Greg Basford and Sal Pollice

Logan County Alliance fields questions about decision to terminate agreement with city of Lincoln; transparency the goal in the new year

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[February 11, 2016]  LINCOLN - Tuesday night, the Logan County Alliance spoke in front of the Lincoln City Council regarding a decision it has made to stop working for the city on economic development. During that meeting, Greg Basford, Vice-president of the Alliance explained how the decision had come about, offered insight to the goals of the Alliance in the next year, and updated the council on work done in the first year of the organization's existence.

When the city council meeting was over, Mayor Marty Neitzel, City Administrator Clay Johnson, and several members of the Alliance Council adjourned to a press conference held in the Mayor’s office.

The press conference was led by Alliance member Sal Pollice along with Greg Basford. He opened saying that the Alliance is moving forward with increasing its transparency to the public, indicating there would be more interaction with local media in this new year.

He said for this press conference, the big topic was to be the termination of the contract with the city of Lincoln for economic development. He also noted that meetings with the press and public would be recorded by the Alliance to assure accuracy. He commented, “that is a mutual situation for our own accountability and you all (the press) as well.” The floor was then opened for questions.

The first question asked, does the Alliance have a body of work, pertaining to economic development for Lincoln, that will be handed over to the city.

Basford said that the Alliance was prepared to hand over all its information related to economic development. He said when that happened would hinge on what the city wants to do about the 30-day termination notice written into the contract.

Pollice commented, “Economic development is pretty critical, everybody knows that.” He went on to explain that when he lived elsewhere, he served as a city alderman. “When we had a similar situation where a committee was working on economic development, we hired an economic developer through the city.” He noted that the Alliance was not in a position to hire such a person to work specifically with economic development.

Basford added that the Alliance wanted to make sure it was delivering as best it could on the contract with the city.

The two were then asked if they would now become more involved with the Logan County Economic Development Partnership; would they have representation there, or are they stepping back completely. Basford said the Alliance would not reach out to the Partnership. He said, “We’re stepping back.”

Pollice added that the Alliance would assist or counsel as needed, but the focus would be on other priorities.

The men were asked if the Alliance was moving back to more of a Chamber of Commerce organization. Pollice responded, “I don’t think that is it. It has been a polarizing year; it's been a transition year, and that is always tough. When you lose memberships, just like any other business, you need to prioritize and focus why we are here. I think we are going to try and hit all avenues, but we’ll definitely prioritize what is more important, and obviously membership is the most important thing.”

The next question was a slight change of topic as Pollice and Basford were asked about the position of the Chamber. It was noted that at the annual dinner held the end of January there was no introduction of a Chamber Council while there was an introduction of the Alliance and Tourism Councils. Additionally, though not mentioned Tuesday night, when Nicole Cox left the Chamber, the Alliance did not advertise for a replacement director. Instead, the search began for a “Chamber of Commerce Membership Coordinator.” Earlier Tuesday evening Basford had also told the city council that the Alliance Council was “kicking around” whether or not Cox’s position needed to be filled.

Basford said that the Chamber was very much still an important part of the group. He noted, “We want to reinvigorate the Chamber effort. When we talk membership, we are talking the Chamber. We want to make sure that is getting the correct, proper attention.”

Basford went on to say that the financial support through Chamber membership was important to the organization on the whole. He noted, “Serving our members is primary and as a chamber member, I want to make sure that my chamber is out there advocating for me.”

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Regarding no introduction of the Chamber Council at the annual dinner, Basford said the council is still in place, but again, there is some re-organization going on. “We will be executing and growing that council as well. We’re moving around the board (Alliance Council) people a little bit to give them exposure in other areas, so we are building that Chamber Council as we speak.”

Pollice expanded saying that as an example, Jean Bruner-Jachino had been the person serving on the Tourism Council, as the chair, in 2015. This year, Jachino will rotate out of tourism and Pollice will rotate in. Jachino will in 2016 be working with the membership council or committee.

Pollice finished saying that the Alliance wanted to start the new year off right with increased transparency, good relationships and doing bridge building. Basford added to this saying the Alliance "wants to continue a positive relationship with the city" and that this was not a “disappointing parting of the ways.”

Neitzel was asked how she had reacted to the Alliance's termination of the contract. She commented, “When I heard about this, I felt that being as that Andi (Hake) resigned and left a void in economic development, I feel that the best thing was done in the termination.”

She was then asked if the city of Lincoln would re-establish its relationship with the Logan County Economic Development Partnership, or would the city hire an individual for economic development. Neitzel said city aldermen will discuss the options, but she offered no opinion as to what might be decided.

City Administrator Clay Johnson commented as well, “I think what is important is to understand a few things. One, (there is no) dissatisfaction with any product that was prepared by the Alliance to the city. I think it was a result of discussions of what is in the long-term best interest of not only the Alliance, but the city as well.

“What I think gets forgotten in all this haze of the word ‘economic development’ is, what is economic development? It is not simply recruitment and attraction of businesses to the community. It’s livability. It’s making sure that infrastructures are in place, that people want to live here. It’s legislative advocacy. Even though the city isn’t partnering directly with the Alliance anymore, they (the Alliance) are still going to be doing economic development, it is just not going to be on a contract service. Legislative advocacy and building membership are economic development tools. There are a lot of arrows in that quiver of economic development, and I think the city is trying to approach any and all of them in the best possible manner.

Basford enforced the statement saying “we move forward together. We don’t move forward separately. Our efforts dovetail in many ways, and we want to be someone who helps the city continue to prosper because our members do (prosper) as well.”

Pollice asked if there were any other questions, to which media members indicated there were not. With that, ending the press conference.

[Nila Smith]

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