OSU Economic Development Advisory Group Chair Staci Kaufman reported on talks with the Van Wert County Commissioners at Monday's Van Wert City Council meeting. (DHI Media/Ed Gebert)
OSU Economic Development Advisory Group Chair Staci Kaufman reported on talks with the Van Wert County Commissioners at Monday's Van Wert City Council meeting. (DHI Media/Ed Gebert)

DHI Media Editor

VAN WERT -- Apparently, a divide between the City of Van Wert and Van Wert County still exists over the organization of economic development efforts. The difference between the two sides were noted once again Monday evening at a meeting of the Van Wert City Council.

As chairperson of the OSU Economic Development Advisory Group, Staci Kaufman was invited to council to report on meetings between her group and the county officials. She stated that efforts to combine efforts into one development office began with talks between the OSU group and County Commissioners and the County Economic Development Director in June. Two meetings between the two sides were held in June and another at a later date where the county's proposed structure was presented.

"From the beginning, it was stated that if OSU was still an entity in the economic development effort, via any agreement, the commissioners were not interested in working toward one system to serve all," said Kaufman.

She also pointed out one other major disagreement in organizational structure. "The county preferred the County Economic development director to supervise all economic development staff, including the city's economic development director," Kaufman stated. "The Executive Committee supports that in an equally funded structure, both positions should be lateral, with direction coming from a steering committee mutually agreed upon by both city and county in terms of representatives on the steering board with economic development goals and emphasis for economic development employees also set and reviewed by this steering committee."

Kaufman related several items of mutual interest including working the efforts into one system. Other items discussed at these meetings, according to Kaufman included using a steering board of local employers and stakeholders, equal funding by both the city and county to diffuse the image of the city steering all efforts toward only the city's benefit, finding that there is enough work for more than one economic development staff member, and keeping elected officials out of direct supervisory roles for economic development staff.

The discussion between the two sides appeared to be progressing well at first, but when the commissioners laid out their proposed plan for a blended system of economic development, the fundamental philosophical differences stood out. Kaufman and Vice Chair Dennis Staude submitted a draft flowchart with a lateral structure.

"In the draft lateral structure, all economic development personnel and administrative assistants report to the Steering Committee for accountability -- progress on goals, set by the Steering Committee," explained Kaufman.

In the end Kaufman admitted that the areas of disagreement between the two sides are "significant" and said that talks with the commissioners were stopped "because there are fundamental differences dealing with employer authority and supervisory responsibility (Kaufman and Staude) stated to the commissioners that any interest in continuing discussion of building one economic development structure be done directly with city officials who manage the city budget, which is impacted by such an effort. Those responsibilities lie with the city, not the OSU Economic Development Advisory Group."

Many City Council and administration officials had attended an earlier meeting with the County Commissioners in June. Mayor Don Farmer gave his thoughts about that meeting and the actions of the commissioners since that date.

"The underlying statement of that meeting was 'We are not trying to take control,'" Farmer recalled. But I can tell you ever since then, after a couple of months, it's been everything about control."

The commissioners had petitioned Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for a legal opinion over the legality of OSU's contract with the city, but DeWine declined to offer an opinion on the matter, leaving the contract still in force.

Council President Ken Mengerink promised to issue a written invitation to the County Commissioners to present their plan to council members for reaction.

Also making an appearance at council was Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman who updated council members about the renovation project at the former First Financial Bank location at the corner of Main and Washington Sts. in Van Wert. That building will become the new home of the Van Wert Municipal Court, and Leatherman went over a few adjustments to the plan. These adjustment will cut the total price tag of the move to the new building to approximately $490,000. Council approved that the city can start to advertise for bids on the project. Work is expected to begin at the end of October or the beginning of November.

Council also passed several financial adjustments at Monday evening's meeting.