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November 14, 2000

Around City Hall

Councilwoman Bess Rich Wants Greater Diversity on City of Mobile Industrial Development Board

by Edmund Tsang

Bess Rich, city council member, would like to see greater diversity in the make up of the City of Mobile Industrial Development Board (IDB), which is an organization granted the power by the State Legislature to give tax exemptions to recruit businesses to move to or expand operations in Mobile. Councilwoman Rich sees that now is the time to add diversity to the board because of the present 13 board directors: five are serving past their term of expiration and four will have their terms expired on November 14, 2000 -- see Table below. Ms. Rich has recently sent a letter to Mayor Mike Dow, who makes the appointment for confirmation by the City Council, requesting Dow to seize this opportunity to include, for the first time, a medical professional, a community planner, an environmentalist, and an educator on the board. Presently, IDB directors represent the banking, utilities, business and marketing sectors.

When asked to explain the rationale for her request, Ms. Rich said last week: "One only needs to read the October 17th, 2000 Harbinger story describing the amount and types of toxic wastes released in Mobile County. The article states Mobile County ranked 32nd in total toxic releases among all United States counties in 1998. Mobile has the unfortunate distinction of being ranked number one for total toxic releases in Alabama. Something is wrong when our IDB continues to recruit smokestack industries as recently as this year despite having this information on toxic waste releases. A diversified IDB group of citizens would bring greater accountability and more representation to the table affording our community a balanced decision in our industry recruitment."

"Professional community planners should be included on this board because they know the demographics of the community and can predict the need and impact a new company will have on the community's resources and infrastructure. An environmentalist can assess the air and water impact of the prospective industry. A medical professional can address the health impact a new company might have on citizens. An educator on this board can assist in linking the community's education resources to meet the needs of the industry or companies coming to Mobile," Ms. Rich added.

Economics professor Richard Ault of Auburn University told The Harbinger two years ago during an interview on cost-benefit analysis of IDB financed projects, that heads of utilities, while they could serve on such groups to recruit industries, should not be allowed to vote on issuing bonds and granting of tax exemptions because of potential conflicts of interest. Since most industries are heavy users of energy and because bonuses of CEO’s are often tied to performance of their companies, their votes to grant tax exemptions to recruit industries that are heavy users of energy directly or indirectly benefit these heads of utilities.

For Councilwoman Rich, CEO's or representatives of energy companies serve an important function on the IDB. "They can educate prospective companies of the available energy resources and associated costs in our area," Rich explained. " If the board consists of businessmen and women from the utilities and other businesses along with environmentalists, physicians, educators and planners, then Dr. Ault's fear about utility officers or others receiving an economic benefit from IDB activities would be reduced, or at the least, made more accountable for community scrutiny. The goal of this body should be to actively secure new jobs and economic programs for Mobile while at the same time considering the industry's impact on our quality of life, health, and welfare."

Casi Callaway of Mobile Bay Watch, Inc. "strongly supports a more diversified IDB" because she believes a diverse board "would be more representative of the community as a whole, would encourage a new recruitment trend, and be more protective of our health and environment." In addition to representation from the medical profession with public-health background, Callaway suggests someone representing the tourism industry -- "an industry we do not support enough" -- as well as an environmentalist and someone with experience in land use planning to serve on the City of Mobile IDB. Mobile Bay Watch, Inc. has lobbied for a moratorium on recruiting smokestack industries until a countywide air quality study has been completed.

Efforts to contact Mayor Mike Dow through his spokesperson Justina Strong to comment on this article was unsuccessful by press time. Questions were sent to Ms. Strong for Mayor Dow to describe the qualities he looks for in making appointments to the City of Mobile IDB, and whether he would consider the councilwoman’s request of appointing a medical professional, an environmentalist, and an educator to fill the vacant positions, which Rich stated in a letter that she sent Dow last month.


City of Mobile Industrial Development Board

Member

Originally Appointed

Present Terms Expires On

Clarence M. Ball, Jr.

December 1991
Reappointed October 1996

November 14, 2002

John Davis
President & CEO
Mobile Gas Service Corp.

August 1995

November 14, 2000

Lowell J. Friedman

November 1992

November 14, 1998

Robert A. Guthans
Midstream Fuel Service Inc.

November 1992

November 14, 1998

Thomas M. Hinds
First Alabama Bank

November 1992

November 14, 1998

Dianne K. Irby
Vice-President & General Manager
Brown & Root, Inc.

March 1996

November 14, 2001

John H. Lewis, Jr.
Lewis Communication

March 1996
Reappointed October 1996

November 14, 2002

Patrick Marshall
President
P&D Marshall, Inc.

August 1995

November 14, 2000

Norvelle L. Smith
Smith’s Bakery

November 1992

November 14, 1998

Cheryl Thompson
Alabama Power Company

September 2000

November 14, 2002

Celia Wallace
Chairman & CEO
Springhill Health Services

August 1995

November 14, 2000

Robert Wilbanks
President
SouthTrust Bank of Mobile

August 1995

November 14, 2000

Leonard Wyatt, Jr.
AmSouth Bank

November 1992

November 14, 1998


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