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Halifax County supes shelve plans to shake up IDA / January 10, 2019

After eyeing the formation of an Office of Economic Development to take over from the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, county supervisors decided Monday night to let the idea drop.

“This was never about blame, but about the best way to move forward,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Dennis Witt during the board’s first regular meeting of the year.

With a lone dissent — by ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon — the board voted to leave the IDA “as is,” putting an end to the idea of bringing economic development in-house under the authority of new County Administrator Scott Simpson. The idea of an economic development office was floated by interim county administrator Dan Sleeper, who said the structure improved communications and produced good results for Pittsylvania County, where Sleeper served as the long-time county administrator before retiring. He has been serving Halifax in an interim role since the departure of Jim Halasz as county administrator last year.

Instead of adopting a new model, supervisors said they would instead strengthen ties between the IDA and county government — and also pay half the cost of having an executive search firm find a new executive director to lead the IDA.

At a meeting last week between supervisors and IDA directors, members of the latter group asked supervisors for financial help with the talent search, arguing that Halifax needed a high-powered recruiter who can reverse the county’s recent dry run bringing new employers to the community.

Supervisors agreed to that request Monday and said it was important to show that the board and the IDA are on the same page as members of “Team Halifax,” in Witt’s words. “The IDA is built for what it’s doing, we’re going to let it function, give it support and let it do what it’s doing,” he said.

“I think we owe the IDA board and the public a motion on how we’re going forward,” Witt added.

The only discordant note came from Brandon, who took part in last week’s joint meeting with the IDA and said he was impressed by directors’ “passion” but “discouraged” by what he saw as their occasional defensiveness.

“If we’re going to be Team Halifax, there are going to have to be changes. This is the time for bold action,” he said. “We have to be open to new models, new suggestions. We have to amenable to change.”

As part of their motion supporting the IDA, board members stipulated some new arrangements: Simpson will become a non-voting member of the IDA and attend its meetings, supervisors will hold joint sessions with the IDA, beginning on a quarterly schedule, and a board member will serve on the selection committee for the new IDA executive director.

The vote in favor of the motion was 7-1.

In other action Monday night,

» supervisors held organizational votes for chairman and vice chairman, with Witt and ED-3 supervisor Hubert Pannell returning in their 2018 roles as the board’s leaders. Brandon nominated William Bryant Claiborne to be board chair but the ED-8 representative declined the nomination, and subsequent votes for Witt and Pannell were unanimous.

» The Board also approved permits for the location of two cell phone towers on Mountain Road (Route 360) near Vernon Hill and near the intersection with Chatham Road, about seven miles apart. One of the towers is affiliated with AT&T and the other with Verizon Wireless. The monopole towers will improve cell phone communications in an area of the county where reception is poor.

» Supervisors also agreed to seek sealed bids for the Cluster Springs Early Learning Center building, which Tri-County Community Action Agency wants for its Head Start program. Before housing the early learning center program, the building served as Cluster Springs Elementary. It also contains ball fields used by youth teams in the community.

Speaking during the citizens comments portion of the meeting, Halifax resident Thomas Majors urged supervisors to be transparent in their handling of the Cluster Springs property, suggesting it should go to the group that wants it the most. Majors asked supervisors not to use a “buddy system” in handing it over.

» The Board also accepted a state aviation grant to complete the funding for runway improvements to William Tuck Airport, and they approved a $63,547 work change order for the demolition of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office on the courthouse square. After taking down the dilapidated prosecutors’ building, the county will build a replacement that will connect to the courthouse annex, which is also being fully rebuilt as part of the Courthouse Renovation Project.

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