TEDA support murky for ‘Inkwell’ deal

GUARDING THE YARD: Terriers return offensive bite to lineup
August 21, 2007
August 23
August 23, 2007
GUARDING THE YARD: Terriers return offensive bite to lineup
August 21, 2007
August 23
August 23, 2007

Terrebonne Economic Development Authority board members were asked to vote blindly to authorize TEDA CEO Mike Ferdinand to send a letter of support for an east Terrebonne port infrastructure project.

“I just need to be authorized to sign the bloody letter,” explained Ferdinand at the mid-August TEDA board meeting.

The Terrebonne Parish Port Commission has been in negotiations with an anonymous client for the project code named, “Inkwell,” by TEDA. The project has had three other names.

The client has already applied for and been authorized to receive $2.25 million in capital outlay funds.

And the client is expected to enter into a lease for the property shortly. The capital outlay funds will not be awarded to the client unless the lease is signed.

It expects to generate 10 to 100 jobs in its first year of operation and up to 1,000 jobs in five years.

Ferdinand desired to have TEDA express its support of the infrastructure project at the upcoming State Bond Commission meeting. The deadline to make it onto the commission agenda was Aug. 21.

The funding is limited and Ferdinand said the sooner TEDA moved to support the project, the more likely the anonymous client would receive the funds.

Ferdinand was placed in a difficult situation trying to secure the board’s support for the letter.

He needed the board’s authorization to support such a large project, but state confidentiality law prevented him from discussing the details of the infrastructure project before it is finalized.

TEDA treasurer Don Hingle said the economic development group has full control over the situation, despite the confidentiality. The letter basically amounts to TEDA saying it wants to pursue getting someone in at the port.

When the time comes to having to deal with funding, the board members will have all the details, according to Ferdinand.

“Unless we’re sponsoring some kind of crazy terrorist organization and don’t know it, we have to depend on Mike’s ability to decipher a good client,” said Hingle. “There’s really no risk to TEDA in my opinion.”

Ferdinand still expressed his frustration at the meeting by saying he has struggled with this confidentiality issue for some time.

And the board discussed ways to change how confidential information could be shared, so board members would not be asked to support a project blindly.

“What we’re looking at right now is how we can do it procedurally. We would much more prefer to be able to disseminate information through a procedural process, of course, adhering to all regulations,” said Ferdinand.

He described his experiences working on economic development in Mississippi cities like Jackson and Natchez as being somewhat simpler. To varying degrees those agencies could have private meetings to discuss confidential projects.

“There needs to be disclosure, because it’s government money. And I think that can be accomplished at the right time,” said Hingle.

Hingle, too, said previous economic development organizations he has worked with in the past could have private meetings.

“For economic development projects (in Mississippi), that was one of the allowable reasons to go into executive session. You couldn’t take a vote or board action, and any action generated from the executive session became public information,” said Ferdinand. “But during the process, it could be kept confidential.”

In the end, the board gave authorization to Ferdinand to sign the letter and support the project.

The mid-August meeting was also the last for Hingle, as his term as a board member expired. He was one of the original TEDA members when the group was formed two years ago.

Hingle can be nominated for a slot on the board, again, in the future, but for now, he has other plans.

Hingle, who is also the president of Whitney Bank for the Houma/Thibodaux region, said he doesn’t think he’s interested in returning to TEDA’s board right away.

Hingle will serve as the South Central Industrial Association president this year and serves on the Terrebonne Parish Port Commission.

“I got my plate pretty full,” said Hingle. “After this year I might reconsider, but I haven’t made up my mind.”

Like his term as TEDA’s treasurer, Hingle will only serve a year as SCIA’s president.

“I think he (Hingle) was a great board member,” said Ferdinand. “I’ve been very blessed in having just a super board.”

Other TEDA board members with expiring terms include Marcel Fourneir, Carmelita Ratna and Craig Stewart.

TEDA’s board features representation from groups like South Central Industrial Association, the Houma- Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce, L.E. Fletcher Community College, the Terrebonne Parish School Board and Nicholls State University.

Ferdinand said he doesn’t think TEDA will have difficulty maintaining the current wide representation of the local community it has on its board.