STEUBENVILLE - Progress Alliance will go out with a war of words.
Members of Community Improvement Corp. were at the Jefferson County commissioners' meeting Thursday to discuss funding for Progress Alliance, its public-private economic development arm, but instead certain members became the target of criticism from the commissioners.
The commissioners had been providing $75,000 annually in funding to Progress Alliance for economic development work in the county. The commissioners recently announced the board would provide up to $100,000 in funding to the port authority, leaving Progress Alliance wondering about its funding.
PORT MONEY — AEP Ohio presented the Jefferson County commissioners Thursday a check for $5,000 that will be earmarked for the Jefferson County Port Authority to develop a website. AEP also made a $4,000 donation to the Fourth Street Health Center on Thursday. Accepting the port authority donation were, from left, county Commissioners Tom Gentile and Thomas Graham; Paul Prater, AEP community affairs manager; and Commissioner David Maple.
-- Mark Law
The CIC sent a letter to the commissioners on Dec. 10 stating its funding has dropped to a level where Progress Alliance needs to consider a timetable for the transition of pending economic development projects to the port authority, as well as turning over management of the county's industrial park, the revolving loan fund and the handling of the tax incentive review council meetings.
Several CIC members were at the meeting Thursday when county Commissioner Thomas Graham read a four-page prepared statement in which he alleged there had been "unethical decisions" made by the Progress Alliance.
Graham said Jim Emmerling of EM Media, a current board member, was quoted as saying the CIC has "done a damn good job."
"It is no wonder Mr. Emmerling thinks that since his company EM Media has received over $297,000 from the CIC for media campaigns on behalf of the CIC. The problem is this: The jobs he received were seldom, if ever, put out to bid to get competitive pricing. Because he was a member, he got a deal. But that is not fair or ethical to the taxpayers or other companies who might want to bid on the job. I and others raised our concerns about this when we found out and did not make them public, and we went along but complained hoping it would stop. No wonder Mr. Emmerling wants the CIC to survive," Graham said.
Emmerling, after the meeting, responded by saying he questions the motivation behind the statements. He said he has been a paying partner in Progress Alliance for about 15 years. He said the $297,000, which has been spent during the last 20 years or so, was for media campaigns, such as the Burb of the Burg advertising campaign targeting the Pittsburgh area.
"EM Media made little to no income as a result," Emmerling said.
He said the money went to buy time on local and Pittsburgh media outlets, adding his company has provided free services to Progress Alliance over the years, such as allowing his building to be used.
"I did it to help the community," he said.
The advertising agreements with EM Media were voted upon by the Progress Alliance board, of which the three county commissioners were members. Emmerling wasn't a member of the board when any of the contracts were approved.
Emmerling asked that if Graham thought the matter was unethical, why did the commissioner hire EM Media to handle advertising for Graham during his last three election campaigns.
County Commissioner Tom Gentile questioned how money given to Progress Alliance was being spent, pointing to items such as golf outings and a series of breakfast meetings that Gentile said are not directly tied to economic development.
Gentile said he wants to reach out to the investors of the CIC to get money directed toward the port authority.
County Commissioner David Maple said the county increased funding to Progress Alliance from $50,000 to $75,000 and now will invest $100,000 a year in the port authority for economic development.
"It is disheartening at this time for people to imply the commissioners are standing in the way of economic development. It is not fair and not accurate," Maple said.
Maple believes the port authority will be a "better engine" for economic development in the county.
He said part of the $100,000 to the port authority can be used by the CIC until the port authority takes over the economic development job to "make sure there is a smooth transition."
Robert Chapman, CIC board president, who was at the meeting, said he was disappointed by the statements made by the commissioners.
"I didn't want Jefferson County to get a black eye but both eyes were blackened with those comments," Chapman said.
Ken Perkins, CIC treasurer, said he didn't want the meeting to become a public spectacle.
Chapman said the CIC was told to be at the meeting to receive a simple yes or no answer to the funding question.
(Law can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)