- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
Toni Clem has resigned, effective immediately from her position on the board of the Paris Economic Development Corporation.
She submitted her resignation in a letter given on Tuesday to City Manager John Godwin.
Clem had been openly at odds with the turn the board has taken as the result of Paris City Council appointments this year to fill vacancies left by the death of Doug Wehrman and resignations of Bill Harris and Kenny Dority.
“The current board majority, appointed in spring of this year, has exhibited little interest in pursuing the excellent economic development program so carefully and purposely grown by Executive Director Steve Gilbert and his staff over the past few years,” Clem said in her resignation letter.
“Indeed, this board has spent the past months dismantling the program, ignoring many projects,” Clem wrote.
“The policy has been on policy-making and not economic development, and that’s not what I signed on to do.”
Clem was named to the PEDC along with Harris in 2012. The departure from the board of Wehrman, Harris and Dority had left her as the second-most senior member to Bruce Carr, who was appointed to the board along with Dority in 2011.
Rebecca Clifford joined the board in May, replacing Harris, who resigned when his wife was appointed assistant city attorney, creating a possible conflict of interest.
On June 24, the council appointed David Turner for a three-year term filling the spot vacated by Wehrman, and appointed Vicki Ballard for the one year remaining in the term of Dority, who had replaced Wehrman as chairman but had to resign after he moved out of the city on June 7.
At the PEDC’s election of officers on June 26, Ballard nominated Clifford for president, got a second from Turner, and Clifford was elected by a 3-2 vote — Clem and Carr voting no.
After that meeting, Clem accused Mayor AJ Hashmi of orchestrating the vote. Ballard, Clifford and Turner denied any collusion, and the mayor denied trying to influence either the council’s appointments to the PEDC or the PEDC’s election of officers.
Five days later, the five-person PEDC board approved by a 3-2 vote the inclusion of $89,000 for the Red River Region Business Incubator (R3bi) and $33,000 for Rickey Hayes’ Retail Attractions in its proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2013.
The no votes were cast by Clifford and Turner, who argued that funding retail marketing efforts conflict with the May 1, 1993, city-wide vote that established the PEDC as “a corporation to carry out industrial development programs.” Ballard, after a long pause, cast the deciding vote to include R3bi and Retail Attractions.
Clem went before the Paris City Council on July 22, complaining in the Citizens Forum that she was tired of Clifford’s “bullying” tactics.
Clem called Clifford’s opposition to the PEDC’s support of R3bi and Retail Attractions “a scurrilous attempt” to discredit Gilbert.
Insinuations by Clifford that the PEDC board “had somehow been doing things wrong or illegal have been nothing but bullying tactics that I for one am tired of,” Clem said.
“The suggestion that we don’t need to recruit retail that might be in competition with existing business is ludicrous. If we had practiced that in previous years, we wouldn’t have half of what is here now,” Clem began.
“You can’t tell me that you don’t want an IHOP or Red Lobster or Dillard’s to take a look at us. Or someone who might even compete with Walmart. Moreover, retail is jobs. Retail is all about jobs, and that’s the primary work of the PEDC,” she said.
“We get lucky every now and then and have a good manufacturer or industry, but much of the growth in cities and towns is retail, and the PEDC does not – it does not – offer retail either incentives or abatements.”
Despite a large contingent of business leaders on hand in support of R3bi and Retail Attractions, the City Council subsequently voted 4-2 to reject the PEDC budget for the same reasons expressed by Clifford and Turner.
Later, former city councilman Bill Strathern and then Hashmi filed Open Records requests to get PEDC credit card receipts and made 30-minute presentations before the City Council to criticize PEDC spending and poorly documented invoices.
Clifford followed two weeks later with her own presentation critical of how things were done. She promised that changes would be made.
In a special called meeting last week and again in a regular meeting this week, the PEDC began adopting new policies and procedures putting tighter control measures in place, including tighter controls on credit card expenditures.
It will be up to the City Council to make its fourth appointment of 2013 to the PEDC, for the 20 months remaining on Clem’s term.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra