November 18, 2018

EDC board member removed without notice

Posted

MIO — Jennifer Cronkright was removed from the Oscoda County Economic Development Corporation Board by the county commissioners at the June 12 meeting commissioners meeting.

Cronkright and the majority of the EDC board were not informed this action would be taken. The majority of the EDC board was not involved in the decision to remove her.

EDC Chairman A.J. Welser approached the commissioners and read a letter that detailed why he believed Cronkright should be removed from her position on the EDC. That letter was not signed by any other members of the EDC board. Housing Department Program Director Cy Wakeley and Secretary Jessica Wakeley were at the meeting in support of Welser. They comprise the Northern Integrity Consulting Enterprises, an entity that assists the county in financial matters on a contractual basis.

After the meeting Welser said he purposely chose to circumvent the EDC board.

“Almost all of the board members are brand-new, so they weren’t informed of the background of what we’ve dealt with,” Welser said. “The board might have sided with her, but it’s still not their call. We work for the board of commissioners. Many of the new members are her friends, so I don’t think we would have gotten a fair vote.”

After the meeting when Cronkright was informed of her removal, she was confused why she and the EDC had not been made aware of Welser’s decision to approach the board.

“Where is the EDC in all of this?” Cronkright said. “It’s too bad I wasn’t given a chance to tell my side. They’ve lost somebody that has their heart and soul in the county. To do it without my side of the story was poor, very poor.”

The board of commissioners voted 4-1 to remove Cronkright, with Larry Wilson being the only dissenter. He said with 11 members on the EDC board, he finds it hard to believe one person could control the group.

“The reason I voted no is because no other board members signed off on the letter (Welser) read from,” Wilson said. “I think they should have voted on this as a board. It seems like this was just an excuse to get rid of her. I know there have been people backing up her decisions.”

Commissioner Wayne Nutt said he understands why Welser brought the issue to the commissioners.

“I went to the last (EDC) meeting as an observer, not in an official capacity,” Nutt said. “It should have been a slam dunk, but it took 30 minutes. There were too many distractions, too many interruptions for a meeting that should have taken five minutes. That’s disturbing to me. We’re paying per diems for this.”

Board members Duane Roddy and Kyle Yoder both said they were not informed of Welser’s attempt to remove Cronkright. They had different opinions on whether this should have been brought to the EDC first.

“Knowing the personnel involved, that probably wasn’t the best way to go about it,” Roddy said. “That’s something that should have been discussed more with the people involved.”

“I heard there was an issue, but I had no idea it was going to result in this,” Yoder said. “… I haven’t been on the board that long, but from my understanding we cannot remove her from the board. That is up to the commissioners.”

Neither Yoder nor Roddy commented on whether they support Cronkright’s removal.

At the June 12 meeting, Welser spoke of multiple reasons why he believed Cronkright should be removed from the board. Notably he said Cronkright flooded his and the Wakeleys’ inbox with unnecessary communications.

“Since assigned to the board last year she has sent an extremely large amount of emails, over 200, to EDC Executive Director Cy Wakeley and his daughter Jessica. They had to drop what they were doing and read each email to see if it addressed any EDC business. Most times the emails were about challenging their authority to make loans, receive check payouts or authority to administer those loans.”

Cronkright said in a letter to the EDC that the emails she sent were always in relation to EDC work.

“I would like to point out that the emails I have sent to other board members and to EDC contract employees have been mostly questions or suggestions for improvement,” Cronkright said. “The EDC had not been operating in compliance to Act 338 for decades and the bylaws had not been reviewed or updated in years.”

Welser said Cronkright tried to rewrite the contract for and at times challenge the legitimacy of the Oscoda County NICE and that she held up checks for legal payments for loans and EDC business on multiple occasions, which he believes is not within her power.

Cronkright said Welser was actually the one who asked the EDC board to rewrite the NICE contract, providing a letter from him that asked board members to “mark up” the county’s contract with NICE.

“I never challenged the legitimacy of the NICE contract,” Cronkright said. “What I challenged is that the EDC contract employees took their version, with a raise included, not the EDC board’s version. It was approved and signed by NICE and the county without the EDC. … I would have voted not to renew (the contract) as written. I base this on the lack of accomplishments in the previous contract period and their lack of adherence to prudent business practices and inability to take and use constructive and much-needed recommendations for improvement.”

Welser claimed that Cronkright micromanaged the EDC board proceedings, lowering the efficiency of the entity. The Wakeleys said her constant questioning has had a negative effect on EDC proceedings for a while.

“This has been going on for months,” Jessica Wakeley said. “We’ve tried. We’ve discussed ways and means and told her we don’t need the micromanaging. … There is a lot of different reasons, but it’s come to the point where it’s not tolerable anymore.”

“We have things on the agenda and end up debating them for one, two or three hours, then it’s 9 p.m. and we decide to go home,” Cy Wakeley said. “So many things end up on the agenda that we can’t get down to the business of doing business.”

Cronkright said what others refer to as micromanaging is her attempt at ensuring the EDC operates with transparency.

“It is one of the fiduciary responsibilities of each EDC board member to make sure that we maintain compliance with regulation, laws, and set board policy and procedures,” she said. “Questions as it relates to this is not harassment, it is prudent business practice. Each time that I asked the EDC contract employee a question he would reply in an insulting and indignant tone. He gave me the feeling he had something to hide, always on guard. Not a good feeling to give a board member. There must be a check and balance to deter future problems the EDC is no stranger to.”

Finally Welser said Cronkright attempted to oust him as the current chair of the organization.

“There have been recent efforts by Jennifer to covertly work with other EDC board members to remove the current chair via reorganization,” he said. “While she wishes to maintain the appearance of supporting our documents, instead she does the opposite by ignoring them. Per our bylaws this can (only) be done at our once-a-year EDC reorganization on Jan. 9.”

Cronkright said she was working within the rights of the EDC transparently by asking to move the reorganization meeting.

“We decided we would delay our January 2018 annual meeting, which is allowed by our bylaws until such time that we had a regulated board,” Cronkright said. “… I made a recommendation to the board at our May EDC meeting to hold our organizational meeting on June 13. No covert action, no effort to remove the current chair. A majority vote of the board would be needed; I can’t do it alone. If you were opposed to the motion, why did you vote yes?”

After the meeting Welser explicitly said he does not want to be the chairman of the organization, and hopes someone will take over for him in the future.

In summation, Welser said his decision to remove Cronkright was not personal.

“We’ve got a person who is a go-getter,” he said. “How do you reign them in? Being a part of the EDC is being part of a team, but Jennifer was not a team player. I didn’t want to do this, and I think she’s a talent. I wouldn’t be against her returning to the EDC provided I am no longer the chair.”

Cronkright said she never meant to cause the county any difficulties.

“Everything I bring up is because I don’t want us to get in trouble,” she said. “In no way, shape or form do I want to impede the county’s employment, or the growth of the local economy. I don’t want something harmful to come back to the board they’re unaware of.”

As of now, Cronkright is attempting to get on the agenda for the June 26 board of commissioners meeting. Her hope is to plead her case and ask the board to rescind its motion removing her from the EDC. Welser's letter and Cronkright's response can be found attached to this article above.

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Ben Franklin

Good balanced article.... kinda.

However the title is very wrong. The title should read; EDC board member removed for "cause".

During that BOC meeting her boss was over heard saying; "Now maybe she'll get back to doing her real job" (paraphrased quote).

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