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Monday morning, I wondered where Tony Young was as everyone started to deal with what was coming out about the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., which operates mostly in his City Council district.

Young called later to say he was there, right in the thick of it. He just wasn’t going to come to any judgments based on the news reports, he said.

He sent a memo asking the City Council’s independent budget analyst to find out the answers to questions similar to the ones Mayor Jerry Sanders asked SEDC directly the other day.

I asked him why he had stayed out of the public spotlight while his colleagues and the mayor made demands and worked in sound bites about what they thought was going wrong and how they might fix it.

He said he can’t just read the online daily and “shoot from the hip.”

“My most important role here is not to respond to articles, but, if something is brought up, to address it from a policy perspective,” Young said.

He brought up the point that he had asked for an independent audit of SEDC a long time ago and that he would want to wait for the results of that before trying to decide what to do with the agency or making any proclamations about anything having gone wrong.

And, on that point, he refused to say whether he thought anything had, indeed, gone wrong.

How long, though, until he could make up his mind? After all, these audits he’s been waiting for have been sloshing around in NoWhereVille for a long time.

Young first requested an investigation by the City Attorney’s Office after Andrew Donohue wrote this story in October 2006. That request morphed into something sent to the auditor’s office, under the mayor. And that turned into this audit.

It became a performance audit, not a financial one. The mayor, after our stories last week, asked the auditors to expand their probe to include the questions that came up.

This town has a wonderful history of spending millions of dollars on auditors to tell us things we already know. But Young wants to wait.

“You never want to say to an auditor to, you know, hurry up. But it only makes sense to wait until the audit we paid for to make any recommendations on how or where we should go on this issue and also on redevelopment efforts in general,” Young said.

Needless to say, he’s very cautious. Whether it’s prudent or not, I suppose, is debatable. But if he’s waiting for answers to questions, there are few people in a better position to demand them than him.

The only thing an audit would do — in the best case scenario — is provide cover and political capital to demand reforms. You’d think Tony Young knows what his vision is for the area. An audit is not going to provide a road map to achieving it. What I wondered is why he would even dare let someone else — like Jim Madaffer — step in and try to shape the vision.

Young may not be willing to throw anyone under the bus right now. He may not be willing to cast aspersions or call for draconian reforms. But as this thing unravels, he should be everywhere he can be explaining his plan for the area and how he’s dealing with the situation to ensure that’s on track.

That’s why I wondered why he was staying so low key at the very moment when everyone’s looking to him for direction.

While Young waits for his performance audit, after all, the mayor is shutting the place down.

SCOTT LEWIS

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