Councilman leery of economic development partnership, working ‘outside of Sunshine Law’

Matt Algarin
Councilman Jim Bagby, left, and Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Shane Moody.

Creating the city’s economic development plan behind closed doors doesn’t sit well with Councilman Jim Bagby.

“I’m a firm believer that public policy ought to be created in the Sunshine Law,” he said during Monday night’s City Council meeting. “I’m going to be surprised if a councilman says ‘let’s draft this outside the sunshine law.’ ”

During Monday night’s City Council meeting, the two-term councilman made it a point to share his displeasure with a recent proposal that would call for the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, the city and the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County to create an economic development plan for the city.

The chamber-formed working group would be comprised of representatives from the chamber, the city of Destin, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County and business partners throughout the community.

The problem for Bagby was the way the plans would be drawn. Through the partnership, the group’s meetings wouldn’t be subject to the Sunshine Law, he said.

“Yes, it’s much quicker to work outside of the Sunshine Law,” he said. “That’s not, in my personal opinion, the way you draft public policy.”

The solution for Bagby was to create a blue ribbon panel to work through the economic development plan, instead of the chamber-led group. A motion to that effect failed to receive a second, so it died for lack of support.

For Shane Moody, Destin Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, no policy would be written outside of the Sunshine Law, since the working group’s recommendations wouldn’t become policy until the city voted on them.

“Policy isn’t policy until it’s voted on by the city council,” he said, also noting that any members of the community who wanted to sit in during the economic development meeting was more than welcome.

Moody told city leaders that his board of directors “overwhelmingly” voted to create the planning committee, which would help to relieve the “burden” on the city staff.

Over the years, the city has discussed an economic development plan, but Moody said no action had been taken, so the chamber of commerce was willing to step up to the plate and take the lead.

“Why not let the chamber give this a try,” he said. “We support the way the chapter (proposed economic development portion of comprehensive plan) was originally written… and we oppose the blue ribbon panel.”

By forming a blue ribbon panel, Moody says the group’s efforts would be limited since they would only be able to discuss economic development in open meetings. This could further complicate matters if Moody and say one of his board members at the chamber of commerce were to serve on the working group.

“I’m not sure how the three organizations can work together if they cannot talk outside of an open meeting,” he said.

At the end of the day, the city will be moving forward with the proposed working group setup and that’s OK with Bagby, as long as they are able to get to work and put the wheels in motion sooner rather than later.

“I hope to have draft plans by April, so we can start diversifying our economy,” Bagby said.