One of Council member Bob Werner's biggest beefs with DCED has been its outright refusal to appear in front of Council to answer questions and explain exactly what they are doing. After numerous requests, the entire staff appeared at Council's economic development committee meeting on June 2. But the meeting ended with their presentation. There was no opportunity to ask questions.
At that hearing, Herrlinger told Council that a large part of what DCED does (80%) is community development. This supports economic development. "We provide the threads for new, small businesses that want to locate here and reinforce growth for businesses that are existing." He claimed that DCED focuses on small business, noting they create the lion's share of the jobs. DCED Administrator Mark Hartney added that, in the last year, his department worked with 35 small businesses and entrepreneurs. These projects resulted in 22 new jobs and retained 104 jobs. He claimed that DCED provides "small business concierge service."
A month prior to this report, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation's (LVEDC) Don Cunningham had updated Council with a nuts and bolts report of 1,700 jobs created in Northampton County within the last 12-18 months, along with 1,000 jobs retained. It provided a stark contrast to the meager statistics presented by Hartney.
Despite a less than reassuring report from the County's DCED, and the lack of a permanent Director, Executive Brown asked Council to vote on a reorganization of DCEC that would add a $31,838 secretary (Clerical Tech III) and provide $4,235 raises to salaries already in the $47,000 range. There is no indication that Human Resources had performed a desk audit for any of these positions to see if a pay raise was warranted.
Bob Werner said he was opposed to any reorganization in that department, arguing that the Department needs a more thorough review. "Watching these positions is like watching an abusive marriage," he complained. "They come and they go and they change." Hayden Phillips, John Cusick and Mat Benol all said they'd prefer to wait for the next budget cycle before deciding on any reorganization or raises. "I will probably support this in December if we see positive results from the Acting Director," he observed. "It's not particularly fair to give raises in middle of year and again at end of year."
Matt Dietz added that the County had not seen much return on their investment in a department that created only 22 jobs.
Brown countered that it took Cunningham over two years to get LVEDC focused, and that his "administration has demonstrated an ability to find improvements." His administration no longer has a Director of Administration, Director of Emergency management Services or Director of Community and Economic Development.
Glenn Geissinger, who usually can be counted on to support Brown, complained that Council has a "failed understanding of the accomplishments of this department" and accused his colleagues of making decisions about jobs they don't understand. He also criticized Council for rejecting a "minor change in pay."
Geissinger, Peg Ferraro and Seth Vaughn voted in support of the proposed reorganization. But Cusick, Werner, Phillips, Dietz and Benol said No.
In other business, Council enacted a fee schedule that enables the public to view Orphans Court records online for a fee. There are different plans, from a low of $5 per day to a high of $150 per year. Estate filings, including wills, are available for online review. Adoptions, incapacities and proceedings involving minors will remain unavailable.
Council also voted to approve three contracts: $1.5 million to Industrial Communications for radio service at the 911 Center; $240,000 to Slate Belt Plumbing, Heating and Electric for highway interchange lighting maintenance and repairs; and a $4million contract with Bi-State Construction for the replacement of a county bridge. Because the bridge is part of the PennDOT Transportation Improvement program, the County will only pay $202,550 for that contract, with the rest of the money coming from the federal ($3.24 million) and state ($607,650) government.
Council ended its meeting with an executive session to discuss personnel, which could have included questions about why Luis Campos suddenly resigned as Director of Administration.
Council member ken Kraft, who was recovering from a root canal, was absent.