Councilors eye economic development changes

Aug. 28—A plan being considered by city councilors would transfer all economic development funds and control of economic development activities to Muskogee Redevelopment Authority.

The authority is a public trust administered by city councilors, who serve as trustees by extension of their elected positions. If councilors approve Ward IV Councilor Traci McGee's proposal, MRA trustees would directly hire economic development staff and direct day-to-day activities.

McGee said councilors presently have no "direct input." All input and information, she said, must be funneled — and filtered — through the city manager or city attorney.

"This allows councilors, for the first time, to really have direct input to economic development and really have an impact in our community," McGee said, expressing concerns about who has the authority to reject projects. "Direct input — access — is very important — instead we are getting secondhand or thirdhand information."

McGee discounted the notion that economic development efforts might be disrupted by elections and turnover of councilors and, by extension, MRA trustees. Asked twice about that prospect, she expressed optimism about voters' support for the idea.

"I think that the citizens would embrace this once they understand the process," McGee said. "The citizens — they're the ones saying, 'Why can't we get anything in Muskogee?' — will welcome the change ... and it's going to take this progressive council we have right now to make it happen."

City Attorney Roy Tucker outlined for McGee the steps that would have to be taken in order to implement her proposal. McGee presented those steps Monday to her City Council.

The city's existing economic development programs, she said, would have to be transferred to MRA "by contract or by ordinance." Bylaws would establish the MRA's internal management structure as it relates to economic development programs, and amendments to existing ordinances would define how revenue dedicated for those programs would be allocated and used.

McGee said a plan also would have to be developed for the transfer of city employees to MRA or hiring new employees. Personnel policies would be adopted to ensure non-contract employees are eligible for benefits available to city employees.

While McGee's proposal included an immediate transfer of the city's economic development programs to MRA, Mayor Marlon Coleman recommended the development of a plan to review before granting approval, a recommendation adopted unanimously.