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Sears exit has officials asking funding questions
Mar 07, 2005 12:00 am
Holly Sears' exit as executive director of the county's economic development board left local leaders asking questions Thursday as to whether the organization needs additional funding to better compete with surrounding counties.
Sears, who had been at the helm of the Wilson County Joint Economic and Community Development Board (JECDB) for four years, announced Wednesday she had accepted a similar position with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
Sears cited a "significant" salary increase as well as the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce's sizable budget as the chief reasons behind her decision to accept the job.
JECDB board members' opinions varied when asked whether Sears' departure indicated a need for additional funding Thursday. Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman and Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings – both members of the board's executive committee – suggested more funds may be required in order to maintain the county's competitive edge in economic recruitment.
"I think we're going to have to make a decision as to whether or not we want to attempt to compete with the folks that are paying salaries at that level or if we want to try to get the possible person with the level of salary and benefits that we're providing," Jennings said. "If we decide to stay with that, I think we need to understand that if we get a good person in here, like Holly, someone else is probably going to recruit them away."
"I think (an increase in funding) is definitely worth looking into," Dedman added.
Those feelings were not unanimous among members of the executive board, however, as local businessman Nelson Steed said he currently sees no need to increase the JECDB budget.
"Things change as you go along. I guess I would say right now that I think our funding is adequate for what we're having to do," Steed said.
Board members are likely to breach the subject of budget increases in a meeting this morning but are more likely to focus their attention on the search for Sears' successor.
JECDB member and District 14 Wilson County Commissioner Rusty Thompson said the panel does have the element of time on its side in the search process, as Sears will not leave the post until April 1. After her departure, he continued, JECDB assistant director Diane Fletcher is "very capable" of serving as an interim director.
Dedman explained the board will likely appoint a search committee this morning and immediately begin "spreading the word" across the state regarding the vacancy.
And while the search may be limited to Tennessee at first, Steed added the position will likely garner the attention of economic development officials across the country.
"That's a big industry. I'm sure that through the trade shows and things of that nature that it would become common knowledge outside of Tennessee," he said. "Who knows? We may receive some resumes from outside of Tennessee, and we certainly wouldn't intentionally limit it."
All four board members indicated they were disappointed with Sears' resignation but wished her the best.
"I told Holly I was not happy with her decision, but I was happy for her," Jennings said, echoing the comments of fellow board members. "I think she's done a good job for Wilson County … I think we need to make a pretty thorough search for somebody that can be competitive because, obviously, now we're going to be working against Holly. She will be a very formidable opponent."
Calls to Lebanon Mayor Don Fox, chairman of the JECDB executive board, were not returned Thursday.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.