Commissioner Davis to travel to D.C. to help lure high tech company

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Commissioners unanimously supported sending fellow board member Wesley Davis to Washington, D.C., this week to formally introduce representatives from an unidentified high tech company to meet federal lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Nelson.

The decision came during a special board meeting held Monday morning to discuss changing county policy to allow commissioners to enter into confidential meetings with businesses that are negotiating a deal to move into the county. The resolution never came to a vote as commissioners rejected the need the change county policy. Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan asked for the meeting over concern that a current resolution only provides confidentiality rights to County Administrator Joe Baird or O’Bryan as the Economic Development liaison to the Chamber of Commerce.

Unable to make the trip to D.C., O’Bryan said he needed to send another commissioner to go in his stead, which prompted the confidentiality concern.

“There is no deal-making going on,” O’Bryan said. “There is no negotiating going on.”

He explained that the representatives from the company need help in meeting with Florida’s federal lawmakers and asked him to help facilitate the meetings.

Little information has been released about the company, as all parties cite confidentiality agreements.

However, O’Bryan told commissioners today that the company has offices near Washington, D.C., that it is considered “light manufacturing” and involved in software technology. The business had been looking at a site out of state but that deal was starting to fall through, which is why it is now considering Vero Beach, the commissioner said.

Indian River Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Penny Chandler told commissioners that they need to be able to promise confidentiality to the business, if not, “they will look at different places.”

Neither she nor Helene Caseltine, the Chamber’s economic development director, will be traveling to D.C. to make the introductions, she said. After the meeting, Chandler said that any mention — no matter how vague — of the business, what it does, or the discussions would be seen as breaking the confidentiality of the business.

“It’s an interesting process,” she said of striking a balance between business concerns for privacy and the public’s right to know.

While O’Bryan and Assistant County Attorney Bill DeBraal said the resolution would need to be modified in order for a commissioner to invoke confidentiality, other members of the board disagreed.

DeBraal said that the company’s representatives would want assurances that phone messages, notes, and other written data collected or handed out during the introductions would not become part of the public record.

He explained that changing the resolution would help with the business’s comfort level and help facilitate the meetings.

Commissioner Gary Wheeler said that he believes a commissioner could travel to D.C., meet with the company and members of Congress and not violate confidentiality without having to change the resolution.

Commissioner Bob Solari agreed, noting that any documents or handouts could be given to Baird’s designee, rather than to the commissioner in order to maintain the confidentiality the company seeks.

“That just seems to be the much simpler, easier way going forward,” he said.

Wheeler also took issue with the timing of the request to travel to D.C.

“They’re putting the squeeze on the county to react like this,” he said with a snap of his fingers, because the deal fell through in another state.

Commissioner Joe Flescher, heeding comments from a member of the public who spoke about the cost of traveling to D.C., said that the board should reconsider authorizing the travel to make formal introductions.

He said the meetings could be facilitated in other ways to spare the taxpayers.

Solari disagreed, explaining that last week, during the county’s economic summit, the commissioners agreed to spend money on economic development. Such a meeting with the business and federal lawmakers would fall under that category.

“Sometimes the right introduction at the right time can be valuable,” he said.

What is known about confidential company:

-Light manufacturing industry

-Software development

-Offices near Washington, D.C.

-Deal with other, unnamed location fell through

-Could take “years” – more than 2 – before moving into county

-Expected to invest “millions” and bring high-paying jobs

-Meeting with Indian River Chamber for at least 3 months

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