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City looks at business development position

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Columbus City Council turned down a proposal by the mayor to hire a business development expert for the city. For now, anyway.

Council members said they want more time to look into the position, the need it would fill in the community and the salary range for the position.

Mayor Kristen Brown and Jeff Logston, the city’s director of operations and finance, asked City Council to make several changes to the city’s salary ordinance at the council’s Tuesday meeting. The largest change would have moved a new person into the city’s Community Development Department, working with businesses to build or expand in Columbus.

The person would report to the community development director, Logston said. The responsibilities would be shuffled between the two positions so the director would concentrate on human interest and quality-of-life initiatives such as affordable housing, substance abuse and mental illness programs, he said.

Salary changes

The Columbus City Council voted Tuesday to approve the following changes to its salary ordinance:

Creating a general manager position in the Animal Care Services department. The new position would be responsible for overseeing the animal shelter, developing programs and fundraising. Kevin Konetzka, the current animal care manager, would report to the new position, oversee the three animal control officers and work in the field himself. The new position would be funded this year without any cost increase because of an existing vacancy among the animal control officers. Next year, the position would add about $13,000 to the department’s budget.

Creating a public safety information officer position to be filled by Lt. Matt Myers, the current police spokesman. The new position would be responsible for community outreach and media relations for the police and fire departments.

The community development director position has been empty since Mary Ferdon left in November.

Jason Hester, executive director of the Columbus Economic Development Board, said the new position would be complementary to his organization’s efforts.

The economic development board is focused on recruiting primary employers — companies which export their goods and services out of the community, he said. However, the city position would concentrate on retail and service businesses that focus on residents within the community.

Hester said the economic development board does not focus its limited resources on those kinds of employers.

The mayor and Logston proposed funding the position by moving a vacant code enforcement job from the planning department and turning those responsibilities back over to the county. The administration would then pool about $114,370 allocated for the community development director and the former code enforcement position to give the mayor wiggle room to negotiate salary with prospects for both jobs.

Brown said it is a challenge to negotiate with candidates when any salary change has to be approved by City Council, a process which takes 10 days of public notices before the meeting and then two approvals.

“This is my challenge as an executive, trying to hire and retain people and not being able to move outside of these limits,” Brown said. “But we come to you with creative solutions.”

The council voted down the proposal 4-2. Councilmen Frank Jerome and Tim Shuffett voted in favor of the proposal, while Councilmen Ryan Brand, Jim Lienhoop, Aaron Hankins and Frank Miller voted against it.

Brand said he could not support the proposal because he wanted more information on what the position would pay and how the work was accomplished in previous administrations.

“Without having done any background on what this type of person costs to do an effective job, I have real concerns about making a commitment on salary and then finding ourselves in a position where we are trying to retain ‘A’ players within the city by having to make adjustments to the salary ordinance,” Brand said.

Jerome said he thinks creating the business recruitment position would be a good idea.

“I think there is a lot of potential there, and it is worth pursuing and we can tweak it as we go,” he said.

Logston said that the administration will give the council time to do research and could bring the position back for discussion, but no timeline has been set for that.

The salary ordinance changes will be up for second and final reading at City Council’s Feb. 19 meeting.

Logston said the city will begin searching in earnest for a new community development director in the next few days.

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