Langley Council member takes on the EDC
June 25, 2008 · Updated 12:09 PM
"Disappointed over recent actions taken by the Island County Economic Development Council, Langley City Council member Neil Colburn took a few public shots at the agency last week. With Rep. Dave Anderson (D-Clinton) in the room, Colburn lit into the EDC during a regular council meeting Wednesday, calling it a tax-supported agency with no responsibility to taxpayers and voters.It seems to me that they are unelected, appointed people whom ... we as voters have no recourse with, Colburn said. They don't talk to us much except to ask for money.In recent years, the EDC has given support to a proposed South Whidbey destination resort and to a proposed gas station complex planned to be built at the intersection of Fish Road and Highway 525. Both projects met heavy public opposition. The resort project was eventually rejected by the Island County Planning Department. The gas station project is still in the permitting stage.Funded by the state and by Island and San Juan counties, the EDC was created in 1988 to assist existing and new businesses in Island County with everything from securing business loans to creating business plans. The EDC's executive director, Tom Shaughnessy, said this week he is disappointed that the EDC's recent attention to the Freeland Exxon gas station project has received negative press. He said two of the developers working on the projects are members of the EDC. Giving them assistance is the agency's job, he said.At a recent EDC board meeting, opponents of the project tried to get the board to back away from assisting the Exxon developers. Shaughnessy said he found that action disappointing.There was an intent to come in and steer the EDC, he said.At the council meeting, Colburn indicated that the EDC has drifted away from its original mission and is ignoring its responsibility to the people of Island County. He also said that South Whidbey is underrepresented on the EDC board of directors and executive board. Those who are on the board, he said, are for the most part in the development industry.It seems like they're headed in the opposite direction as the majority of the voters on South Whidbey are, he said.Currently, five of the seven members of the EDC's executive committee are from South Whidbey. Seven members of the EDC's 26-member board of directors are from South Whidbey. In addition, Marcia Smith, publisher of the Whidbey News-Times and a member of the board, represents the Whidbey Newspaper Group, which has newspapers on San Juan Island and on South Whidbey. The board can be as large as 30.Loretta Martin, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, said further relief may be on the way. She was named a member of the board of directors this week. Several other South Whidbey residents are also interested in joining the board, she said.Colburn asked Rep. Anderson where the EDC's funding came from, but Anderson said he did not have an answer. According to Shaughnessy, the EDC's executive director, the agency receives $40,000 a year from the state, $32,000 a year from Island County, and $23,000 a year from business memberships."