At a meeting of the board of directors of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. last night, the board voted five to four against a motion to oust board Chairman Artie M. “Chip” Owen.
The meeting revealed a division that has become apparent within the board between supporters of Owen, who has come under fire for his relationship with a developer who has won SEDC development agreements. Some on the board feel that his position has become untenable.
Looming in the background of yesterday’s discussion is the movement currently underway at the Mayor’s Office to replace board members in order to reform the management of SEDC.
Eight of the nine board members’ terms have expired, and it was remarked several times during last night’s meeting that the entire board could be disbanded as early as next month, rendering much of their discussion moot.
The motion was introduced by board member Rich Geisler, who said he wanted to start a discussion about whether Owen should remain as board chairman given the perception that has grown up around him in recent weeks.
(The City Attorney’s Office has opined that Owen violated the state conflict-of-interest law by maintaining an ongoing financial relationship with Pacific Development Partners LLC at the same time as PDP entered into a development agreement with SEDC.)
“If you look at public perceptions the way they are, I think we have a very decent, good vice chair who can step in and kind of run these meeting until we see where the mayor’s going with this,” Geisler said.
Board Secretary Charles Simpson immediately defended Owen.
“The media’s going to do what the media’s going to do,” he said. “We have a responsibility as a group ourselves, and he’s led us this far, and I don’t feel that he has done anything (wrong).”
Geisler and Simpson traded a couple more jabs as Owen sat silently by. Simpson addressed Geisler: “You’re hereby basically saying somebody’s guilty based on what’s being heard or said outside or whatever.”
“I didn’t say anybody’s guilty of anything,” Geisler said, putting up his hands defensively, “I just said there’s a perception.”
After a few more comments, board Vice Chairman Randy Jones put the motion to a vote.
Board members Geisler, Cruz Gonzalez, Derryl Williams and Karen Howard voted for the motion. Members Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, Keannya Hagen, Charles Simpson, Jones and Owen voted no.
The motion needed a two-thirds vote to pass.