost of about $1.6 million.