A brief history of a complicated situation
By Sarah Kucharski
In January 2005, Jackson County Commissioners called in more than $1.2 million in loans issued to six local industries, suspended participation in the Economic Development Commission and launched an investigation of the commission’s financial records.
Commissioners cited a lack of supervision over EDC spending as the reason behind their actions, which also aimed to remove Tom McClure — the EDC chairman, chairman of the county’s revolving loan committee and chairman of the Jackson Airport Authority — from all county committees and appointments.
Commissioners sent two Jackson sheriff’s deputies to McClure’s office on the Western Carolina University campus with instructions to bring back any and all records pertaining to the Economic Development Commission. Local audit firm Dixon Hughes was called in and the next day two senior auditors began poring over the seized records as well as EDC budgets, property buying transactions conducted by the Jackson Development Corporation — an EDC subsidiary — and payments to the county’s revolving loan fund.
Following the initial records review, county commissioners announced that no “county employee” was guilty of malfeasance. However, the only county employees having anything to do with the financial transactions of the EDC were Tamera Crisp — the Economic Development coordinator who worked solely with the EDC but was paid by the county — and Darlene Fox — the county’s former clerk turned Finance Officer who received all payments made to the revolving loan fund
The EDC is an entity independent of any local government. Created in December 1999, the EDC is was designed to be a 10-member commission comprised of local government representatives, as well as those from Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University. County commissioners got three appointments, Sylva two, and the remaining towns one each.
Both WCU and SCC’s representatives are “permanent,” voting, ex-officio members, either being the chancellor or president or his appointed representative, according to EDC bylaws. Consequently, county commissioners did not have authority to remove McClure from his position as EDC chairman.
Stacy Buchanan, the county commission chairman at the time, said that the county’s role as the largest contributor to the EDC essentially gave commissioners the power to exert control over the commission when the expenditure of taxpayers’ money was called into question. The county’s total EDC contributions from 1993 to 2005 totaled nearly $1.4 million.
Commissioners were notified via the Secretary of State that Triple S Partnership, the group that owned the property and building near the Jackson County Community Center in which QC Apparel is located, was looking to foreclose. The EDC was supposed to hold a first deed of trust to the property; however, the deed took more than a month to record, placing the EDC second in line behind Triple S Partnership, the group that sold the JDC the property. Triple S financed the deal for $250,000.
By February, Dixon Hughes accountant Mitchell Crisp reported — in short — no EDC monies were missing. The next two months were a whirlwind of activity.
Buchanan resigned, citing his new position as assistant head football coach and co-offensive coordinator at Smoky Mountain High School and an inability to split time between his school and public service career.
Southwestern Community College also suspended its participation in the EDC.
A judge decided that commissioners did not have the authority to remove McClure from his post as the Jackson County Airport Authority chairman.
And Triple S Partnership did begin moving forward with foreclosure on the Tuckasegee Mills property, which in the end the EDC blocked.
Since then Tamara Crisp, once the county’s paid Economic Development coordinator, has found other employment with the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The county and SCC still have not officially decided to re-enter the EDC. McClure is no longer EDC chairman, having asked EDC members not to consider him for the position upon the re-election of officers. And current co-chairs, Sylva Mayor Brenda Oliver and Dillsboro Mayor Jean Hartbarger, have been leading an effort to re-write EDC bylaws with the hopes of enticing the county and SCC back to the table.