The Business Development Board of Martin County is taking its message directly to county residents.
Efforts to connect with community organizations — homeowners associations, nonprofit groups, etc. — should prove beneficial for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact the business board's reputation has suffered several body blows in recent months and needs to be rehabilitated.
First, there was the lawsuit filed by Stuart attorney Virginia Sherlock to force the board to open its meetings and records to the public. After initially fighting the lawsuit, the organization wisely settled the legal challenge and has been operating more in the "sunshine" of public scrutiny.
Second, there was the departure in December of Ron Bunch, the organization's former executive director, to a similar post in Kentucky. In Bunch's place, the board named two co-directors — Crystal Stiles, the organization's former marketing and public relations manager, and Timothy Daugher, hired last year as the board's business development manager. However, questions were raised when the board increased the annual salaries of Stiles and Daugher to $89,000 each — a combined $54,500 increase for the two.
Third — and most recently — Daugher was arrested March 4 and charged with DUI.
On top of these issues, the business board — the county's official economic development organization and Enterprise Florida Inc. partner — receives $625,000 annually from the county. Consequently, residents deserve ample information from the board about how it operates and spends taxpayers' money.
Such are two of the goals behind the board's new citizen engagement program.
Stiles already has held four meetings with homeowners associations and nonprofit groups, and is in the process of scheduling another half a dozen meetings.
"Our message is, 'This is what we do, this is what we don't do, and this is how business development affects you'," Stiles said. "For too long, our organization hasn't answered the other side. This is a concentrated approach to give people factual information about the Business Development Board. We're trying to connect with groups that aren't familiar with our organization."
Stiles says the public response has been "extremely positive."
Hopefully, the new action plan will pay dividends in the form of broader public support for the business board.