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PEDC board balks at Gilbert's request to put consultant on the payroll for 3 months

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From left at the table at Tuesday’s meeting of the Paris Economic Development Cororation: board member Kenny Dority, PEDC excutive director Steve Gilbert, city attorney Kent McIlyar, board member Bruce Carr, and Melissa Cook, president of the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

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From left are PEDC board member Toni Clem, board member Bill Harris and city manager John Godwin (in blue shirt). (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra.com

The PEDC board balked on Tuesday when executive director Steve Gilbert asked for authorization to hire consultant Richard Seline of Alexandria, Va., for 90 days so he can use his contacts to promote Paris and help the city win state and federal grants.

Board members Kenny Dority and Bruce Carr voiced their objections, but the matter didn’t come to a vote.

“How much time do we have to decide this?” board member Bill Harris asked.

“I think time is of the essence. The real true value that somebody like Richard brings is the multitude of relationships that he has in both D.C. and Austin, and those are relationships that we really don’t have,” the PEDC executive director responded.

Board member Toni Clem then made a motion to table the issue until a workshop can be scheduled. Carr seconded the motion, and it carried 4-0. Absent was board chairman Doug Wehrman, who is hospitalized with pneumonia.

Richard Seline
Richard Seline

The PEDC paid Seline – the principal officer of Regionnovate — more than $100,000 over the past two years.

“I don’t really understand why we need Richard to do this. Why can’t we do it ourselves?” Carr asked.

“Basically, he’s out there mining these grants and different sources of revenues for us. You reach a point where you’ve got to start doing this stuff yourself. We’ve spent an awful lot of money for him to help us develop a business plan,” Carr said.

Gilbert alerted the PEDC board last month of the scope of work he wants to turn over to Seline (SEE’-line).

“I want to engage Richard for a three-month gig. What we would ask him to do is plan and organize, help us with our Lamar County Days (March 28-30) and all of our speakers and events, and the receptions and the activities and all the invitees for Lamar County Days,” Gilbert said.

“I also want him to organize a follow-up to it, to Washington, D.C., to meet with the heads of eight agencies. The real bottom line to both of these activities at Austin and D.C. is to secure grant funds,” he added, noting that his goal is to secure between $250,000 and $500,000 in state and/or federal grants in 2013.

Gilbert said the grants would be used to help implement a workforce training effort “in light of our recent job announcements,” and for Paris to become a major player in a proposed water strategy for the state.

The executive director said Seline has identified some potential funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one other source for a workforce initiative

Gilbert said he was leaving for Austin on Wednesday, “and with Richard’s help, (meet with) with some key people from the Water Development Board and another couple of state agencies related to water.”

He said Seline was prepared to put together a case study related to water-based economic development in order to make some unsolicited proposals to several state and federal agencies “to get funding to further our effort.”

Gilbert said he realizes “how sensitive everyone is about this” but said Seline fills kind of a lobbyist role.

“He is out there promoting us and advocating for us and educating state and federal elected officials and policy-makers about what we’re doing in Paris,” the executive director went on.

“A lot of what he does is open the doors to relationships that I don’t know we could open – promoting us and what we’re doing non-stop and trying to position us as a leader when it comes to rural economic development and manufacturing, and leveraging our water assets.”

“He also will delier two critical trips for Team Paris to Austin and Washington, D.C. Our bottom-line goals are to promote Paris and Lamar County and secure grant funding for our business plan,” Gilbert said.

Seline has said he would represent the PEDC for 90 days for a monthly retainer of $4,500 plus expenses not to exceed $3,000, for a total cost of not more than $16,500.

“The monthly retainer and expenses may be extended with agreement by both parties,” Gilbert said in a confidential Dec. 7, 2012, memorandum to voting members of the board.

In the memo, Gilbert added that the PEDC would not have to amend its budget to utilize Seline’s services.

“The money is in our budget,” he wote. “I have terminated our contract with (former R3bi director) Fred Green effective Dec. 31, and I propose to pay Richard Seline an amount not to exceed $16,500 from the savings.”

Gilbert handed out something he worked up showing the Return On Investment for the PEDC’s 2011-12 project announcements.

He said the results show Paris is emerging as a significant food and consumer goodsmanufacturing cluster.

Year 1 of the PEDC’s two-year business plan has resulted in 567 new jobs and 1,750 jobs retained and a capital investment over the next five years of more than $400 million, Gilbert said.

He said the State of Texas provided almost $2.4 million in incentives that helped convince J. Skinner Bakery to come to Paris and occupy the former Sara Lee plant. The federal government provided $50,000 via a USDA revolving loan fund.

“We obviously have seen results in the efforts we put forth on our business plan in 2012, and we wat to keep pressing on as we continue to look for opportunities. The return on our investment is very significant, particularly for a city our size,” the executive director said.

To keep Paris “on the radar screen in Austin and Washington,” Gilbert identified four “must haves”:

  • must create “home runs” during follow-up visits;
  • must make the “ASK” for grant funding;
  • must create a buzz and enter the state and national spotlight as best practice demonstration; and
  • must exploit rural innovation, water assets, and food and consumer goods manufacturing.

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