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County commissioners must speak up on EDC

At their recent goal-setting session, several county commissioners blasted the Economic Development Council for failing to live up to the expectations that come along with the $131,000 in public funds the group receives each year.

The EDC is not doing enough to generate jobs, Commissioner Dennis Damato declared. Don't give them any more money, said Commissioner Joyce Valentino. We need more bang for the buck, insisted Commissioner Vicki Phillips.

Stung, the EDC met last week to lick its wounds and prepare for what was shaping up to be a testy session before the County Commission on Tuesday when it was scheduled to make its quarterly report. After all, three of the five people who control the group's existence had just stated publicly that they are less than satisfied with the EDC's performance.

On Tuesday, EDC executive director Brett Wattles ventured into the lion's den.

And was met by a pack of pussycats.

Wattles made his presentation, the likes of which the commissioners have heard time and again. There are big fish on the line, companies interested in coming to Citrus, bringing lots of jobs and money. But state laws and professional ethics prevent Wattles from talking about any of them.

Challenger World World Team Challenge, the reality show that was filmed in Citrus a few months ago, was a huge success. It won't make anyone forget Survivor or even The Amazing Race, but it was on television and Citrus County made for a spiffy background.

Progress Energy still is considering whether to build a second nuclear plant in Citrus County, and the EDC is doing all that it can to influence that decision. Whether the EDC's voice is loud enough to be heard by the corporate bigs in North Carolina is anyone's guess.

When he concluded, Wattles stood ready to face the music. All he heard was the sound of silence.

Not one commissioner asked a single question. No criticism, no demands for results. Not even a Happy Valentine's Day.

Wattles and his fellow EDC members no doubt were thrilled with this kid-glove treatment. The public should not be.

Either the county commissioners expect results from the EDC or they don't. Either they wish to hold this group accountable for the $131,000 in occupational fee revenues it received annually, or they are just making noises about bang for the bucks.

If the commissioners are disappointed with the EDC's performance, the group should hear about it directly, and in detail, from the commissioners themselves and not through media reports. The EDC deserves at least that much professional courtesy.

Even more so, the public deserves better. It is, after all, its money that is going to this organization.

The commissioners had their opportunity to speak to the EDC principals, and the commissioners swallowed their tongues. Their silence was shameful.