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Colusa staying economic development course
An overflow crowd, most wanting the Colusa City Council to show its economic development consultant the door, groaned and hissed when instead they were told the city is staying the course.
Mayor Pat Landreth, joined by Councilwomen Kay Hosmer and Donna Critchfield in a 3-2 majority, called the economic development program critical to providing jobs for the next generation, and for the public safety of the town.
“I say we have to stay the course ... to bring our revenues up so our Police Department can have more officers to protect you, so our Fire Department can have enough firefighters so they can protect you too,” Landreth said.
Mark Mayuga did not speak at the meeting, nor did he have any comment afterward, but was clearly the focus of the people who came to Tuesday night’s meeting at City Hall.
As a few spectators stood against a wall in the tiny council chambers, more than a dozen others stood in the hallway.
They all came to hear what they thought would be a debate about whether the contract that pays Mayuga nearly $8,000 a month should be terminated.
They had been waiting for nearly two months – since a Feb. 7 council meeting when concerns about the contract and Mayuga’s performance were aired.
“I am not satisfied with Mr. Mayuga’s performance, and if I had an opportunity, I would end his contract immediately,” Councilman Kirk Kelleher said.
Councilman Tom Reische said he was against the contract from the beginning, but for the first time expressed his personal concerns regarding Mayuga’s ethics during the hiring process.
The discussion apparently was about whether Colusa could land the proposed methanol plant if Mayuga was not hired, and Reische was left with the impression that it would not be available.
Again, the consultant declined to comment on the meeting.
More than Mayuga
City Manager Jan McClintock pulled the crowd’s knot a little tighter when she turned the discussion item into an overview of the city’s entire economic development package.
It was listed on the agenda in exactly those terms as well.
In fact, except for a brief comment at the end of her lengthy report, when she finally recommended Mayuga’s contract be continued, that specific issue was left to the audience members to hash out.
She did note, however, that under the changes in the redevelopment landscape, the city could not simply recoup the loan it made to the now defunct redevelopment agency.
Among the expenses tied to that loan is the Mayuga’s two-year contract, the second year of which is just now under way.
She said if the city canceled the contract, those funds not yet expended would go to the state.
McClintock was unyielding in her case that the economic development policies developed by the council – a program designed to put Colusa’s name out in the market and aggressively pursue suitors with jobs in mind – was not only the right decision, but was showing positive results.
McClintock reiterated her message that Colusa was off the grid prior to the current set of economic development policies.
She acknowledged the success of the nearby Colusa Industrial Properties, but said those projects do not bring property or sales tax to the city, and Colusa needed its own dedicated campaign.
McClintock even referenced a case in which the city lost about $80,000 in sales tax when a firm moved out to CIP.
That company, she said Wednesday, had offices in Colusa and then moved them to their plant at CIP, and the point of sale went with it. She declined to name the firm because of laws about revealing sales tax figures from individual firms, but it is believed to be a chemical company.
CIP, city partnership?
Ed Hulbert, chief executive officer of the industrial properties, gave an overview of the projects being developed right now, and several others that could be coming in the near future.
He also noted that CIP and the city are working on an annex project that would put some property along Highway 20, viewed as ideal for development of hotels and similar commercial ventures, into Colusa.
Hulbert has questioned in the past the wisdom of paying a consultant the kind of money Colusa pays Mayuga, but did not venture into the discussion Tuesday.
McClintock said the economic development program had generated 15 site visits to Colusa in the last year or so, raised the profile of the former Pirelli plant and was in better marketing position than most small communities.
But just a month ago, McClintock said the Pirelli plant had deteriorated to a point that the city considered using redevelopment funds to raze it and market the property.
But on Tuesday she said a company that manufactures solar panels was interested in the plant, but opted to go elsewhere. She did not say why, though she told the Recreation Commission recently it was because of all the public discourse.
Breaking the filibuster
At one point, Ben Felt, a Colusa County Chamber of Commerce director, interrupted McClintock’s report and called it a “filibuster.”
McClintock was not dissuaded, and throughout it all, she steered clear of Mayuga’s contract until the very end.
But several audience members were happy to confront the contract head on.
Marilyn Acree, who has indicated she might consider running for the council in November, had the sharpest edge.
She questioned if there was any accounting on the time and work product tied to Mayuga’s contract and scope of work, and said her efforts to see the records had been unsuccessful.
She questioned that reports were incomplete at best, and drew far-ranging conclusions based on what she described as unrelated or irrelevant information.
She called on the council to force Mayuga to show them his books, and to have them audited.
Critchfield tried to assure the public the council gets all the details the public is demanding, but because of the confidential nature of his contacts and negotiations, cannot be released yet.
Don Bransford again questioned how realistic the methanol plant, what many see as the centerpiece to the economic package and Mayuga’s big ticket item, could be given all the obstacles, such as the rail spur and getting feedstock contracts – noting the idea of shipping manure from Tulare County.
But McClintock said that is not the city’s concern, and if the project developers ultimately see an economic value in doing all of that, then Colusa will benefit.
Other audience members offered similar comments, and one-by-one each favored ending Mayuga’s contract now.
In the end, the council voted 3-2 to not only keep Mayuga on as a consultant, but also to “keep the course.”
The supporting members argued that too many in the public do not understand economic development and were putting the “cart before the horse” by wanting details of projects before projects were even in the pipeline.
Kelleher took exception to the repetition of telling people they did not understand.
He said the issue is Mayuga and his contract, and that his name is not synonymous with economic development.
But the council majority is counting on it being exactly that, parlaying his contacts and past successes into commercial and industrial growth for the city.