Last week, I asked the question; ‘JOBS Inc, who and what are they?’ Now it’s time to talk about the answers to that question. Dr. Steve Miller was the only person to respond and volunteer any information at all. Everything else I learned I had to find out on my own. Here is what I found out, and my opinion of what I learned.
JOBS Inc, was formed as a private corporation after the MKT railroad was purchased in 1988 and formally merged into the Union Pacific railroad in 1989. This was done with the intention of finding, and funding, ways to bring employment to Parsons. The KAAP was another struggling long time area employer, and it was continually in the process of being downsized and closed by the federal government. In short, the employment prospects in Parsons were bleak. That has not changed, in fact it has worsened. Many people contributed money to this new corporation, anywhere from $100 to $10,000, each according to their own resources.
Although I can find nothing written about this corporation, some of the original contributers tell me that it was their understanding that this group was creating a “special fund to allow money to be available to land businesses to increase the economic viability of Parsons.” The money “was a gift to help the help the economic development of the community with funds outside of the legal and statutory requirements of the city.”
“(We) donated the money so that those trying to bring businesses here could bypass long and involved red tape.” -Dr. Miller
Fair enough. Sounds like a great mission, bringing jobs to our foundering town. That was 20 years ago. I have no idea what JOBS has accomplished since then. Mostly due to the fact that JOBS does not publicize anything they do, who their members are, or anything else. Being a private entity, they are not bound by the open meetings or open records laws. That was the original intention, bypass all that ‘red tape’ and bring employment here. Great. Let’s GET ‘ER DONE! We all need jobs, now more than ever.
So what am I writing about? To support JOBS Inc.? Well, yes. And no. I support them in their original mission to bring jobs here, but they seem to have suffered what the military calls “mission creep”. That is to say that their priorities seem to have changed. Now their priorities are to bring what sounds like a ‘gated community’ housing development to Parsons.
You see, they have this problem. The problem is that they have already purchased this land near town. Now they have this investment that is not paying off for anybody. No jobs, nothing. Just taxes to pay on the land they bought. Not good. Mission not accomplished. What to do? Well, obviously get this land off their hands. This is where the mission starts creeping, and things start getting a little dubious.
The dubious part of their new mission, to build a housing development called Redtail Ridge, is the problem of conflict of interest and some concerns that our city government is so intertwined with this group that in some cases, this corporation and our city government are one in the same! On top of that problem, the voting members of this corporation stand to make profits above and beyond just recouping what the investment in the land is. It is true that JOBS Inc. is a nonprofit organization. However, when these people go to their regular paying jobs, they will benefit from the development of this property.
How will they benefit, and what are they other conflicts of interest that I mention above? First of all, the voting members are bankers, real estate professionals and construction company owners, or at least some of them are. One of the voting members is also a sitting city commissioner. Other de facto members are apparently our City Manager and Economic Development Director. Although these two may not vote, in all practicality, they should be considered as members due to their heavy involvement in the group and the group’s new interests. I see this group as the local equivalent of Washington D.C.’s K Street lobbyists, complete with the revolving door to and from local government.
In light of this past Monday’s unanimous vote to authorize a $30,000 payment to this corporation, out of the city’s budget, I see many reasons to be concerned about ethics and conflicts of interest. And that does not address the issue of if this new housing is needed. Many may think it is, certainly JOBS Inc. will argue that it is needed and the project has merit. They will argue that they are doing this for the suffering community, and any profits made by members will be just coincidental. I would argue that if the project indeed has merit, and the housing is needed, this group is still a private entity and should use private money to finance their project. As well I would argue that the $30,000 amounts to another tax on Parsons residents that we cannot afford at this time.
I have no problem seeing private corporations thrive. In the past, our city has already set a precedent for laying out this kind of money to private interests though. Other people seeking to start, or expand their businesses have been subject to much scrutiny and have had their books and business plans made public. I would think this would be more than appropriate in this case also.
I believe that the reasoning for JOBS Inc. venture into housing development has stemmed from some twisted “trickle-down” logic. As their members will gladly tell you, if they thrive, the community at large will also thrive. When the local captains of commerce do well, so will the average worker. You really have to jump through some mental hoops to get the same conclusion. I believe that decades of stagnant wages, along with the upward migration of real wealth have more than disproved this fallacy.
As massive layoffs and double digit unemployment plague our nation, the city is now raising our water rates by nearly 50%. I agree, our sewer systems are in bad need of repair and replacement. We could use the $30k for that. As our privately funded animal shelter is about to disappear, our cost of dealing with an unwanted animal population is spiraling upwards. Wouldn’t $30k go quite aways in funding the shelter we are about to lose? I wonder if our more than generous benefactor from California would consider this $30k given to JOBS a kick in the teeth?
In conclusion, I do not want to be part of a movement that would in any way quell job growth. I hope and pray that Redtail Ridge will become a necessity in the near future. I envision only a positive outcome for the people of Parsons, and for JOBS Inc. too. I do not seek to be “anti” anything, but I do seek to be “pro” something else. In this case, I could even be pro-JOBS Inc. ….IF they, along with our city government would do the next right thing. That is, be transparent and forthright with who your members are and what you seek.
Now that the $30,000 is allocated, I would ask that any new money directed to JOBS or Redtail Ridge would come to a vote of the people. After all, isn’t this money actually the people’s money first, and the city’s money only at our expense?
You decide…. JOBS Inc., the height of hubris, or just good business?