June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:43 PM
"EDC selection should be publicThe director of the Island District Economic Development Council is in the public eye, is partly paid for with public funds, and therefore the process of selecting a new one should be public.This is a tough place to hire someone whose job it is to promote economic development. North Whidbey tends to prefer the old-fashioned, here we are, come and get us, approach to soliciting new business and industry, while South Whidbey prefers a more subtle form of development: help home-based businesses prosper, tout South Whidbey's lifestyle to those who may want to move her to start or relocate their own small businesses; and promote a low-keyed form of tourism, particularly during the slow winter months.Whenever an EDC director gets too heavy-handed, especially on South Whidbey, the EDC loses public support. Former director Tom Shaughnessy made some public relations gaffs by supporting all development, whether island-style or not. EDC support for the Freeland Exxon station and Saratoga Resort diminished its reputation in the eyes of many South Whidbey residents.The new EDC director should realize that what works for Oak Harbor and North Whidbey won't necessarily work for Coupeville, South Whidbey and Camano Island. Shaughnessy never figured that out and the EDC suffered because of it.The EDC board is presently deciding how it should go about hiring a new director now that Shaughnessy has moved on to a new position. First, solicit applications from many sources, not just traditional pro-business trades. Someone with a background in business and arts, or eco-tourism, would be worth interviewing, or someone with a successful background in promotion that could be translated into business success. Make sure you hire some who appreciates the Whidbey Island lifestyle, and who will place its preservation as a top priority while trying to improve the business climate.When looking for a new EDC director, look outside the old formula. Obtain as many applicants as possible. Select a few finalists from varied backgrounds and invite the public to hear the interviews with those finalists. When the board votes makes its selection, let the public know who preferred whom, and why.The new EDC director will need all the public goodwill he or she can get when starting this difficult job. Making the hiring process public will get them off to a good start and give the EDC a chance to improve its standing in the community. "