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City Council Can’t Agree on Hiring of Recruiter : Ventura: Members have been unable to reach consensus on role of an economic development consultant or whether one is even needed.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The day after Ventura Councilwoman Rosa Lee Measures was elected in November, she said she wanted to hire within three months an economic development consultant with broad powers to woo businesses to the city.

More than three months have passed but no such professional business recruiter has yet been added to the city payroll.

Although Measures is still pushing hard for hiring the consultant, other council members are wary of the idea because they fear giving too much authority to a staff member.

The council has discussed Measures’ idea, but no consensus has emerged yet about it. A council subcommittee is scheduled to create a job description by the end of April.

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“They’ve got a long ways to convince me,” Councilman Gary Tuttle said. “This could be just some independent guy who’s out there cutting deals for the city. Who does he answer to?”

Tuttle pointed out that the Ventura Chamber of Commerce and the Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau already do some recruiting of companies and act as business boosters.

In Ventura County, Ventura is the only large city that does not have an economic development position on the city payroll. Some cities, such as Camarillo and Oxnard, have contracts with private consultants.

Ventura Councilman Steve Bennett and Mayor Tom Buford said they support the idea of a professional business recruiter, but would like to see a more detailed job description first.

“I need more information before I can commit to anything,” said Bennett, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown University. “I’ve got to see that the expense for a economic coordinator will be offset by the revenues generated. We could get someone who’s a dud.”

Although Measures originally told reporters at a news conference Nov. 3 that she hoped to have a new business recruiter within three months, she now says her real deadline has always been April--or before the city adopts a new budget in June.

Measures, a former banker and investment adviser, emphasized her business experience during the election and touted the idea of hiring an economic development coordinator in campaign speeches.

“Our economy is really struggling,” Measures said. “I think we need someone totally concentrated on revitalizing our economy.”

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But she said she has not yet figured out exactly what the coordinator would do.

“I don’t have it defined yet,” Measures said. “It would be someone who would re-create our economic vitality.”

Measures said some of her ideas include establishing a nonprofit corporation to work with city staff or putting together a pilot program of six to 12 months.

Tuttle, a small-business owner, said the council may be expecting too much of the position.

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“I think he or she is supposed to be a business recruiter, a cheerleader, an ombudsman, a Jack-of-all-trades,” Tuttle said.

On the council, Measures has the strongest support from conservatives Monahan and Jack Tingstrom. Councilman Greg Carson said he also supports the notion of a business recruiter, but is still working on crafting a job description. Carson suggested the idea in 1991, when he was first elected on a pro-business platform.

All seven council members have differing ideas on the position.

They are debating how much to pay the person, and whether the job should be contracted out or assigned to a staff member.

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They haven’t agreed on what the person should do. Some say he or she should concentrate on recruiting businesses; others say the emphasis should be on keeping businesses from moving out of Ventura. A few suggest that the job should help businesses maneuver through the city bureaucracy when applying for licenses and permits.

“We’re all over the place on this one,” Carson said.

Last year, the council allowed for such a position in the 1993-94 budget, but never filled it because of a hiring freeze. The annual salary would range from $46,876 to $62,814.

“There was no consensus on the council about it,” Community Development Director Everett Millais said. “Goodness, if you go to the Midwest or East, you’ll find it’s a key position for cities there.”

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Ventura Chamber of Commerce officials said they support hiring an economic development coordinator and have assigned a committee to draft a proposed job description that chamber officials will submit to the city in 30 days.

Chamber President Bob Alviani said: “We will get it on the table because they won’t. They obviously can’t agree on what needs to be done. It’s time to stop talking about it.”

Tom Flavin, a private consultant who has a contract with the city of Camarillo, said more cities are turning toward companies like his to lure businesses to communities starved for tax revenue.

“A lot of cities and counties are getting more aggressive because in the last four or five years, they’ve lost a lot of businesses to other states,” Flavin said. “We can’t take our economic well-being for granted any longer. We have to get out there and be more competitive.”

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Ventura city officials said there is no data available for the number of firms that leave the city.

Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton said his city has done well by employing an economic development coordinator, a position established in 1980.

“We’ve gotten more aggressive in chasing businesses and landing them,” Stratton said. “The large developers and businesses want someone to talk to who is at the top, who can help them get through the red tape.”

Tingstrom, elected on a pro-business platform, said hiring an economic development coordinator is vital to Ventura’s long-term economic future.

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“We’ve never really had to do this because Ventura’s retail sales were the best in the county,” he said. “Now we’re falling behind. We’re way overdue on this.”


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