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Montgomery council takes Economic Development Department private

By Bill Turque June 30 at 6:52 PM

The Montgomery County Council, seeking a new strategy for attracting and retaining business, voted Tuesday to privatize most of the county’s Department of Economic Development, making it a nonprofit corporation.

The plan, proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett, is intended to foster private-sector involvement in efforts to grow the county’s economy. The Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. will be publicly funded but operated by an 11-member board and chief executive, appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the council.

The nonprofit corporation, which officials hope to have up and running by the middle of next year, is similar to entities created by many other local governments, including Fairfax and Anne Arundel counties.

The corporation will be charged with developing a more “nimble” private-sector approach to attracting investment, marketing the county and proposing regulatory changes to improve the local business climate, officials said.

“We think this is going to move us forward in a very significant way,” council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said.

Council members praised the Economic Development Department but said it suffered from an overly broad mission — ranging from agricultural services to workforce development — that was a source of confusion in the business community. The corporation, approved by a 7-to-0 vote, will have a more targeted mission, and other responsibilities, such as agricultural preservation, will remain with the county government.

“I don’t think we can afford another couple of years of ambiguity and desultory discussion about economic development,” council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said.

[County agency head accused of unprofessional conduct]

The existing department has also been dealing with internal tensions related to the impending privatization as well as a change in leadership after Steve Silverman resigned as director in January.

In April, employees alleged that the acting director, Sally Sternbach, had fostered an atmosphere of “persistent, inappropriate and intimidating behavior,” and “screaming vulgarities.” The complaints were contained in an April 6 letter from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 (Municipal and County Government Employees Organization), which represents about half of the 40-member department staff.


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