Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

August 22, 2013

Effingham mayor reluctant over foundation fee

Tony Huffman
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Although the Effingham City Council unanimously agreed to contribute  $25,000 to join the Effingham County Economic Development Foundation Tuesday, Mayor Merv Gillenwater expressed concern about the fee.

Gillenwater said Wednesday he believes the city's membership into the foundation should be free.

     “I resisted this, because I thought we should just be able to work with them without the membership fee,” he said.

     Gillenwater said he ultimately voted in favor of the membership and its cost, because he felt if he didn't support the foundation, he would be seen as anti-economic development in the city of  Effingham.

The fee, Effingham County Economic Development Foundation President Dan Woods said, is something all businesses wishing to be a part of the foundation have to pay and the city of Effingham is no different.

     Gillenwater contends the many local business people who head the foundation should want to help the city grow free of charge, because that in turn would help their own businesses.

Gillenwater is concerned the membership fee might be used for costs other than direct economic development.

     “I'm concerned that some of the money is going to go toward administrative costs and salaries,” said Gillenwater. “Not into the actual product.”

Woods contends the foundation has no paid staff and added “the mayor should want results from the foundation, which the mayor will hopefully see.”

The foundation is required to report how the money is being spent and any progress toward economic development for the city.

     Woods noted the city will get to see first hand the progress that is made with two city officials sitting on the board as part of the membership. That is something the foundation does not offer all businesses, he said.

     Gillenwater pointed to other entities, including the Effingham County Board, that have resisted paying money toward the foundation. He also noted the city already has an economic developer, Todd Hull, making the service somewhat redundant

     Woods doesn't see the issue in the same light. He contends the foundation is providing a pivotal service to the city that will help economic growth.

Woods pointed out despite Gillenwater's misgivings, he and the commissioners unanimously voted for the membership.

While the council were all in agreement to the membership despite Gillenwater's reservations, questions arose over who would fill the two city seats on the board.

Gillenwater suggested the seats be filled by Hull and City Administrator James Arndt. Commissioner Brian Milleville disagreed, saying Tuesday a city council member should sit on the board because that person represents taxpayers of the city.

     Gillenwater said he is concerned a commissioner, who is also a member of the working public, might be swayed by personal or political pressure, and said Arndt is better suited to understand the city’s best interests at the foundation's meeting because of his extensive work history in city government.

     Milleville said he is taking the mayor's assertion under advisement.