County, Jobs Initiative still at odds over records

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
County commissioners again clashed with Rowan Jobs Initiative officials Monday over access to the nonprofit organization’s records.
On Monday, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners didn’t get copies of records and minutes from the Jobs Initiative, which one commissioner said had been promised. Instead, they got a six-page booklet of financial information that one commissioner called a “drive-by showing.”
Rowan Jobs Initiative received $325,000 in county funds over the past four years. Commissioners pulled the plug on funding in June in a dispute over questions about a conflict of interest.
The dispute led the county board to study a policy that would require nonprofits receiving county tax dollars to open their records.
Chairman Arnold Chamberlain said last week he had been assured by Skip Wood, chairman of the Jobs Initiative, and Bruce Jones, its secretary-treasurer, that copies of all the records and minutes from the inception of the organization would be delivered to the county Monday.
The Post quoted Chamberlain in a story on the matter Saturday.
Neither Wood nor Jones attended the meeting Monday, but two other directors, Dyke Messinger and Brian Miller, did.
Miller delivered the financial information prepared by Sherrill & Smith.
Miller then said that the Jobs Initiative had not offered copies of the minutes or other records and that the Post was incorrect.
He invited commissioners to view the records by making an appointment. He added that a Jobs Initiative member would be present while commissioners review the records. “We welcome public scrutiny of our records,” Miller said.
“I didn’t misunderstand anything,” Chamberlain responded. “I didn’t misunderstand anything.”
Chamberlain said he was repeatedly promised that the documents, including minutes of meetings, would be given to the county by Monday.
Chamberlain went on to say the Jobs Initiative has “some pretty good folks” and that this struggle with the county has gotten out of hand.
“Our relationship with RJI … is severed,” he said. “I’m done on the subject.”
Commissioner Jim Sides accepted Miller’s invitation, saying he will schedule a time to look at the records.
“If I have to be in a room where they are watching me, fine,” he said.
Commissioner Tina Hall supplied dozens of pages of the Jobs Initiative’s tax returns and other documents publicly available.
Hall called the six-page booklet of financial information a skeleton, saying it offers no information about the organization’s decision-making process.
Hall said taxpayers are entitled to that information.
“This drive-by showing of information is not acceptable,” she said.
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell said the Jobs Initiative’s written purpose “is so vague, it’s impossible to tell if they achieved anything.”
Mitchell placed blame on the county for allocating money without closer scrutiny. “That will be fixed,” he added.
Commissioners unanimously agreed with a recommendation from Chamberlain to develop a policy requiring nonprofits that accept county money to comply with open meetings and public records laws. The policy will also prohibit conflicts of interests.
In another matters, the board briefly discussed an Ohio court action in which it was revealed last week that a Duke Energy subsidiary paid millions of dollars to large companies, including Ford Motor Co. and General Electric, to drop opposition to rate increases.
Chamberlain said the board will likely discuss this further and watch as the Ohio case moves forward. He noted that commissioners haven’t signed the final documents for an incentive grant tied to Duke’s planned expansion of the Buck Steam Station.
Commissioners have approved $7.2 million in incentives or rebates for the planned $600 million investment.