Local governance takes a big step backwards in Lemoore's economic development

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Local governance takes a big step backwards in Lemoore's economic development

Lemoore’s city council is starting to make Congress look good, which isn't easy to do. House Speaker John Boehner is thinking about sending Mayor Billy Siegel a thank you note.  Lemoore’s city leaders, at least some of them - because councilmembers Eddie Neal and Willard Rodarmel refuse to drink the Kool-aid - seem intent on turning our city into a laughingstock, a community devoid of sensibility and farsightedness - sort of like Washington D.C.

In the space of a year, the council, led by the “Three Amigos” – Billy Siegel, John Gordon and Lois Wynne - have unceremoniously dispatched a competent city manager, fired the planning department staff, survived a recall effort, and laboriously debated the future of the Lemoore Municipal Golf Course, which some councilmembers say is draining the General Fund and needs to be sold to the first person who wants to fork out $5 million to buy it.

No buyers yet. The Tachi, who some think would have liked a golf course to go along with their hotel and casino, appeared poised to write a $5 million check, dropped out when an angry public protested the possible sale. The “Three Amigos” claimed they didn’t want the golf course to drain the city’s general fund, despite evidence that the course mostly pays for itself.

There are only “Two Amigos” remaining. Councilmember John Gordon resigned a couple of weeks ago due to health concerns. The Leader wishes him well.

The latest escapade centers on the city’s maintenance and operations budget, where without any advance knowledge and little or no discussion, our elected leaders appear to have given up on economic development, the engine that makes communities like Lemoore thrive by creating the environment for businesses to relocate or expand and create jobs and much-needed sales tax revenue.

In a surprise move, the city council, during its budget sessions, quietly bid a fond farewell to the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which for the past 25 years or so has worked hand in hand with the city to provide opportunities and create the climate needed to attract new businesses and jobs.

There was no discussion and no reasons from the unknown budget committee member who recommended the drastic cut. They just simply struck it from the city council’s budget, where it has been for many years.

At an annual cost of approximately $37,000, our community receives what amounts to a full-fledged economic development agency, whose sole responsibility was to attract potential businesses, and work hand-in-hand with city leaders to attract that next Tesla or widget factory.

Apparently someone on the “budget” committee during recent committee meetings, suggested the city drop the EDC. However, city staffers, in the preliminary budget, recommended continuing the city’s relationship with the EDC. Based on the Budget Committee’s recommendation, city staffers quietly removed the budget item from the revised budget and during the June 17 study session on the budget, City Manager Jeff Laws briefly mentioned the EDC cut, suggesting that the recommendation to cut the city’s ties with the EDC came from a budget committee member. The discussion lasted all of 30 seconds or so, with nary a peep from councilmembers. He didn’t say who the committee member was who wanted to cut ties to the EDC.

The budget committee consists of councilmembers Lois Wynne and Mayor Billy Siegel, Laws and Finance Director Cheryl Silva. Who it was that recommended the cut is up for discussion.

Apparently city leaders dropped the EDC without any real idea of what to do next. “We’re looking for other options,” Laws told me when I asked him about what they intend to do now without the services of EDC.

I also asked him who it was on the budget committee who recommended withdrawing from the EDC. “I don’t remember who it was,” he said, even though he serves on the committee.

He also admitted that the EDC, with whom the city has shared a relationship for at least 25 years, was not informed of the pending decision. Meantime, several community organizations that often ask for funding - KCAO, Kings Commission on Aging - were informed of the study session and were on hand to argue their cases for funding.

The EDC currently represents, with the exception of Corcoran and Avenal, the remaining cities and Kings County. It works diligently in seeking out and convincing all kinds of businesses to relocate or locate to Kings County. The EDC works with local officials to find suitable locations that might appeal to a new business, and assists new companies with finding qualified employees, identify incentives and much more.

With little discussion and the absence of the EDC from the study session, some councilmembers may have been unaware of the ramifications of their vote on the overall budget, which included the revised city council budget, which included the cut to the EDC.

Councilmember Willard Rodarmel seemed unaware that the EDC funding was discontinued. He admitted that sometimes he’s concerned that the EDC’s focus may have been aligned more to Hanford than to Lemoore, but overall he supported the mission of the local economic development agency. “I feel it’s an organization we need to keep,” he said.

Councilmember Wynne was also contacted by The Leader, but did not return a phone call or respond to an email message, which has been typical of the “Three Amigos.”

What’s next?

Councilmembers can obviously revise the budget and retain the EDC, but that may be difficult in light of the fact there are currently just four council members. Council is expected to appoint a new member at its August 5 meeting. Let’s hope it’s someone who understands the importance of economic development because Lemoore is too valuable a commodity to sit on the sidelines as major businesses consider sites for a factory, distribution center, or business. It needs to be proactive and work with its county partners to help not only Lemoore grow, but also Kings County.

Instead, our city council members, led now by the “Two Amigos,” seem intent on sitting on their hands as they abdicate their responsibility to improve Lemoore economically, and instead continue their dithering about the golf course.

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