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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Local Alliance Needs Some Sunlight

Sunday's Janesville Gazette contained an article titled They use one voice about a local governmental? economic development group working out of the Rock County Building to attract businesses here in Janesville.

Janesville, as most folks in the area are aware of, has suffered huge jobs losses in the past year with the closing of the GM plant. Obviously, Janesville needs all the help it can get to boost payroll activity, so some governmental interaction and cooperation is crucial at this important time.

But after reading the article and then cruising the Rock County Development Alliance Web Site, it became obvious that many important details were lacking regarding governmental accountability and transparency.

In the Gazette article, they refer to flying under the radar and working backroom deals as if it's the right thing to do. Secondly, there is an underlying premise projected here that simply because it's published and they're openly talking about it...well, that makes everything okay and acceptable. It doesn't.

But before I can sink my teeth into the questionable ethical aspects of their work, I am overwhelmed with a mountain of questions about the group that I can't believe a journalist did not ask.
JG Excerpt:
Each week, the group is in either Milwaukee or Chicago making detailed presentations to potential brokers, developers and investors.
Venable and Otterstein are both government employees. Who pays their wages when they are working under the umbrella of the Alliance? Who pays their dinner, lodging and travel expenses to trade shows around the state? Is the Alliance a non-profit organization? Is it a governmental agency? I assume it is but I'm not sure. The Gazette article did not clarify this and the Web Page lacks this information.

Is this a county taxed operation? Or is it paid for from taxes of participating locales. Where is funding coming from? Is this part of a $450,000 federal grant the county and Forward Janesville received a little while ago? If so, where is the breakdown of expenditures and future allocations?

How do individuals separate their governmental duties from their Alliance duties? The Alliance address is the Rock County Court House Building - under whose power and authority do they operate under? Do we assume the Rock County Board? If the Alliance is a multi-governmental body – who pays for what? Are local business owners involved? Who are its members? And what connection do they have in city, county and state government? What connection does the Alliance have to the local business elite? Where is the transparency?

Why doesn’t their Web page list their funding sources and all participating members?
JG Excerpt:
The alliance taps a bigger war chest of talent and money.
Whoa! That may be a good enough explanation for a Gazette journalist, but clue me in - I'm not smart enough. Whose talent and whose money? Is it a secret? An why is it a secret? State, federal, private? A combination? Explain? Are quid-pro-quos involved?

Look, it’s one thing being an informational and marketing kiosk for the county, that's a capable and necessary part government can play in attracting jobs. But it’s an entirely different thing when government employees participate in backroom deals greasing the way and blurring the lines between public and private while projecting an unfettered access to tax payer money. They should come clean on this.

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