Bernie Murphy, above, and Gary Kennon, below, addressed the City Council on the direction they hope to take Economic Development Partners. Murphy is interim director of EDP. Kennon, president and CEO of Vehicle Service Group, is the new president of the EDP board of directors. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Bernie Murphy, above, and Gary Kennon, below, addressed the City Council on the direction they hope to take Economic Development Partners. Murphy is interim director of EDP. Kennon, president and CEO of Vehicle Service Group, is the new president of the EDP board of directors. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Economic Development Partners might receive funding from the city after the City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to create a memorandum of understanding between the two groups.

Tuesday's action reverses a decision the Council made two weeks ago to stop future funding of EDP.

The memorandum states that a restructuring of EDP would be required before the Council would consider entering into an agreement for economic development purposes.

Council President Rick Berry - who introduced the motion to discontinue EDP funding - reversed his position and voted in favor of the motion to create a memorandum of understanding. Council members Dick Jones, Jim Lee and Laura Hodges joined Berry in voting for the memorandum. Councilmen Pete Backus, Darrell Henderson and Kevin Kellems voted against it.

Berry said he met with members of the EDP board and said they were open to the changes that were being recommended in the mayor's economic development plan, including a smaller board, term limits and membership dues.

Some of the items Berry said he wanted to include in the new EDP board requirements were a strategic plan for the city, a new board president, annual public reports and financial statements, an application process for businesses and opening part of the EDP meetings to the public.

The memorandum approved by the Council also included a stipulation to have measurable goals for the organization.

For the first time since the Council began discussing changes to EDP and possibly not funding the organization, interim director Bernie Murphy gave an impassioned speech to the Council about the importance of funding the organization.

Murphy said the community must move beyond its past conceptions of EDP and embrace the changes that will be made.

"We've got to move forward, put the past behind us and say, 'OK, what's best for the good of the people?'" Murphy said.

When Murphy first came to town in the 1980s, Madison was in terrible shape, he said. The Marble Hill nuclear power plant project had been shut down, people were unemployed, houses went up for sale and Main Street was in disrepair.

"It showed all the signs of a city in decline," Murphy said.

The town has improved since that time and made additions such as the changes to the riverfront, the Heritage Trail, updates to Main Street and a community college, all of which have survived during one of the "worst, most severe recessions" in the country's history, Murphy said.

"We're not where we are today by accident," Murphy said. He said it was the will and determination of "dedicated and often-inspired leaders."

The city still has issues Murphy said need to be resolved, such as an Interstate connector and the land available for businesses.

Murphy said prospective businesses want to move into environmentally friendly buildings and don't want to renovate old buildings that would require a tremendous amount of work.

Splitting up the city and county's economic development strategy would be disastrous for the area, Murphy said, adding that Madison needs to come together to make the needed changes.

"We aren't where we need to be now, but if we don't start now, in five years, we'll still be sitting around and talking about it," he said.

Gary Kennon, president of Vehicle Service Group and the new EDP board president, echoed Murphy's thoughts.

Kennon admitted the board made mistakes in the past and had been kept in the dark on the Mynette Boykin incident that brought EDP into the spotlight. But he said the board is committed to the community and willing to make changes and work together.

Henderson, who voted against the memo, said he wants to do what is best for the city, but has not been convinced this is the right way to do that.

"There's nothing I would like more than to support EDP," Henderson said. "But I'm not there yet."

Hanover resident Warren Auxier said the major flaw in the new structure is the fact that the organization remains a private organization that receives taxpayer money. That means members of the public who want to attend meetings to see how their money is being spent cannot do so.

"The public needs to be able to attend the meetings and observe the votes, if there are votes," Auxier said.