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Jim Schroeder
Jim Schroeder

You might recognize his name, but you might also recognize his voice.  In the late 90s, Jim was a well-liked news reporter for WFAW radio in Fort Atkinson.

He's been a member of the School Board in Jefferson for several years. Schroeder ran a very close race for Mayor in Jefferson in 2004, losing by three votes (610 to 607) against Collin Stevens.

Restructuring Jefferson's economic development mechanism

June 2, 2005

Honorable Mayor Collin Stevens
Jefferson Common Council Members
317 S. Main Street
Jefferson, WI 53549

Dear Mayor and Council Members:

Jefferson has struggled with issues of economic development. Although there have been notable successes, there is a general feeling of dissatisfaction among the Council, the public, the business community, and the Development Commission itself. I offer a proposal to move forward with an economic development structure and plan that can work for Jefferson.

Neither the Jefferson Development Corporation, nor its successor the Jefferson Development Commission, has been successful in developing and implementing a shared vision and reality of success for our city. This is not a criticism of those who serve and have served on those bodies. The problem has been with the structure and process for planning economic development and certainly not with the people who have volunteered their time and talents.

Our structures for planning and promotion of economic development have not been effective because they have been disconnected from accountability to the public. Having a system of slotted membership positions (Bank, Business, Real Estate, etc.) seems to make sense on its face. After all, these are the people who “know business”. However, the fact that an individual is highly skilled in the profession of banking, real estate, manufacturing, etc. does not necessarily mean that the individual is most suited to planning economic development activities at any given time and place. Furthermore, there is confusion as to members’ roles, responsibilities, and authority. The city economic development entity, by whatever name, exists to serve the interests of city citizens - period. This point seems to have been lost at times. The slotting system certainly does nothing to promote accountability to the public. In practice, it has at times served the exact opposite purpose.

Another issue is the size of the Commission. The Commission is composed of thirteen members plus several ex-officio members. The optimal size for a planning group is 5 to 8 members.

The Council holds the ultimate vote on economic development matters, as they should. Isn’t fair, then, to place more responsibility on Council members regarding economic development issues? Isn’t it appropriate that those responsible should be those most closely accountable to the public?

I propose that the Jefferson Development Commission be eliminated, and in its place, you create a new Economic Development Committee composed of five members - three from the Council and two appointed citizens. No “slots”. One year, city interests may be best served by a citizen-appointee with expertise in marketing. Another year, the best appointee might be someone with expertise in real estate finance. It should be left for the Mayor and Council in office to determine the needs of the city at a particular time.

To put it another way: The question is not who needs to be on the Committee, or what group needs to be represented on the Committee. The question is: What information does the Council need to make good decisions, and who can best gather that information?

The new Economic Development Committee should be given a clear and simple charge – to study development-related issues as requested by the Mayor and Council, objectively and in-depth, and to report to the Council with well-reasoned recommendations that can be implemented by Council and staff. Holding meetings during the evening, when interested citizens can attend, would further enhance the credibility of the Committee.

The model I propose in no way contemplates shutting out those individuals and groups which have previously been slotted to the Corporation/Commission. Indeed, it would be foolish to work without the benefit of their knowledge and wisdom. Their participation can easily be facilitated by a Committee committed to studying issues objectively and in-depth.

Issues related to economic development have been a source of contention and controversy within our community. Success has been elusive. Indeed, agreement on the definition of success has been elusive. Nevertheless, success is not only possible, but achievable. Our city offers tremendous potential for quality economic development. All we need is a model, a plan, and the will to implement the plan. Our past efforts haven’t worked as well as we would like, but let’s not dwell on that point any longer. Let’s try a new approach, under your leadership, with a new commitment to make it work.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Schroeder

cc: Jim van Lieshout, Vice-Chair, Jefferson Economic Development Commission