MCEDA will continue, board president says

The Mohave County Economic Development Authority Inc.

will continue to function even though it lost the financial support of the county supervisors Monday, MCEDA board President Henry Varga said on Thursday.

"MCEDA is not going away," Varga said during a press conference that lasted longer than an hour.

"We will flourish."

Varga, a certified public accountant who has been involved with MCEDA since it was founded in 1993, said it takes a "substantial amount of money to do what we do."

MCEDA's four-year contract with the county expires June 30.

Under the contract, the county supplied MCEDA $189,200 for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The county supervisors voted 2-1 Monday against renewing the contract with MCEDA.

Supervisor Tom Sockwell on Monday cited the perception of MCEDA serving special interests, being involved in local politics and having a poor track record in recruiting industry.

Supervisor Pete Byers said he tried to reform MCEDA's operations, but faced resistance from the board.

Supervisor Buster Johnson, a MCEDA supporter, cast the sole "no" vote.

MCEDA is committed under its mission statement to recruit major employers who create jobs that pay at least $10 an hour and increase property tax revenues for the county.

The MCEDA board scheduled its meeting in advance of the supervisors' action, and conducted a press conference after meeting behind closed doors.

Varga, who was accompanied by 13 board members, said the board voted to continue the organization and to stay on as members.

He said MCEDA receives $6,500 a month from Caithness - a company that proposed a power plant in the Wikieup area - and will seek other funding sources.

Other options include memberships, grants and contributions from the private sector.

With the county funding coming to an end, MCEDA will have only about $13,000 in cash reserves June 30, Varga said.

Receivables from a CD-Rom will bring the total to about $18,000.

Varga said he is optimistic about MCEDA's future, but acknowledged repeatedly that he did not have the answers to many questions posed by reporters.

"We are going to address the issues of the future," he said.

"There will be ideas presented.

We brought up issues of memberships and grants.

… We want to become as economically independent as we possibly can."

Responding to a question, Varga said he doubts the supervisors will change their minds.

The supervisors on Monday discussed the possibility of doing economic development in-house or contracting with another private entity.

He said salaries account for about half of MCEDA's budget.

MCEDA has two full-time employees and two part-time office workers.

"It is our plan to move forward," he said.

"We will hold public meetings.

We want the supervisors' input."

The supervisors also reduced their influence by severing the contract, Varga said.

Varga acknowledged that MCEDA has faced a negative public perception, but said the entity is doing everything to improve its public relations.

Asked whether increasing independence would foster the impression that MCEDA consists of an elite group of business people, he said the board consists of members who are knowledgeable about economic development.

Don Van Brunt, former executive director, defended the membership of the board.

"Who … can better represent the (business) interests than the heads of industry?" Van Brunt asked.

Varga refutes Sockwell criticism

By Ken Hedler

Miner Staff Writer

Henry Varga, president of the board of the Mohave County Economic Development Authority, defended MCEDA from an attack made by County Supervisor Tom Sockwell.

Varga started a press conference Thursday by refuting a two-page, prepared statement that Sockwell read during the supervisors' meeting Monday in Lake Havasu City.

Sockwell criticized the Griffith Energy Project, saying the natural gas-fired power plant has cost the county millions in the commitment of public funds while creating only 25 full-time jobs.

Sockwell also accused MCEDA, which recruited Griffith, of catering to special interests, lacking accountability, getting involved in local politics and not notifying him of meetings.

County officials negotiated the contract with Griffith – not MCEDA – Varga said.

He said he does not know what Sockwell meant by the term special interests, and indicated MCEDA does not make deals with pending companies.

Sockwell was out of the office Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

MCEDA does not get involved in political campaigns, Varga said.

However, he acknowledged afterward that board members backed some candidates for county supervisor.

Varga and other board members supported Pat Bourque, who resigned from the MCEDA board to run against Byers in the Republican primary in September 2000 and has since rejoined the board.

Board member Krystal Burge served as Byers' campaign treasurer.

Varga said Caithness hired someone to raise money for candidates during the 2000 campaign.

He said Byers and an opponent of Sockwell's – whom he did not identify – received money from Caithness.

A check of records at the county Elections Office showed no reference to Byers receiving money from Caithness.

Jim Jones, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Sockwell in the November general election, reported receiving a total of $1,500 from six representatives of Caithness.

Contacted about the discrepancy, Varga said Byers may have returned the check from Caithness.

Byers was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Burge said she recalls returning four checks, but does not remember whether any of them came from Caithness.

Former MCEDA Executive Director Don Van Brunt gave no apologies for backing Bourque.

"I have been involved in politics since I was 8 years old," he said.

"You should be involved, and you damn well should back somebody."