Madison City Council President Rick Berry, above left, speaks during the council’s Economic Development Committee meeting at City Hall on Tuesday as councilman Darrell Henderson listens. Below, Madison resident Robin Henderson addresses the committee and audience. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Madison City Council President Rick Berry, above left, speaks during the council’s Economic Development Committee meeting at City Hall on Tuesday as councilman Darrell Henderson listens. Below, Madison resident Robin Henderson addresses the committee and audience. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Following a two-and-a-half-hour public meeting Tuesday to discuss economic development, city councilman Rick Berry said he will recommend that the City Council not adopt the mayor's economic development strategy.

Berry, who is council president, did not offer a counter to Mayor Damon Welch's newly unveiled plan, but said he and the other members of the City Council Economic Development Committee would recommend the city move forward in a "different direction."

After being elected council president last week, Berry created the committee because he felt the council had not been involved enough in the discussions on economic development.

In response, Welch released his economic development plan 11 days earlier than he had planned to give the committee some talking points.

The major parts of Welch's plan were a restructuring of the board of the Economic Development Partners and forming an oversight board that would handle economic development for the city and county.

Of the more than 30 people in attendance at the meeting, several mentioned that Madison needs to find out what it can offer before it starts trying to recruit businesses.

Madison resident Larry Henry said the city should work on improving quality of life issues that will make younger people - particularly those at Hanover College - want to stay in the area.

"Quality of life for me, quality of life for you, is going to be different for an 18- to 34-year-old," Henry said.

Henry suggested talking to other communities the size of Madison to find out what works and what doesn't work in terms of keeping young people. He also hopes to see city officials become proactive and look for businesses to locate here rather than sit back and wait.

One area thought to be a draw for people to Madison is tourism. But Robin Henderson was not convinced.

"The tourists that come here are old people like my wife and I, who spend $20 and visit the small shops and leave," he said. Tourism, he said, is driven by children, and in order to draw people to the city, Madison will have to find out what it is kids want to do.

Very little from the mayor's economic development plan draws from the Blue Ribbon Panel, a group formed by the mayor to discuss an economic development strategy early last year.

"They (the Blue Ribbon Panel) gave a lot of people in the community hope, and they were brushed off," Henderson said. "That's not right."

Henderson was the only member of the public to comment about the 11-member panel proposed by Welch. Along with five elected officials, the board would also include representatives of tourism, downtown development, small businesses, workforce development, industrial development and quality of life groups, such as the Historic Board and Parks Board.

Two major groups without representation on that board, Henderson said, are the TIF Board, which can approve tax incentives for businesses looking to relocate to Madison, and the schools. John Hutchinson, a former member of the Madison Consolidated Schools Board, agreed that a representative from the schools should be on the board, or at least included in the discussion.

"If you're going to get someone to come here, and they have kids, that's going to be very important to them," he said.

A majority of the discussion Tuesday focused on the EDP restructuring. Welch hoped for EDP to become funded partially by membership dues and run by a nine-member board of directors that faced term limits.

Many in the audience voiced displeasure over the way the current EDP board operates. Hanover resident Warren Auxier said EDP has not been making changes to the board since the original Blue Ribbon Panel report came out. Auxier has been receiving copies of the minutes of the EDP board meetings and has noticed no discussions regarding a restructuring of the organization.

"If discussions are taking place, they are not reflected in the minutes," he said.

Madison resident John Branigan said changing EDP will simply be a way to dress up the old EDP unless there are metrics put in place to monitor progress.

The council's Economic Development Committee consists of Berry, Darrell Henderson and Pete Backus. Welch was not in attendance at the meeting, but representatives from City Hall were present. No one was at the meeting on behalf of the Economic Development Partners or the mayor's Blue Ribbon Panel.

"I wanted to give EDP a chance to say something. And they didn't come. And I think that says something," Berry said.

County Council member Larry Wynn, County Commissioner Robert Little, City Councilman Jim Lee and Board of Works member David Carlow were the elected officials in the audience. Wynn, who is personally opposed to EDP, hoped the City Council and both the County Council and County Comissioners would work together on a plan for economic development.

"I think it would be great if we could get all factions together and work something out," Wynn said.

The committee will not meet again until after Tuesday's City Council meeting.

In response to Tuesday's committee meeting, Welch said this morning he felt it was absolutely essential to restructure EDP. Since the County Commissioners and the town of Hanover renewed their yearly contracts with EDP, Welch hopes to restructure the organization in a way that can benefit all parties while having local government work together.

"I'm trying to promote unity here," he said.

Welch said the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel were "absolutely not ignored." Recommendations such as an oversight board for economic development and an outside director for EDP were among the proposals Welch said he included in his plan.

Welch said he's not sure whether he will request the City Council to vote on a resolution at the Jan. 22 meeting or if he will wait until the first meeting in February for a vote. The first step will be to pass a resolution supporting the restructured EDP, Welch said, followed by the necessary steps to create an interlocal agreement for the oversight board.