Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney
♦ It was announced the other day that Downtown Salisbury Inc. Director Paula Boland was resigning her post to go to work for a charity. DSI is a private “non profit” corporation receiving tax dollars (the Municipal Service District tax) from downtown business owners and spends this money to promote Salisbury ’s downtown. In recent years, most of this revenue was spent on paying back the debts incurred when DSI purchased the ill-fated Empire Hotel that proved unsalable because of bad environmental reports. The media reported this property is under contract with many contingencies. This project was the “brainchild” of Salisbury City Council member and BB&T banker, Brian Miller.
Since DSI is a private organization, they claim not to be subject to the state’s public information act and will not release their budget and have not released a copy of the contract on the “Empire.” The closing was reported to be in the fall of this year which will be well into the 2017 Salisbury City Council race. Local political commentators wonder if this contract is merely a way of putting the issue of the Empire fiasco “on ice” until after current council re-election date this November.
Being private, DSI’s director and employees are answerable only to their privately selected board of directors and they do not publish their budget. The Empire Hotel’s developmental failure, along with this lack of public accountability and transparency was questioned for some time by writers in RFP and publically by Salisbury City Councilmember Kenny Hardin at council on October 4, 2016, just a few months ago.
Ms. Boland’s resignation comes not so long after the December 9, 2016 announcement of the resignation of Robert Van Goens, the Director of Rowanworks EDC to begin employment in a similar position in Fayetteville , NC . RowanWorks is also a private non-profit corporation that receives tax dollars from Rowan County , the City of Salisbury and many smaller municipalities to promote economic development in Rowan County .
Numerous writers in RFP and the media have question lack of economic growth in Rowan as adjoining counties saw exploding increases in prosperity. The Edds commission has continued to lavish money and resources on a private entity that many argue is failed to produce.
Likewise, since Rowanworks is a private organization, they also claim not to be subject to the state’s public information act. Their director and employees are answerable only to their privately selected board of directors and have not released their budgets and or informed taxpayers how these tax dollars are spent.
Once again, Robert Van Geons was also publically questioned by City Councilmember Kenny Hardin in September and in October 2016 and RFP writers have held this private corporation’s feet to the fire regarding transparency and effectiveness.
It is imperative as new directors for Rowanworks and DSI begin to assume these positions, that elected public officials in the Rowan County Commission and the Salisbury City Council act as competent stewards of our tax dollars by adopting a policy that no funds will be granted to these private corporations wholly supported by tax dollars, unless they willingly submit themselves to public information requests just as if they were a governmental unit. They must be required to release each year’s budget and budget audit in the public domain.
If council and commission lack the political will to force this transparency, Representatives Carl Ford and Harry Warren should file a bill to amend state law to force compliance.