City officials raise concerns over merger of CEDC, county

This file photo shows the Allegany County government offices on Kelly Road in Cumberland.

CUMBERLAND — City officials raised concerns Tuesday over plans to move Cumberland’s economic development representatives into the Allegany County office complex.

The city’s business recruitment and retention is currently performed by the Cumberland Economic Development Corp., which is located in offices on Pershing Street.

Discussions between the CEDC and the county began in July on a proposal to merge the CEDC into a single economic development department located within the county office complex on Kelly Road.

Jake Shade, county commissioner, said last week he would like the CEDC to be located in the county building.

“The county is in active talks with the CEDC and with Cumberland about consolidating into one county economic development entity,” said Shade. “It would be housed at Allegany County government. We all need to have one common group doing economic development. There are a bunch that say they do, but to have one force within the government ... I think we really benefit.”

The nonprofit CEDC answers to a seven-member board made up private business leaders and elected officials including Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss.

Shade said although the CEDC will still report to a board, there may be changes in the board’s makeup. He said, “the county will appoint most of the members, with the city appointing some.”

Although Morriss has thus far shown support for locating the two-person CEDC in the county office complex, some city officials are beginning to register concerns with the proposal. During a special open meeting on Tuesday at City Hall among the CEDC and mayor and City Council, Michael Cohen, city attorney, framed those concerns.

“Once you start locating at one location as opposed to the other, then concerns relative to undue influence come into play,” said Cohen. “Because if you are at one location versus the other, then whoever is at that location has unrestricted access to CEDC (personnel) and has the means to push their particular agenda over and above that of the other entity.”

Councilman Eugene Frazier also expressed concerns with the proposed location of the CEDC in the county building.

“That is one of the things I have expressed before,” said Frazier. “I want to make sure Cumberland is well represented. It’s what Mike (Cohen) brought up; if that is what I’m thinking, you might get more influence from the county than us. That is a concern of mine, too.”

Cohen asked Paul Kelly, CEDC executive director, for his feedback.

“Right now, the CEDC is essentially an instrumentality of the city,” said Cohen. “I am just wondering what your thoughts are regarding how you would address those issues.”

Kelly said a meeting among the CEDC and the Allegany County Board of Commissioners was held recently. He said no agreements have been drafted on where the CEDC would locate and to whom they would report.

“It is all open to discussion,” said Kelly. “I am aware of that concern, which is, if the CEDC where to be housed in any particular location, it could be unduly influenced by that particular entity. My board is well aware of that concern. In fact, I had a discussion at length about that with the board today in terms of contract negotiations. Generally, I have to punt, because it was in closed session with counsel. But I can tell you there is no agreement reached between the county and the CEDC where it would physically locate in the county premises.”

Cohen said that the details of where the CEDC would locate and to whom they would report will have to be spelled out in a written document.

“If this (merger) comes to pass there would be amendments to the articles,” said Cohen. “There would be a three-party agreement relative to operations, relative to financial contributions, and composition and changes to the board of the CEDC. This is certainly something the mayor and City Council and everyone thought. I think we all will have to take part in the drafting and amending of those documents.”

The CEDC was formed by a vote of the City Council in 2015 and is funded with $300,000 annually from the city of Cumberland.

Kelly said the details would be worked through as the discussions on the merger continue.

“If there is a particular term that is being discussed and is material, I think there is a fiduciary duty to the city to make sure that is discussed so you will not be surprised by anything ... advanced notice and ability to weigh in and (you can) give us your comments and feedback,” said Kelly.

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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