Cerny steps down from EDMC chair

Frustration over lack of support led to decision

KINGMAN - Following through with her earlier indications, Christine Cerny on Friday resigned her position as chairwoman of the Economic Development and Marketing Commission.

Reading from a prepared statement during the meeting's announcements portion, Cerny echoed her fellow commissioners' frustrations with a perceived lack of both financial and emotional support from City Council. She made multiple references to Council's decision to budget just $8,000 in city funds for the EDMC in the coming fiscal year, compared to $190,000 for the Tourism Development Commission, which in turn has pledged $38,500 in "seed money" to the EDMC.

"We have donated hundreds of volunteer hours, lost sleep, missed work and have sacrificed time with our families in service to this commission," Cerny said. "I believe we have proven ourselves, and our (financial) plan was met with a token donation of $8,000 from the city coffers. Frankly, I find this insulting."

Cerny pointed to a pair of recent events the EDMC conducted - a business development workshop and a strategic visioning survey - as proof that the commission has already amply demonstrated its ability to swiftly organize constructive, meaningful ways to help businesses survive in the current climate and prepare for the eventual economic recovery.

And yet, she said, the Council has still been unable to identify a recurring source of funds to keep the commission going beyond its first year.

"I am tired of hitting my head on the ceiling of low expectations of our city leaders," Cerny said. "I am not done with economic development. I am not done with the city of Kingman. But I am done with the short-sighted thinking of the majority of our current City Council."

With that, Cerny announced her resignation effective immediately, stood up, and exited the Council Chambers.

Several other commissioners, most notably vice-chairman John Kirby, had also come to the meeting prepared to announce their resignations. However, they seemed to have a change of heart during discussions with City Finance Director Coral Loyd and Mayor John Salem.

Commissioners had been under the impression that the $38,500 promised to them by the Tourism Development Commission had been contingent on the city either matching the funds or determining a recurring funding mechanism for the EDMC. At Friday's meeting, however, Loyd assured commissioners that the money had already been effectively approved by Council for the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget, and that even if the TDC was having second thoughts about approving the funding, only Council could choose to take it away at this point.

Salem indicated that, with just one meeting left before final budget approval, that prospect was extremely unlikely. He further assured commissioners that, while he could hardly predict what fiscal year 2011-2012 might look like, he did have every faith that the EDMC would prove to be sustainable and that Council would find a budget for it.

"This commission has done some wonderful things already. You have my support and you have the support of the mayor's office to move forward with whatever further opportunities avail themselves to you," he said. "We will give whatever we possibly can to this commission."

But Commissioner George Francuski pushed back, arguing that it had been inappropriate for Council to create the EDMC without a funding mechanism in place, then to tell its members to ask the TDC for seed money instead.

"Just by the Council directing this commission to go to another commission was unfair to the members of this commission as well as the other commission," Francuski said. "The Council should've taken responsibility if they felt this commission needed to be funded. They should have approached us, not to allow this commission to go to that commission."

"I disagree with you," Salem replied. In this case, he said, one commission had a budget, one did not, and the Council was trying to find away to fund both without taking away from essential services in an exceptionally tight year.

Loyd and Salem also addressed the frustrations some commissioners had voiced over their reporting requirements. Prior to securing a budget, EDMC has had to come before Council for essentially any and all spending requests, even paltry sums such as the $800 requested by Kirby in February for the Shop Local campaign.

Once the new fiscal year kicks in July 1, however, Loyd explained that, while there may still be additional conversations with Council to further flesh out the EDMC's overall vision, the commission will be free to spend within its budget without having to come to Council for every individual request.

That seemed to appease the remaining commissioners, who lamented the loss of their chairwoman, but pledged to press on into the new fiscal year - at least for now. Kirby noted that with a Council election less than two weeks away, there was a good chance the next City Council would be more willing to fund EDMC in future years.

"I definitely want to thank (Cerny) for her service, and apologize to her for not standing up and doing the same thing," he said. "I think she was looking for some more support from myself and maybe some of us, but we have an election coming up, and I don't think anyone wants to give up."

At that, Commissioner Cat Van Kampen showed her letter of resignation to the audience, saying she had been prepared to read it, but withheld it after hearing Loyd's comments on their budget. She added that she felt that the commission could expect more overt support from the mayor and Council in the future.

"I'm going to stick with it, now," she said. "I've been working behind the scenes, and I usually don't step forward and speak my mind in front of the camera. But I'm going to stay aboard."

Commissioner Lynne Petersen said she felt encouraged that the next year would see less red tape and fewer procedural issues. Francuski agreed, adding that he hoped Cerny's action will wake up both those on Council as well as voters out in the community, whom he urged to vote for candidates who would support economic development.

Following the meeting, Salem said it was unfortunate that Council could not meet Cerny's requested funding amount, but added that it would also have been irresponsible to dip into the city's contingency funds during the state's current fiscal crisis.

"We are dealing with an emergency budget plan right now, to where we can maintain public safety, firefighters, policemen and all the other city services provided out of the general fund," he said. "These facets are at risk, and dipping into contingency in this economic time, we'd get into the same kind of issues that are affecting the state of Arizona."