Washburn Expresses Proposed Merger Concerns
BY STAFF REPORTS
DRESDEN (February 1) — During Monday night’s Dresden City Board meeting, Mayor Jeff Washburn stated his objections to merging the Weakley County Economic Development Board (WCEDB) and Weakley County Chamber of Commerce, saying, “It’s something that concerns me, even though I was initially in favor of it.”
The mayor noted he spoke to other small-town mayors in the county regarding the services provided by the WCED Board and, “what have they done for us when a new industry comes to look at Weakley County, and they questioned whether or not they have been treated fairly.
“I’ve been fairly vocal with my concerns about when someone calls the WCED Board and submitted requests for proposals for sites in our city; are we being treated fairly, or if someone is cherry-picking (other sites) before we get a chance. I have been told that’s occurred.
“I have also voiced my opposition to the WCED Board being located in the same office as Martin Economic Development, because I think there’s too much opportunity for someone to get favored treatment. I think the WCED should set up separate offices from any of the other cities’ Economic and Community Development offices. If it’s going to merge with the Weakley County Chamber of Commerce, it could be a good thing or a very bad thing,” Washburn added.
Regarding the proposed merger, Mayor Washburn said, “They appointed committees and didn’t bother to appoint anybody from the City of Dresden, to make arrangements to set this up.
“So, if you heard your mayor has been withholding the city’s contribution for the third quarter, you’re right. I did. About $18,000 per year is what we contribute, based on population. I’m holding it. I had a discussion with Tommy Legins of Martin, the current chairman of the WCED, last week. He called to ask why we hadn’t paid, and I was very frank about what my feelings are. I don’t know of any other way to get their attention. I feel like we’re being treated unfairly. We don’t have any representation on the committee. Granted they appointed County Mayor Jake Bynum from Dresden, but he has the authority to appoint himself or any other citizen.”
Bynum used his appointment to add Andrea Hughes to the seven-member executive committee. Hughes worked at a bank in Dresden for many years before transferring to the bank’s corporate office in Martin. During September 2020 meetings, the Chamber Board and ED Board approved the nominations of three representatives each to serve on the executive committee for the potential merger. The executive committee has the initial responsibility of creating new by-laws governing the merged entity. From there, the merger proposal follows an organizational chart, which recommends an Executive Director plays the leadership role in assigning tasks for the proposed Chamber Committee, Chamber Director, Administrative Assistant and Economic Development Committee. Members of the executive committee include Bynum, Hughes, Charles Anderson of Gleason, John Clark of Sharon, Cindy McAdams of Greenfield, Legins and Martin Mayor Randy Brundige.
The executive committee hasn’t held its first meeting. During the proposal phase, representatives of the ECDB and Chamber Board reported a potential merger wouldn’t start to take shape until mid-2021.
City Attorney Beau Pemberton stated during Monday night’s meeting if the board so chooses, it could invite Chairman Legins and Shelby Spurgeon, Weakley County Economic Development Director, to come before the board and discuss these issues face-to-face.
Alderman Dilday stated Spurgeon has only attended a Dresden City Board meeting once before.
Mayor Washburn said, “I’ve stood up at WCED Board meetings and expressed the City of Dresden’s concerns and represented our city to try to see that we get treated fairly. They take offense at that, and don’t bother to appoint anybody from Dresden. Right now, there are three mayors out of the five in Weakley County appointed to it. Two mayors did not get appointed to the formation committee, if that tells you anything.
Alderwoman Sanda Klutts asked if Martin was one of the cities on the committee.
Mayor Washburn replied, “You can take that to the bank.”
“Weakley County has went backward over the last decade in economic development and gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We need someone who’s going to represent all of Weakley County. They need to be selling the clay in Gleason, and they need to be selling our pad-ready site in Dresden, and Greenfield has a great site they’re trying to develop,” Washburn expressed.
Alderman Kenneth Moore said, “We need someone from Weakley County representing us, not somebody from another county.”
Mayor Washburn stated the City of McKenzie was displeased with the way they were being treated by the Carroll County ECD Board, and they withdrew from it and formed their own ECD.
“Of course, they’re going to come in here and threaten you and say this or that is going to happen to you if you withdraw from the WCED Board. But, it didn’t happen to the City of McKenzie and a lot of other cities across the State of Tennessee where the same thing was happening. And, that might be something we want to take a look at – forming our own ECD in the City of Dresden
“Maybe we should think about forming it with some of these other communities that aren’t happy with what’s going on,” Alderman Gwin Anderson said.
“I’ve talked to some of the others about that,” Mayor Washburn said.
Alderwoman Klutts stated she would be happy with Dresden forming its own ECD, and added, “The time is now. I want the county and other cities to do well, but my main concern is the City of Dresden. I will be with anybody who’s trying to make this town go forward.”
Mayor Washburn said, “I’ve taken the position, and I think everybody else has on this board, if somebody else in Weakley County gets an opportunity to get an industry, we’re going to support them, because our people are going to work there too. But, we don’t need to be left out in the picking process, and I’ve had people who are in the know tell me that we are.”
Alderwoman Klutts made a motion to invite WCEDB chairman Legins and Spurgeon to come before the Dresden Board at its next meeting to discuss the City of Dresden’s concerns. The motion was seconded and approved by the board.