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Development Authority was hot topic for Jefferson County Commission

By Staff | Jan 25, 2019

CHARLES TOWN – From the time public comment began at Thursday evening’s Jefferson County Commission meeting, the topic of the Jefferson County Development Authority meeting was clear.

Approximately 30 individuals took more than an hour at the start of the meeting to voice their concerns over an item on the commission’s agenda, calling for a discussion on potentially disbanding the JCDA and starting from scratch.

Most of those commenting pleaded with commissioners to vote “no” to disbanding the JCDA and to appoint members from the 35 applications they had received, many of whom were at the meeting to take part in interviews for the positions.

The Jefferson County Development Authority saw 12 of its members resign in November of last year, following the continued opposition to the Rockwool plant that is locating in Jefferson County.

The JCDA’s role is to bring business to the county; however, those opposed to the Rockwool facility are calling for the JCDA to concentrate on bringing “clean, sustainable” business to the county. Many of those individuals were among the 35 applicants hoping to fill the vacancies on the JCDA.

Nicholas Diehl, director of the JCDA, said the board currently has only eight members and must have 12 to function. He said no board business has happened since the resignations in November.

Diehl also commented there are not businesses currently seeking to locate in the county.

“We had some interest, but with the current situation with Rockwool, those businesses have stepped back,” Diehl said.

JCC President Patsy Noland had placed the agenda item to discuss and possibly dissolve the JCDA and begin anew. Her item sparked outrage from many who took the opportunity to share their opinions.

“To vote ‘yes’ on this is a direct attack on transparency,” said Kirsten Lee. “The applicants are not anti-development, but pro smart development.”

Lauren Maloney, a member of Jefferson County Vision, an anti-Rockwool group that has formed in the county, said, “It looks like you’re looking to favor Rockwool and silence the people.”

Tim Ross simply asked, “There are 35 applicants for three positions. Why do we need more?”

Following the opinions of the public, the commission chose to enter into executive session to discuss a variety of legal matters, including cases filed against the county by Jefferson County Vision, as well as any potential “liability” issues regarding the JCDA.

The commission and attorneys were behind closed doors for over an hour, as members of the public waited in the hallway outside of the meeting room.

Upon return to public session, the commissioners began a laborious interview process of those who were present to seek appointment to the JCDA board.

The agenda item that had caused such ire was tabled until another time.

Commissioners asked questions of those present for interviews, with most of the questions concerning why the applicant wished to serve and what their vision of economic development consisted of. Noland asked candidates whether they supported the lawsuits filed against the JCDA by Jefferson County Vision, a question some answered and some did not.

Interviews, which did not begin until after 9 p.m., went on for several hours. The commission did not make appointment decisions, but rather, each commissioner was to select their top six candidates and survey questions would then be sent to those finalists before a final appointment would take place.

Until appointments are made, the JCDA continues to be unable to conduct business because the board does not have a quorum.