Choctaw, Webster and Montgomery counties plan development partnership

When plans for a regional economic development organization in the Golden Triangle were unveiled last month, there was talk that similar set-ups would start to appear in other parts of Mississippi.

Since Sept. 14, two have been made public. Chickasaw County officials decided in late September that they would pursue a partnership with Pontotoc and Union counties. Last Monday afternoon, officials from Choctaw, Webster and Montgomery counties announced they were forming a union of their own.

Stone-Adams, a business development and consulting firm in Jackson, will handle economic development for the three counties as they form the partnership.

“This is a very good opportunity for Mississippi to show how collaboration and cooperation can provide a model for sustainable economic development,” Stone-Adams founder Nick Walters said in a press release.

The conglomeration will be called the Regional Economic Partnership of Mississippi when it starts operation, which should be by the end of the year, Walters said in a phone interview last week. Walters said the idea arose about six months ago among supervisors from Choctaw and Webster counties as his firm’s professional services contract to handle economic development for Choctaw County was getting close to expiration. Montgomery County entered the discussion shortly thereafter.

Since then, each board of supervisors has voted to officially join the group and has started the process of appointing REPMS board members.

“This is about creating jobs that are accessible to the available workforces in our counties,” said Montgomery County supervisor Ron Wood. “When so many people commute across county and development district lines, it only makes sense to bring those counties and districts together to create opportunities that benefit the greatest number of people.”

Eupora and Winona, the county seats of Webster and Montgomery counties, are separated by 30 miles of four-lane Highway 82. The Choctaw County seat of Ackerman is just south and halfway between each.

Just off a Choctaw County portion of Highway 9, which connects Eupora and Ackerman, sits North American Coal’s Red Hills Mine. The mine has been in operation since 2000 and delivers 3.5 million tons of lignite coal per year to the Red Hills Power Plant, which provides electricity to the Tennessee Valley Authority under a 30-year agreement. The mine is one of the largest employers in the three-county area.

“People in Webster County drive to work in Montgomery County; people in Montgomery County drive to the mines in Choctaw County,” said Pat Cummings, president of the Webster County Board of Supervisors. “This kind of a partnership is just a natural fit for us as we continue to bring industry and development to this region of Mississippi.”

Walters said it was unlikely that local and private legislation would be required to validate the partnership. That could change, he said, if the three counties were to jointly develop an industrial park and split the revenue generated by tenants there.

Mississippi State University’s College of Business will offer its programs and resources to assist the new partnership get operational and to help it further its mission once it’s online.

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One Response to “Choctaw, Webster and Montgomery counties plan development partnership”

  1. Elaine Vechorik Says:

    Board members face breach of fiduciary duty

    Aldermen and supervisors do not have the authority to delegate their power to a regional development agency. Elected board officials cannot exceed the authority granted to them, nor put their interests above voters interests. Such action exceeds the board’s authority, it is illegal and it places board members in danger of a claim for breach of fiduciary duty.

    A breach of fiduciary duty is a relatively simple claim to assert:
    1. Proof of the existence of a duty (elected official)
    2. Proof that it was owed to the complaining party (the voter)
    3. Breach of the duty (giving power to a regional development agency)
    4. Causation (regional development agency acts irresponsibly, without restriction)
    5. Injury (voter lost voice, taxes increased, or property ownership violated)

    Economic development agencies want less people involved in policy making, to the point that a single non-elected person or a legal firm can handle an entire project. The false appearance of voter representation is critical to the process. Once aldermen and supervisors agree to a regional development agency, they are no longer needed. They only serve to enforce the plans of the development agency. Accountability, transparency, and voter representation are lost.

    The voters are ignored in favor of special interests groups that typically gain power over and financially benefit from areas where they don’t live or pay taxes (suffer the consequences). Often, the agency gets money from federal and state government grants rather than from county taxes. In this case, the development agency chases government money, regardless of the mandates that comes with the money and irrespective of the impacts on the community. The agency’s government money-chasing with strings attached is a conflict of interest over which voters and elected board members have no control.

    If board members give up their authority to the economic development agencies forming in Clay, Oktibbeha and Lowndes counties (and to a different agency forming in Choctaw, Montgomery and Webster counties) board members become civilly liable to the voters for breach of fiduciary duty. Each board member who voted for the regional agency will have to prove in court that he or she acted appropriately.

    A breach of fiduciary duty has severe consequences. The offending board member will be held personally liable in money damages for all losses sustained as a result of misconduct. Such judgments (and the attendant legal fees) are rarely, if ever, covered by the board officer’s liability insurance. All of this can be avoided, if board members vote “no” to the regional economic development agency.

    Remember the term, “breach of fiduciary duty.” You may see it again.

    Elaine Vechorik
    Sturgis

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