Rift opens up at Adams County EDA

Published 1:56 am Thursday, April 24, 2008

NATCHEZ — When Vidal Davis resigned from the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority Board Monday, his departure left more than an open seat.

It revealed what appears to be a split between some members of the EDA board and the EDA’s Executive Director Jeff Rowell.

Davis said his main reason for resignation was an inability to change the inefficient manner in which he felt the EDA was being run.

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“I don’t think (Rowell) is the right man for the job,” he said.

Davis, who has served on the board for a little more than two years, was quick to point out that his thoughts about Rowell were not personally motivated.

“I think Jeff’s a good guy,” he said.

And Rowell said even he felt the EDA was not being efficiently run, but that’s where the agreement ends.

Both men have different ideas as to why the EDA’s not functioning at full capacity.

In addition to saying he thought Rowell was unfit for his position, Davis said Rowell’s salary, approximately $80,000 a year, was excessive and the fulltime office of the EDA was overstaffed.

Davis said the office is run by three people including Rowell, at a cost of approximately $250,000 per year.

Rowell said he has encountered resistance from some board members when presenting ideas on economic development projects.

“Certain strategies I presented for achieving particular goals and objectives that would assist our efforts for achieving economic potentials may have been a bit too modern, outside the box (or) risky for some board members,” he said.

Rowell would not specify any instances, or projects, that were ignored or dismissed by the board.

And within the board a division also seems to exist on the matter.

Leon Crawford, an EDA board member for six years, said he was pleased with Rowell’s work.

“If he’s not doing something I must be missing it,” he said.

Crawford said he was simply unaware of what Davis was talking about in Rowell’s critique.

However board Vice Chairman James West said the board was working on some “issues,” and would not discuss them further or specify the nature of the issues.

“There are things on the board we need to work out,” he said.

But others on the board do agree with Davis’ opinion.

But others on the board do agree with Davis’ opinion.

The Rev. LeRoy White, on the board for approximately three years, said Rowell has failed to take control of the EDA and the board.

“We’re not getting the bang for the buck,” he said he said of Rowell’s performance.

White said he felt the EDA’s board chairman, Woody Allen, had taken too much work on as chairman and was doing work Rowell should be doing.

“When people think of the EDA they call Woody not Jeff,” he said. “They should be calling Jeff.”

Allen said he was unaware of any projects that Rowell presented to the board that he was prohibited from moving forward on.

While there’s no clear solution to the board’s problems, or even a clear idea of what exactly the problems are, Rowell said the board is in need of change.

“If those changes don’t occur, it wouldn’t make sense for me to attempt to renew my contract here and it wouldn’t make sense for the board to squander the taxpayers’ money on another executive director hire.”

The EDA acts a liaison between incoming businesses to the area local government.

Two board members are appointed by the city and three are appointed by the county. Both the city and the county fund the EDA. The city pays $100,000 a year, and the county pays $175,000 a year.

They are appointed to five-year terms and can be reappointed.