Why the secrets, ThriveED?

Editor, Daily Union: Economic development is important to our community. It’s in everyone’s best interest to know how it’s being done. On Sept. 17, I asked Victoria Pratt for the packets from all the ThriveED meetings.

Pratt is a top employee of Jefferson County, among the highest paid. She serves as the executive director of the Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium (JCEDC) and the president of ThriveED, a second economic development corporation created by the JCEDC.

These packets of agendas, minutes and attachments have already been given to many people. There have been about 17 meetings of the group since it started in 2017. The packets for past meetings of every other county committee and board are freely available on the county’s website, but not ThriveED. Why not?

Pratt’s first response was that only ThriveED directors are privy to their meeting dates, locations and minutes. I confirmed with the county administrator’s office that this was not the case. These records are fair game to request.

It took a long time to get these records. You’d think they would be at her fingertips, and there are four people in that department. As of Oct. 9, the minutes for the April, June, and August meetings hadn’t even been finished. I received the last set on Nov. 25.

How long should it take to receive open records? The statutes say “as soon as practicable and without delay” and the attorney general’s office says this should be 10 business days. As you can see, it took 47 business days.

On top of the delay, many of the records were redacted without explanation. The packets included some donation reports. The names of contributors and sometimes the amounts they had paid were blacked-out with marker.

In 2017, Jefferson County promised to pay an outside consultant up to $100,000 to perform this fundraising for ThriveED. The agreement says that the JCEDC controls the funds raised and all the records connected with that. Why is the JCEDC executive director withholding this information?

I asked for an explanation. Pratt said there was strong public interest in protecting the names of investors and the amounts they gave and their contact information, because if this became known, it would discourage future contributions from present and future investors.

Yet when ThriveED asks for contributions, they promise you prominent recognition of your contribution. On their website, the biggest contributors get the largest screen space for their logo.

Because I wanted to support economic development in Jefferson County, I made a contribution to ThriveED and became a member. They put my company logo on their website. I’m a member of the organization, but I can’t know who else contributed?

There is a joint meeting of the JCEDC and ThriveED at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23. Let’s ask why they need to keep these secrets. — John Foust, Jefferson.

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