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Official sees no conflict Development vs. environment


The county's new coordinator of economic development says he doesn't foresee a conflict with his current duty supervising the office that performs environmental reviews for business plans.

"The bottom line is, there are laws that environmentally we have to comply with," said Robert A. "Max" Bair, who was assigned last week on an interim basis to oversee economic development efforts.

"I'll work with businesses to make what they desire work," he said. "I'm not going to be a stickler to the law -- it's not absolute black and white. But I'm not going to be a party to anything that violates the law. That would be the case whether it was me or anyone else in charge."

Noreen Cullen, chairwoman of Carroll Earth Care, a group that monitors environmental issues, said Mr. Bair's appointment "could go either way."

Placing environmental and economic development concerns under one administrator could help bolster efforts to attract "clean industry," expedite plans for business relocations and expand the county's tax base, said Ms. Cullen.

It could be a drawback, however, if Mr. Bair is overburdened or if business interests take precedence over environmental concerns, she said.

County Commissioner Elmer Lippy said there's a "good possibility" that Mr. Bair will be assigned permanently to oversee economic development after a six-month interim. Mr. Bair also is executive assistant to the commissioners and heads the multifaceted Department of Administrative Services, which includes environmental programs.

The assignment came after the sudden resignation July 30 of James C. Threatte, who directed the four-employee economic development agency for three years. Bill Jenne, who worked under Mr. Threatte, will handle day-to-day responsibilities as administrator of the office and will report to Mr. Bair.

The commissioners say they might not fill the vacancy created by Mr. Threatte's departure. They say they'll become more directly involved in courting business and industry.

"I'll see where I can help behind the scenes on hot prospects," said Mr. Lippy.

The commissioners also will study increasing the role of the private sector in attracting industry, said Mr. Lippy. They have considered forming a private corporation to promote the county and provide financial assistance to recruit businesses, but Commissioner President Donald I. Dell says he doesn't favor an independent entity.

The commissioners have questioned the effectiveness of the economic development office and expressed some dissatisfaction with its operations. They say it's hard to gauge results of the office's efforts and its role in influencing business decisions.

"Economic development is a thing that's really hard to measure," said Mr. Dell when the former department was downgraded to office status last year. "I know there's activity every week, but they're not bringing in industry all the time.

Mr. Bair, an economic developer for county government in the late 1970s and early 1980s, will meet with business prospects as needed and will attend Economic Development Commission and Industrial Development Authority meetings.

Mr. Lippy said it shouldn't be a problem for Mr. Bair to oversee environmental functions and economic development.

"The best way to handle environmental matters is not to make them a roadblock to economic development, but to make them go hand-in-hand," Mr. Lippy said.

"Both can virtually be in bed with each other and be better off."

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