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Pitt commissioners end involvement in public-private partnership

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Tom Coulson, Pitt County Board of Commissions District B. Thursday, April 12, 2012. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners, with a 5-4 vote on Monday, ended the county’s involvement in an effort to create a public-private partnership to oversee economic development.

Commissioner Tom Coulson, who made the motion, was joined by Ann Floyd Huggins, Melvin McLawhorn, Beth Ward and Mary Perkins-Williams in the vote to withdraw from the effort. Outgoing Commissioner Glen Webb joined new board members Alex Albright, Mike Fitzpatrick and Chris Nunnally in voting no. A motion made by Nunnally to postpone any action failed.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing for the county to do,” Coulson said. “There is a lot of evidence that many three P (public-private partnership) companies are breaking apart as coming together.” He also is concerned about the governance model, which he said didn’t give the county enough authority, especially since the county would likely be the largest revenue contributor to the organization. The current development commission receives about $750,000 annually from the Board of Commissioners.

Nunnally said Coulson’s motion was out of order and inappropriately made.

“To place an item for decision without giving the public and the commission an opportunity to be heard flies in the face of why we have an agenda,” Nunnally said. “If we as a commission more forward with items for decision not being appropriately placed on the calendar we are reverting to a government of surprise and trickery. And that is a dangerous proposition and a dangerous precedent to set.”

“Did I do anything wrong or illegal according to our process?” Coulson asked.

County Attorney Janis Gallagher said no. Under the board’s bylaws, any topic can be placed on the agenda, she said. It’s only during special-called meetings that discussion or action is limited.

Because the county manager’s items for report included a report on Thursday’s economic development meeting it was an appropriate motion, she said.

Coulson’s motion came a week after Greenville City Council and the Committee of 100, a nonprofit group that provides capital funding for economic development, endorsed a governance model presented by a consultant working on the project. Greenville Utilities Commission’s Board of Commissioners took no action of the presentation.

The Pitt County Development Commission endorsed moving forward in developing the partnership and expanding “economic development beyond industrial development.” However, it a recommendation that the working group be given the authority to hire an interim director to replace the commission’s retiring director. The development commission said it will make that selection.

Coulson said he believes the existing Pitt County Development Commission should remain an independent body focused on industrial development and recruitment. He said discussions on ways to enhance the development commission’s work also are needed.

Nunnally argued the commissioners should wait until March to make a decision. The commissioners are scheduled to hear from Ron Mitchelson, East Carolina University provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs.

“I feel it’s important we hear from all players in the partnership before we decide whether to proceed or not,” Nunnally said. He called Mitchelson one of the most respected economic development minds in the region.

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold a second meeting on Thursday to discuss the future of the county’s economic development activities.

The meetings is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in the Emergency Operations Center, located in the basement of the county office building, 1717 W. Fifth St.

The meeting is open to the public but comments will not be received, according to a news release.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.