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Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
6:59 PM Sun, Dec. 09th

MCEDA to open meetings to public, counter negative image

The Mohave County Economic Development Authority board voted Thursday to open its meetings to the public and committed to countering a negative public perception.

MCEDA President Henry Varga urged the board to open its meetings, and the board did so by acclamation.

He explained the board closed its meetings four years ago to the press and public because some members feared repercussions to their businesses.

The board will continue to meet behind closed doors to discuss industries that are considering moves to Mohave County.

Don Van Brunt, MCEDA's former executive director, advised the board that they will need to meet in secret because they are bound by confidentiality agreements with the companies.

Board Vice President Oliver Barlow of Colorado City concurred, saying the board should set aside 30 minutes at meetings to discuss confidential matters.

"It was not for the purpose of secrecy," Van Brunt told the Miner following the vote.

"The corporations are not interested in moving here until all the details are worked out."

Van Brunt, who became MCEDA's executive director after the nonprofit entity was founded in 1993, stepped down in February 2000 following press accounts that he was convicted of felony counterfeiting in 1982 in Orange County, Calif.

Van Brunt and MCEDA have drawn fire from vocal opponents because MCEDA has recruited controversial industries such as power plants and a private prison.

Critics, such as former County Supervisor Carol Anderson, also have accused MCEDA of not being accountable because its meetings were closed to the public.

MCEDA will attempt to create a more positive image by stressing its role as an organization that is "the best thing going" to solve the county's economic problems, Varga said.

MCEDA, which receives the bulk of its funding from county government, needs the support of the county supervisors and other local entities, Varga said.

"The members of the board of directors have been open and honest," he said.

Countering criticisms of alleged conflicts of interest, Varga said none of the 16 members of the board own land within the Interstate 40 industrial corridor.

The Griffith Energy Project power plant and the Black Mountain Correctional Facility are under construction in the corridor off Griffith Road.

(Former board members Fred Eldean and Fred Grigg owned property in the corridor.)

Varga, a certified public accountant in Kingman who has headed the board for six years, called upon public officials, the public and press to present an accurate perception.

"People outside of Mohave County laugh at us because we tend to spend our time beating up on each other," he said.

"This organization should remain and continue to be Mohave County's champion."

MCEDA board members also discussed goals for Executive Director Bill Goodale, began efforts to recruit an assistant director, discussed a new publication and urged Varga to stay on as president.

Goodale, who began working for MCEDA as assistant director in 1994, became interim director after Van Brunt resigned and was promoted to executive director in December.

The goals of MCEDA will continue to be to increase the county's tax base and recruit industries that create jobs that pay at least $10 per hour, Varga said during the three-hour meeting.

The goal of hiring an assistant director to fill Goodale's former job is to find someone with public relations skills, board members said.

They plan to prepare a job description and narrow the field to two or three top candidates who will be considered when the board meets Feb.

22.