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Nobody can say that the SEDA isn’t doing its job.  It’s already created one new job — Executive Director. 

And what a job!  It comes with a salary of $100,000 a year.  In fact, the city council has now filled the position – again – and if the new director can last a week, he’ll set a record for longevity in that position.

When I served on the city council and was confronted with the issue of whether to spend $100,000 a year on such a position, I voted no.  I thought the money could better be spent on infrastructure, or employee salaries.  But the voters overruled me—twice:  First in 2014, when they removed me from office, and then again in 2015, when they passed Prop 1, which created the SEDA, which created this position.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, these positions, having been created not by the council itself but by a direct vote of the public, should not be abolished unless the public, in another direct vote, elects to do.  And unless and until it does, the council should let the new executive director go about the work he was chosen to do, with the obvious proviso that the council will have the last say in the actual implementation of the initiatives of the SEDA and its director.

My personal hope is that as long as we have a SEDA and its director, the council will support its projects when they involve the recruitment of new manufacturing to Stephenville, as well as the development of infrastructure projects—roads, sewer lines, water pipelines, etc.—to facilitate the establishment or expansion of job-creating factories, or which will make city services and amenities overall more attractive, and hence Stephenville itself, more attractive as a place to relocate to.

And, of course, no essay by me on economic development can be complete without a swipe at strategies which give tax breaks and/or other benefits to some retailers at the expense of their competition.  In this area, the city should be as impartial as a baseball empire, refusing to give anyone a competitive advantage over anyone else.  The city should be luring new retailers with tax breaks if doing so hurts existing businesses.  It may be well to remember the controversy which ended the first director’s tenure after only three days:  She had claimed that bringing new businesses to her previous city of employment had done no damage to the incomes of existing businesses, but the council member who first pushed for Prop 1 and the creation of the SEDA produced emails indicating that new businesses brought to town had hurt existing ones after all.  The city council should neither bring new businesses in if they’ll threaten existing ones, nor exclude new businesses from coming in.  Of course, the Chamber of Commerce and STEDCO, as private agencies, are still free to recruit new retailers, but the city should be neutral, giving no incentives to any that will harm others.

Those who support more enthusiastically than I do the new economic development programs and offices can be encouraged by what some of my fellow skeptics, who’ve actually met with the new director, have had to say.  They’re most impressed with his drive, experience, background, and personality.  They’re optimistic he’ll be a great success. 

One can only hope this will prove to be the case, and therefore tell the new director “Best wishes—and welcome to Stephenville.”

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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