Miller denies Jobs Initiative conflict of interest
By Jessie Burchette
The head of the Rowan Jobs Initiative is defending Mike Miller and his company against questions of conflict of interest.
William “Skip” Wood, chairman of the nonprofit organization which seeks to draw industry and business to the county, issued a statement Wednesday saying Miller has made many sacrifices to help market the county.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted Monday night to strip Rowan Jobs Initiative of $75,000 ó all county funding for 2009. The action came after Chairman Arnold Chamberlain questioned the organization spending $117,000 with Miller’s marketing company, Miller Davis, while Miller served on the Jobs Initiative board of directors.
At the very least, Chamberlain said, the situation has the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Wood said the county should be thanking Miller for all that he has given to the cause of marketing Rowan.
Wood also said they hope to meet with county commissioners at the upcoming June 16 meeting and demonstrate that there is no conflict of interest. And Wood hopes that commissioners will restore the $75,000.
Miller also issued a statement Wednesday, pointing out that his company strives to give back to the community.
He said he served on the board for two years, November 2005 through November 2007.
“During my tenure on the RJI board, I never participated in a vote to award a marketing contract. Extra steps were taken by existing board members and by myself, to ensure there was no conflict of interest in my serving on the board. Any decision that involved my company receiving payment for services rendered was made by the remaining board members.”
Miller went on to point that his company took over placement of advertisements in magazine publications to save the organization money. Miller estimated that his company saved the county more than $15,000 in products and services.
“They contracted with me to save money,” said Miller. “We have nothing to hide, no flaming gun. It’s all above board.”
Miller said he offered to resign from the board of directors but was urged to stay on.
“Not a lot of people in Rowan County have a marketing background,” he said.
He went on to point out that his company averages giving in excess of 2 percent yearly when the national average is .14 percent. Miller declined to specify the amount of money his company gives.
Miller and Wood said the episode could have been avoided if commissioners had asked before taking the action.
Miller said no county official has attended the monthly board meetings since Tim Russell was county manager. He said Russell’s successor, Bill Cowan, was invited to the meetings but never attended.
Joe Morris, planning director for the city of Salisbury, does serve on the marketing committee, which is a subgroup of RJI.
Rowan Jobs Initiative is an outgrowth of a group organized in 2004 as the Committee of 100. Companies and individuals agreed to pay $500 annually with the money going to boost economic development.
Over time, the organization morphed into the Rowan Jobs Initiative, never achieving the full 100 members.
Wood said he did not have figures available on the current membership.
In September 2004, commissioners endorsed the five-year marketing plan and approved $150,000 for the first year.
Minutes from that meeting show that a commissioner was to serve on the executive committee, along with the county manager serving on the steering committee.
Wood said the board consulted both inside and outside the organization to avoid any conflict of interest in doing business with Miller Davis.
He declined to specify who the board consulted, saying all the information will be provided to county commissioners.
“Because of our respect for the Board of Commissioners we do not think it is proper to use the media to explain the misunderstanding that occurred with the commissioners on Monday night. … We take responsibility for not ensuring that they full understood the issue they were considering,” said Wood.
He provided commissioners with extensive information about RJI, including the breakdown of payouts to Miller Davis and two other marketing firms.
The information was contained in more than a thousand pages of budget information given to the board last month.
Commissioner Tina Hall raised questions about a possible conflict of interest involving Miller during a May 20 budget workshop.
An RJI official said earlier this week that the county has provided $325,000 since 2004, with the city of Salisbury providing $150,000. Corporate members and individuals have contributed $330,000.