Over the past few months, I have voiced several concerns related to the operations of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation.
These concerns are not borne of malice, but are instead aimed at improving the operations of a taxpayer-funded agency which historically has left much to be desired. When surrounding communities like Beaver, Boardman, Hermitage, and Zelienople are thriving while Lawrence County continues its decline, it’s time to demand more from agencies that pay their bills with public dollars.
Last week, as a result of voicing my concerns about the agency and challenging it to improve, I was told to either apologize for my comments or resign from the economic development board of directors.
In other words, instead of addressing the significant structural issues that have plagued our regional economic development organization for decades, the taxpayer-funded agency has decided to ask for the resignation of the only board member who represents the taxpayers.
This type of behavior is characteristic of a county where a “Good Ol’ Boys” culture continues to suppress any serious effort to bring much needed change to our region. In their arrogance, the same people who have controlled our development organizations for decades believe themselves to be above public scrutiny, but not above taking public money.
Decisions continue to be made by unelected officials in smoke-filled rooms where a lack of transparency has led to millions of dollars in wasteful spending and where individuals making five times the median county income are unable to be held accountable by the taxpayers that fund their salaries.
In working to oust any dissenting opinions, the board of directors is looking only for people who conform to their particular brand of mediocrity and who blindly agree with maintaining the status quo.
The Lawrence County approach is in contrast to neighboring communities, where public discourse is celebrated and where accountability takes precedence in the decision-making process. In Butler County, their economic development arm is a partnership between seven different agencies. In Mercer County, the new economic development director has spent his first year by building relationships with local businesses and municipal officials.
In Allegheny County, their economic development initiatives are sourced directly from the communities that the county serves. Compare the results in those communities to the results that our county’s organizations have generated for Lawrence County.
Over the next few years, it is imperative that we reform our development agencies to make them more accessible, accountable and responsive to the needs of our county. Instead of spending countless tax dollars and time on redundant planning processes, it is critical that we work alongside our municipal officials to bring new development to our boroughs, townships and city.
Instead of planning trips to Europe for staff and board members of the Economic Development Corporation, we must aggressively work to attract and pursue economic opportunities for the residents who pay our bills.
It is the responsibility of elected officials to hold our development agencies accountable for the tax dollars that they spend. It is the responsibility of our voters to hold those elected officials accountable to the same.
If we are to be successful in navigating the challenges of the 21st century, we must finally walk away from the failed policies and practices that led us to this point and embrace a more inclusive, transparent and accountable tomorrow.
(Morgan Boyd is the chairman of the Lawrence County commissioners.)