Commissioners strip Rowan Jobs Initiative of funds
By Jessie Burchette
Rowan County commissioners agreed Monday to pull all county funding from the Rowan Jobs Initiative because of what they see as a conflict of interest involving a former member of the Jobs Initiative’s board of directors.
Mike Miller, owner of Salisbury marketing firm Miller Davis, has served on the board of directors of the organization. And his company had received $117,000 for marketing services from Rowan Jobs Initiative through March 7, according to financial reports provided by the county.
Started in 2005 to assist the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, the Jobs Initiative uses a mix of private and public money. The county has provided $325,000, with Salisbury providing $150,000 and businesses and individuals an additional $330,000.
Miller Davis began receiving money for services from the Jobs Initiative 2005, with most of the payments made in 2006 and 2007, according to records provided by the county.
Commissioners had tentatively approved $75,000 in Jobs Initiative funding for the coming fiscal year.
However, Commissioner Tina Hall raised the issue of a potential conflict of interest involving Miller and his business during a budget workshop last week.
At that time, Commissioner Jon Barber indicated Miller was no longer on the organization’s board of directors.
The Jobs Initiative Web site listed Miller as a director through Oct. 31, 2007. When he filed to run for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in November, Miller said he no longer served on the Jobs Initiative board.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the board of commissioners, again raised the issue of a potential conflict during budget discussions Monday night.
Chamberlain never directly named Miller but referred to him only as a good man.
Chamberlain went on to detail the lengths to which he has gone to avoid any potential conflict of interest, not allowing his company, Chamberlain Exterminators, to bid on any business connected to county funding since 1998, when he was elected commissioner.
He said he has repeatedly told his son, who now runs the company, “Don’t bid; that’s the right thing to do.”
At one point, Chamberlain said that that if he had acted similar to Miller in the Jobs Initiative situation, he would have been “neutered” by the Salisbury Post.
At the very least, it’s an apparent conflict of interest, said Chamberlain, who said all county-related boards must avoid such situations.
Chamberlain went on to accept part of the blame for the Rowan Jobs Initiative situation, saying he should have paid closer attention.
Chamberlain then suggested that $75,000 be taken away from the Jobs Initiative and redirected, with $50,000 going to the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission later this year. The remaining $25,000 will go to the Rowan County Rescue Squad.
In a non-binding straw vote, Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell, Hall and Commissioner Jim Sides joined supported taking the funding from the Rowan Jobs Initiative and redirecting it as Chamberlain specified.
Commissioner Jon Barber tried to get other board members to delay the decision and allow time to gather information about the Rowan Jobs Initiative and Miller’s role, including whether he participated in the decision to award business to his company.
Miller was in the audience Monday along with Dyke Messinger, a former president of the organization.
Miller, of China Grove, was unsuccessful in a bid to win one of two Republican nominations for the Board of Commissioners in the May 6 primary.
Attempts to contact Miller by telephone Monday night were unsuccessful.
Messinger spoke during the public hearing on the budget, outlining plans to launch a campaign to promote water as the county’s most abundant resource. The campaign targets the site selection consultants who help industries and businesses locate new facilities.
He said the $75,000 commissioners cut from the Jobs Initiative budget would go for the water campaign.