Supervisors sit down with EDF, Diaz

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, November 29, 2018

District 1 Supervisor John Arnold believes the questions and concerns he has regarding the Warren County Board of Supervisors supporting the new contract of economic development director Pablo Diaz have been addressed following a working session Thursday that included Diaz, as well as representatives of the Economic Development Foundation and the Port Commission.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote during their regular Monday meeting on a resolution spreading on their minutes an addendum of the port commission to increase the salary of Diaz by $14,000 in his new contract.

The Port Commission voted earlier this month to extend the contract of Diaz to 2024, which included a 7.38 percent raise increase of his yearly salary from $190,000 to $204,022. His contract was set to expire in 2020.

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Port Commission attorney David Sessums went before the supervisors during their meeting last week with the resolution, but Arnold and the board tabled the matter until a meeting could be held “to sit at a table and discuss this.”

“It’s not about the money,” Arnold said during Thursday’s meeting with the EDF and Port Commission representatives. “It’s about unity. We’ve got to get on board with the city and the Port Commission. I think Pablo has done a very good job. I don’t have any problem with Pablo. I am glad to see what he has done. I believe we have got great growth potential.”

The contract of Diaz, who acknowledged he is an employee of Warren County when asked by Arnold, is broken down with the county paying $1540,000 of his salary, as well as county employee benefits. The remaining $50,000 comes from an agreement with the city of Vicksburg and Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce to give the money to the Port Commission.

Arnold asked if there is an agreement with the city and chamber committing them to pay the $50,000.

“If they drop out, then we’re committed because this is a contract,” Arnold said.

Diaz said there is an agreement with the chamber and city to extend the $50,000 to length of the contract. He said a copy will be given to Arnold and the supervisors.

Arnold also asked Diaz if he had an opt-out clause in his contract and if he was committed to the contract with Warren County through 2024.

A quick look of the contract by county attorney Blake Teller indicates there is a 60-day notice provision, which is standard procedure.

“This is not something that happens overnight and I am committed to the work we want to do here in this community and the transformation we want to see happen,” Diaz assured Arnold. “That is not a three-year commitment. It has to be a seven or eight or longer commitment. And I do have that commitment for our community.”

“Your future is Warren County,” Arnold asked.

“Absolutely,” said Diaz.

Arnold also asked Diaz to clarify what the board of supervisors did to attract Unified Brands to relocate production at the Ceres Industrial Park and bring 400-plus jobs to the community.

“The county passed a resolution committing their ability to provide property tax incentives,” Diaz said.

“For ten years, all of their improvements are not going to be taxed,” Arnold said.

“That’s correct and I believe the language of the resolution says that you all would agree to do what is allowed by law,” Diaz said.

Arnold asked if the supervisors have done all they can do for Unified Brands.

“Yes sir,” Diaz said.

Arnold asked why is it that some in the community believe the supervisors have not done enough?

Dr. Jeff Hammond, representing the EDF, said he does not know how the misunderstandings have gotten to this point.

“But we can figure out how to make it better,” the former ERDC director said.

Jimmy Gouras, also representing the EDF, said more communication to avoid misunderstandings is need and thanked the board of supervisors for their commitment to economic development, adding, “there has been too much negativism, particularly towards the board of supervisors.”

“I think that’s unfair,” Gouras said. “Y’all should be recognized for the economic progress that has been done in the last 15 months. None of it would have happened without the support of the board of supervisors.”

District 5 Supervisors and board president Richard George said working as a team and knowing who is responsible for what is the only way to move economic development forward. And that means keeping Diaz as the head of economic development.

“If we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to get this done,” George said. “We have the best opportunity to take advantage of the economic upturn that has finally gotten to us.”

The supervisors are expected to take up the resolution matter during their regular meeting Monday at 9 a.m. on the third floor of the Warren County Court House.