Council Debates BDC Bylaws

When Pat Ford took over as executive director for the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle in March, he said he had two major goals: reorganizing the corporation’s board and developing a “strategic plan” for business development in Brooke and Hancock counties.

Ford addressed the first of those goals Thursday when he presented the BDC’s new bylaws to city leaders during a council workshop Thursday. Weirton has a memorandum of understanding with the organization but has yet to commit any money for membership.

Under the bylaws, Weirton’s annual dues would be $25,000, as its population falls between 10,000 and 20,000 people. Hancock and Brooke counties, which each have a population of more than 20,000, already have paid their $30,000 dues, Ford said. Corporations would pay $2,500 annually, while individual dues would be $500.

Council members made a few suggestions for revisions to the new bylaws for consideration by the BDC’s current board. Councilman Max Fijewski said he was concerned about a provision allowing for “ex-officio” membership on the board. Those members, nominated and approved by the board of directors, are exempt from paying dues but cannot vote or hold office.

Fijewski asked Ford to consider eliminating ex-officio membership, or at least limiting it, adding he believes those members could exert influence over the board despite not having an actual vote. Fijewski said he believes ex-officio membership is unnecessary because meetings are open to the public.

“Anyone can show up,” Ford agreed. “It’s a very valid point.”

Ford said Mayor Mark Harris would be able to appoint two members to the board, as would Hancock and Brooke county commissioners. He noted participating cities with populations of 10,000 or less would have one appointment each.

Fijewski suggested a provision be added stating that no more than one of those two appointments be an elected official. He said the whole point of restructuring the organization was to prevent politics from playing a role in the corporation’s activities. Also, he questioned a section requiring the board to be comprised of 12-20 members.

Fijewski said with 20 members, the organization would be less efficient and decision making would be more difficult. He noted Weirton recently eliminated some of its unnecessary boards in an effort “to make (government) more efficient.” Ford said he understood that, but he arrived at the total of 20 to ensure that any municipality could join and appoint a member to the board.

Ford said he would take council’s concerns back to the current board of directors, which he said will remain in place until new members are selected.

According to the BDC’s Web site, the organization exists to perform the following services in Brooke and Hancock counties: actively market and recruit for the area; assist with state government requirements and programs; respond to inquiries on development and tax issues; locate sites for development and acquisition; assist local businesses with economic and development issues; provide economic research and trends for Brooke and Hancock Counties; and offer small business counseling.