Main Street inquiry fizzles in committee meeting
July 19, 2012, By Marla Blair, A volley of remarks and accusations aimed at the troubled Main Street Lincoln organization filled the room Monday night during a special Executive/Economic Development committee meeting. What started as an informative meeting with positive year-end reports from the Lincoln/Logan County Economic Development Partnership and Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau ended with random darts aimed at Tourism and Main Street, and a display of resentment from supporters of former Main Street executive director Wanda Lee Rohlfs.
On the agenda each entity was charged with reporting the “state of the organization”, including goals, benchmark achievements, finances and structure. Main Street Lincoln (MSL) board president Seth Goodman reported that MSL would, as in years past, host the Art of Wine tent downtown during Balloon Fest, with 10 wineries represented and cheese and chocolate items added to the popular venue.
Goodman stated the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition was being transferred to the tourism bureau because the MSL board wants to focus on strictly downtown activity. He said winter events are being planned, including the Christmas parade; the agency plans to organize downtown business workshops, is preparing for an audit and has appointed a committee to review the MSL by-laws. The agency has employed a temporary 10-hour/week office associate and plans to hire a new executive director. Also, the board of directors is working together to re-organize procedures.
Proceedings took a turn when Gene Rohlfs, husband of former Main Street executive director Wanda Rohlfs, asked Goodman, “Why was it necessary to remove the executive director without an evaluation and by the means that you did?”
Goodman responded that if a meeting was requested he would be glad to sit down privately and talk about the issue, but “I was under the impression this was about current and future, not the past.”
Committee chairman David Hepler told the group that if there was going to be discussion about a specific person or using a person’s name, they should go into executive session. Gene Rohlfs made a motion to enter executive session. Hepler asked for a second on the motion and committee members did not respond. The motion died awkwardly, but quickly.
Wanda Rohlfs' departure from Main Street Lincoln has been shrouded in mystery since April when her tenure with the agency ended abruptly. The question of whether she resigned or was fired has gone unanswered and the real story is known only to Rohlfs and board members present at that fateful meeting.
From the audience Wanda Rohlfs stated that it made sense when MSL assumed responsibility for Looking For Lincoln, and that under Main Street’s direction the initiative brought much revenue to the city. She stated that Tourism’s executive director Geoff Ladd had tried to take Looking for Lincoln from MSL, which Ladd stated was untrue and continued by saying his agency had not actively pursued the initiative since he was hired in 2005.
In conclusion, Chairman Hepler asked Seth Goodman, “What can the county board do for you?”, the reply from Goodman was, “Work with us, not against us. We want to work with tourism, the Chamber (of Commerce), everybody.” With all agency reports completed a short recess was called before the meeting continued.
On a high note, Economic Development Partnership (EDP) has completed six major goals:
1) Creating a Master Plan which was passed by the major bodies in Logan County and is being implemented.
2) A Growth Plan, developed by former director Mike Maniscalco, has increased paid memberships and the partnership is $16,000 ahead of its financial status from last year at this time.
3) An Incubator Plan - EDP has received a $99,000 USDA Rural Business Enterprise grant. Community and business entities are applying to coordinate a business incubator to spur business development.
4) Utility aggregation - cohesiveness was achieved when the partnership brought together all, but one community and the county into a contract for utility rates. It will include all residents and small businesses at 3.965 cents per kilowatt hour. Even before it is set to start the move has proven to be a plus - Ameren has announced a rate increase to between 5.675 to 6.1 cents per kilowatt hour.
5) Budget is on-track and previously noted funds have contributed to a stronger financial position.
6) Successes include partnering with the Chamber of Commerce and others to address issues with Gov. Quinn. There has been a distribution of donated office furniture and equipment to small businesses; the annual luncheon, with keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, was successful; attempts are underway to place the former grounds of Lincoln Developmental Center into ownership of the city or Economic Development.
There are 18 applicants for the director’s position, with 7 or 8 strong candidates. EDP has 22 directors on the board. Two additional Logan County communities have expressed interest in membership.